Saturday, 7 November 2020

NHL 21 ★★★☆☆

The annual video game release cycle applies to many, if not all major sports from around the world, and ice hockey is no different. Although it isn’t as big in Europe as it is in the States, we were interested to find out what NHL had to offer for the uneducated fan. Would it be enough to turn us into Hockey Heads (what we presume all hockey fans are called)? Read on to find out...

Firstly, there’s been some small, but marked improvements to the gameplay. The speed of the game is much smoother and the flow of play is more refined, making for much more excitement. For example, now goaltenders are more prepared for rebounds, adding a greater sense of realism to goalmouth scrambles. It all helps to strike the best balance yet between sports simulation and arcade-y fun. 

Unfortunately, the visuals themselves haven’t seen such tweaks. From both a technical and presentation perspective, it’s almost identical to last year’s offering, with menus and animations seemingly copy and pasted over. This might be the result of EA not wanting to invest too much time and resource ahead of the next generation of console releases, but it definitely smacks of laziness. 

Looking at the different game modes on offer, Be A Pro has had the biggest overhaul and was the one we enjoyed the most. Effectively NHL 21’s career mode, it sees you take your journey from the CHL or Europe to the big time of the NHL. It’s surprisingly narrative-heavy, with lots of dialogue options with your coach and manager, as well as GMs when you get drafted to their team. What’s more, there’s even an RPG-Esque morality alignment, which means if you have bad relations with your teammates, they won’t pass the puck to you as often. It adds a layer of depth seldom seen in sports titles, and other franchises would do well to learn from this example.

All the other modes fans have come to expect can be found, without any significant changes. Franchise mode serves as the hockey equivalent of football manager, which can get pretty exciting on draft deadline day, but otherwise doesn’t do anything revolutionary. It also has its own version of Ultimate Team, which works like you’d expect in the NBA or FIFA series, meaning it can be a fun way to build the team of your dreams but is also rife with microtransactions. Your attitude towards loot crate mechanics will determine how much fun you get out of Ultimate Team, but if you can stomach them, then it can easily become the most addictive way to play the game.

To wrap up, NHL 21 offers solid, fast-paced action, making it a fun experience regardless of if you’re a hardcore hockey head (we’re determined to make it stick) or not. There’s plenty of depth, particularly with the Be A Pro mode, but long time fans of the series will be left disappointed with the overall lack of change from NHL 20

Tom Baker

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