Title: NHL 20
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 13/09/19
Price: £49.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
I have played ice hockey games since Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey arrived on the N64. I dread to think of the hours I put into that game. So much so that even today when playing NHL 20 and my goalie makes a save I heard the commentator shout, ‘that goalie’s a wall’ and imagine the brick animation filling the net.
But this isn’t the N64, and while Gretzky is in the game, NHL 20 is a very different kettle of fish.
Yet, then again, in many ways, it is not. Ice hockey is ice hockey. While I still don’t understand the rules too much and like to commentate aloud using rugby positions when playing, I was very eager to strap on my virtual skates and head out onto the ice.
How was my NHL 20 experience? Did it hold up to my N64 memories or was I left cold footed and missing a few teeth? Keep reading this rapid review to find out.
As you would expect from a sports simulation game, the looks and feel have a high degree of polish. The graphics are rich in detail and have a quality that warrants the budget clearly spent on the development. There is a depth to everything, from the crowds to the high degree of customization that gives the game a solid look.
Sure, some of the smaller elements like crowd reactions and posters are repeated frequently not just from game to game but through a single game but come on, we need to have boundaries.
I really enjoyed the high level of customization that the game offered, designing my own player or even team from the ground up, everything from stick tape and shoelaces, to beard colour and even length. Yes, the pro I created was a giant with a Braun Strowman style beard and a pink visor on his helmet. But he hit like a freight truck, so who is going to call him out for it.
The audio in these games has often been repetitive, after all, how many different phrases can there be for a goalie making a save. Thinking about my comment above about the goalie being a wall. I actually had that thrown at me by the PS4 this morning, which not only made me smile but honed my own thoughts on sports game commentary.
Yes, it can be repetitive but so is real life commentary much of the time. There are only so many facts that can be checked or reeled off. Besides, if you are playing the game for the commentary tracks then you’re probably not the intended audience for the game.
The game does a lot to capture the big atmosphere of game day, and the different arenas and venues do help bring the game to life.
One thing with EA Sports games is that they have a formula and it works for them. The menus and game style is a copy and paste job across all their sports games. You know which buttons to press and what navigation to expect before you have finished your unboxing video or installed the now obligatory day one patch. The more of these games you play the more numb you grow to their design. I can’t fault them for it, but for those that have previous games, or other sports titles, don’t go into this expecting something revolutionary, but then again, you would probably know that already.
Fighting is as much a part of hockey as the hockey itself, and while EA has trimmed the mechanic down to something simple and fun, just thrusting with the R stick, I would have liked a little more style and flair to it. Some uniqueness to the attack or the animations, even a few more sound effects. It’s a minor point, but as we said, when year in year out relies heavily on the same core mechanic, attention to the smaller things should start becoming a priority.
This is where I could see opinions being divided, and even while writing this I am second-guessing myself on how I truly feel.
There are a lot of game modes for players to choose from. Twelve in total and within these some offer game modes within the game mode. Yet within them, the core gameplay remains the same. You play hockey. So, while you get a lot of range it is narrow in terms of scope if that makes sense.
The game controls very well, and you get the feel for the fast-paced nature of the game, and the use of the right analog stick for shooting and body checks is nice. It feels natural, and while there are other options including the classic 2-button configuration, the use of the stick makes more sense.
During my playthrough of the game I focused my time on two core modes of play:
Be a Pro
HUT (Hockey Ultimate Team – an EA staple these days)
I also spent a little bit of time exploring the World of CHEL but that in itself was filled with different game modes and while I played through a dozen or so rounds of the Pro-AM, the others just didn’t hold my attention.
I did enjoy the ‘amateur’ feel to it. No pads, different characters, wearing regular clothes on a shabby looking public rink. It gave the game something else.
As with any EA sports title you have the Franchise mode, where you control a team from the ice to the boardroom.
If you like hockey, then this is a great feature. I’ve used it before in FIFA and had a blast. However, given my lack of any real knowledge of the players, I found the mode to be just too much. There was no draw of excitement in opening the card packs because the names, for the most part, meant nothing to me, and the level of focus needed for the franchise mode calls for a deeper knowledge of the game.
Still, at the end of the day, as I mentioned earlier, if you’ve played one, you’ve played them all. Franchise is a solid game mode for those that want to get down to the nitty-gritty.
For me, the Be A Pro mode was the best fit. I got to be a single-player and spend my time just playing hockey, but at the same time got to immerse myself within a story, moving teams, minor leagues, etc. It is the perfect level of depth and involvement.
Sports games are all about the replayability factor. After all, their very nature is to play a game over and over, either as a pro, as a team, or as a combination of both taking on the plethora of challenges that get laid down.
For sports fans, the desire to keep playing is there. For those that may just happen to pick up a copy just to see what the fuss is all about, well the draw and the appeal will still be there, but if you would have what it takes to stick out a whole season could be a different story.
NHL 20 is a fun game… if you like sports games and EAs way of presenting them.
Yes, the cost is high, especially if you want one of the deluxe or ‘special’ editions, but conversely, there is a lot of game to be found.
If you have played any of the EA games of the last few years, NHL, FIFA, MADDEN, then you know exactly what you are getting. They haven’t changed much, and for the type of game they are, there isn’t much need to.
EA has made the headlines a lot this year, but when it comes to their sports games, they know their stuff, and NHL20 is a prime example of a fun game that sports fans can sink their teeth into. Just don’t expect anything groundbreaking.