NHL 24 Review: And The Crowd Goes Wild

It’s not easy for annual sports games to come up with enough new content year in and year out to justify their release. Some games excel at it, while others fail miserably. One of those games that seems to deliver each year is EA’s NHL franchise. Developer EA Vancouver understands what fans want, and it seems they are constantly tweaking the gameplay, the game engine, and even the presentation to create a truly memorable gaming experience. NHL 24 is no different, as the developers have built upon the features introduced last year — and added many more — to create a spectacular hockey experience for fans, both old and new.

NHL 24 adds probably the biggest and best feature in franchise history with the new Exhaust Engine, which works to tire out players in a long shift, or a goalie who’s been peppered all night with shots, causing the players to play a few steps below their skill level, and leaving them ripe for exploitation by a fresh line. If a player keeps the attack going in the O-zone with sustained pressure, the goalie will eventually tire out, creating opportunities for offensive players to get the puck into the net.

When EA announced the new Exhaust feature, I was worried it wouldn’t work as advertised, and I was so very wrong. Learning to press the attack and keep the pressure on is the difference between winning and losing. Making it easier to keep the pressure on are new passing controls, like Vision Passing. This helps the player create SportsCenter top 10-worthy passes and exploit a team on their heels. It adds a new wrinkle to execute plays and control the ice — on both ends.

The presentation in NHL 24 in unrivaled.

I’ve played some pretty intense games that were in question until I kept my foot on the proverbial gas peddle in the third period and amped up the pressure on my opponent. Once momentum shifted, I was able to hit, check, poke players and shoot goals straight past the goaltender. The new precision deke moves and animations give you total control and just add to the arsenal at hand, and you can even check opposing players hard into the glass — and even the benches — creating a very realistic hockey experience.

But as good as the gameplay is in NHL 24, it’s the entire presentation that really shines. While enhanced crowd reactions were introduced last year, this year they seem even more amped up. It starts with new intros, included national anthems and crowd events and builds from there. Playing a close game where every pass and shot count, hearing the crowd either grow louder with cheers, or begin to show displeasure in cacophonous boos — so loud they drown out the commentary — the presentation just sucks you in. I’m playing on a PS5 and using a 3D Pulse headset and games are so intense and I feel like I’m in the arena for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in each game I play. In fact, this is the most immersive sports gaming experience I’ve ever had.

Hip checks into the bench in NHL 24

Adding to the freshness is new color commentator Cheryl Pounder, a gold-medal winning legend of the sport who replaces Ray Ferraro. Ray has been a voice in the EA NHL series for as long as I can remember and I thought I would miss him, but Cheryl’s voice is a welcome change and creates a whole new experience. Plus it helps that she speaks new lines. Even I can admit that Ray Ferraro talking about “the butterfly” multiple times a game, and thousands of times a season grew stale. Cheryl joining James Cybulski on commentary is just another way NHL 24 refreshes the hockey experience for the better.

NHL 24 takes a leap forward with cross-play, as now Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) and World of CHEL can be played together, no matter the console used — and the auction house in HUT has a “shared economy,” meaning more cards to buy, sell, and trade as everyone now shares the experience. Cross-play dramatically cuts down matchmaking time and allows you to play with friends on other consoles.

HUT adds new objectives that challenge even the most veteran players, like scoring a goal in the upper left hand corner of the net, and World of CHEL has added a new battle pass feature for fun gear unlocks as you play a career. In addition, HUT Rush returns as well as HUT Moments, which allow you to recreate some of the biggest, most iconic moments from some of hockey’s best players. NHL 24 also retains all the game modes, both online and offline, that fans expect, like Be a Pro, Franchise, and IIHF Tournaments.

Creating a new experience in annual sports game is a challenge for any developer, and NHL 24 does it the best. The additions to the game each year help to further blur the lines between simulation and real hockey, and the emphasis on crowds and presentation this year separates this game from not only previous NHL games — but every other sports game on the market. The new sustained pressure and exhaust engines makes games more intense and you can almost feel the chill off the ice — and the bone crushing hits — in each game you play. If NHL 24 is the culmination of that can be done with this franchise today, I can’t wait to see where the series goes next. Until then, I know I’ll be playing through a season or three, securing my team a Stanley Cup or two, building a team of hockey’s greatest superstars of all time — and both sexes — and loving every second of it.

NHL 24 is available for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4 and Xbox One and this review is based off the PS5 version and a code provided by EA for that purpose.

out of 5

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