Let me start off by saying I haven’t played an EA NHL game since NHL 12, which was on the last generation of game systems. I wasn’t around for NHL 15, which was critically bashed. I wasn’t around for NHL 16, when EA Vancouver started to get things right, or last year, when they reportedly nailed it. All I can do is speak on NHL 17, and boy, do I have a lot to say.
To start off, NHL 17 is the best hockey game I’ve played since NHLPA 93 on the Sega Genesis, or even NHL 94, which was probably a better game, but NHLPA 93 was absolutely iconic to me. NHL 17 takes the game of hockey to a level I never thought possible. This is the best simulation of a hockey contest I have ever encountered, and I’ve had so much fun with it and all of its game modes that I literally had to stop playing to write this review.
NHL 17 is the culmination of years of tweaks and refinements from EA Canada. I’ve seen things and done things here that defy what I thought a NHL hockey sim could do. Puck physics are completely out of this world in their realism, and there have been multiple times that I audibly gasped, watching a puck flip end-over-end into the air, only to hit a goalies back and roll into the net. I’ve seen players converge into a scrum, and the puck get kicked out by a skate. I’ve nailed shots with precision reserved for the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, or Max Pacioretty, and I’ve seen goalies move in animations that blur the line between game and life. Net battles are just as fierce as they should be, and winning that battle could be the difference between a goal or a heart-breaking save. In short, this is the best hockey video game experience that I’ve had in over 20 years, and I cannot sing its praises enough.
NHL 17, on top of being a an amazing hockey sim, is also a gorgeous visual experience. Players look and move realistically, and even small touches, like cuts and bruises on the face after a fight just add to the realism. The character models look close enough to the real people, that I thought I was watching video. And in the intros of a game, when Mike Emrick and Eddie Olczyk are doing the pregame, EA Canada has used real video, and for the first few games, I couldn’t tell the difference. Jerseys move and flutter with real-world physics, and a broken stick will laid on the ice until a stoppage, just like a real game.
And speaking of Emrick and Olczyk, the in-game announcing is the best I’ve heard in an EA sports game, period. Yes, some lines get repeated (it comes with the territory), but it sounds so natural and life-like, that I can let it go. The lines are team specific, which adds to the realism. Plus, Mike Emrick is the de facto voice of NHL Hockey, and the NHL on NBC presentation, with the aforementioned video openings just act a perfect segue into the gameplay experience.
But as good and NHL 17 looks and plays, a hockey game is measured in the modes that come packed in, and this game delivers. The World Cup of Hockey tournament is included, which includes the best players from all over the world — even if they’ve retired from the NHL. This tournament is intense, as national pride is on the line, and playing through to the end was amazing.
Franchise mode (which replaces Be a GM) has been redefined to allow players to really take control of the franchise, up to and including moving the team to another city if things don’t work out in the market you choose to take over. Gamers handle concessions prices and player salaries, and everything in between. The hearty tools given to create new arenas allows gamers to create the perfect venue for their teams, down to the pattern on the seats in the stands. New sweaters and color schemes can also be created from scratch. I’ve spent hours customizing players, unis, stadiums, and more. The level of customization in NHL 17 is simply staggering.
Draft Champions comes to NHL 17 with 12 rounds of player drafting and short offline tournament, or an online battle with other players. The draft is exciting, and classic players are available to be drafted, creating some incredible all-time teams. This is a favorite mode in the Madden franchise, and I’m glad it has come to the EA NHL series.
Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) makes its return here, and brings a card-based team building mode to NHL 17. Teams start out pretty generic, but additional packs, bought with earned in-game money or real money, will help players build a true juggernaut. Synergy, which was first introduced in Madden NFL 17, comes to NHL, and dynamic sets gives epic bonuses to HUT teams. There’s so much to do here, that it is a huge time suck, but its a worthy time suck.
EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL) returns with new features that pull the player deeper into the hockey experience. There are four new player classes, and a drop-in feature that allows gamers to take control over a player with ease. The EASHL mode gives fans a new perspective into the game and adds so much more to the NHL 17 package.
Be a Pro returns, giving players a “story” progression to a possible NHL career. BAP gives players a satisfactory career experience, even if some things come a little too easy, and some of the character creation tools seem to be lacking. It’s not a game breaker by any stretch, but it gives gamers a new experience when they need a break from Franchise or Season modes, or any of the other modes included here.
I could literally go on and on about how great NHL 17 is, but really, in the end, what matters is that it is a must-play game for fans of hockey. Never before has a game so realistically recreated the hockey experience in almost every way, and sitting here writing about it has only made me what to boot it up and play some more. The draw is that strong, and the game is that good. Hockey is one of the oldest organized team sports, and somehow, EA Vancouver has found a way to make it new and exhilarating. NHL 17 is hockey, redefined, and the best time I’ve had playing a sports game this year. And those who know me and my annual love affair with Sony’s MLB: The Show must realize that I don’t say that lightly. This game is simply amazing.
NHL 17 is available now for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. This review is based off a PS4 review code provided by the publisher.
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