NHL 16 Review – The Boys Are Back

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Developer: EA Canada

Publisher: EA Sports

Platforms: Xbox One (Version Reviewed), PlayStation 4

Release Date: September 17, 2015

As Fraser G. of the Vancouver Giants steps out onto the ice for his first Be A Pro game in NHL 16, I’m engulfed by a sense of anticipation. NBC’s presentation package pulls me into the atmosphere as my player does his pre-game warmup while the team mascot gets the crowd energized. If last year’s game provided the base for next-gen hockey, NHL 16 has taken it to the next level.

It was a shock to the system when last year’s iteration failed to meet expectations. It wasn’t that the core game was bad – far from it, actually – but the removal of many key features that had become synonymous with the series was considered to be unacceptable by a large portion of the fanbase. Although last year may have been a disappointment on the surface, NHL 15’s new features served as a crucial base for the future, and they’re a key reason as to why NHL 16 has excelled across the board.

Slick, Stylish, Superb

From the moment you hit the ice in NHL 16, everything feels slick. New animations have improved the fluidity of the game’s skating mechanics, and gliding across virtual ice has never felt so natural. The new Seamless Puck Pickups feature means that players are more effective at controlling loose pucks, ensuring that the action remains fast and furious. Scoring goals requires skill and tactical awareness, and cycling the puck, breaking down defenses, and capitalizing on a goalie’s most vulnerable moments all result in prolific opportunities. Particular attention has been paid to cross-crease passes that are harder to pull off in the face of defensive opposition, as pucks rarely go through sticks or skates like they so often did last year. NHL 16’s gameplay is without a doubt, the best the series has ever seen. 

NHL 16’s gameplay is without a doubt, the best the series has ever seen.

If you’re struggling to adapt to the fast-paced nature of the game, you can turn on the new Visual On-Ice Trainer, which will make suggestions as to what plays to make, where to pass, where to aim your shot, and more. It’s a useful tool for those who are new to the series or simply need a little extra help with their game.

Although the goalies in NHL 16 are still vulnerable to the odd blunder or two, they’re generally a formidable opponent for any player. User goalie controls have also been refined to make the experience of playing in net even more satisfying.

NHL 16’s AI has undergone a few major enhancements. On the higher difficulties levels in particular, opposition AI is ruthless, spreading the puck around the ice and picking off any lapses in concentration. What impressed me the most, however, was the clever thinking of my teammates. Players will regularly open up plays for each other, setting up some excellent sequences. I rarely ever felt that my teammates were out of place, especially in Be A Pro mode, in which the AI would regularly pick off my moves into space perfectly. Unfortunately, some of the series’ trademark AI issues persist, including defenders getting stuck behind their own goal, and players failing to clear the puck.

The Beauty Of Hockey

NHL 16’s visuals are fantastic. Player models look excellent, with enhanced facial features and new equipment elements. On-ice animations are smooth for the most part, despite a few awkward glitches from time to time. There’s an incredible amount of depth, from small details such as marks on the glass in the penalty box, to detailed facial animations and player celebrations.

Although the crowd still look a little dead in the face, their reactions are realistic and there’s a wealth of different animations in there which you probably won’t spot unless you look for them. Official mascots can also be spotted around the arena getting excited, hyping up the crowd, and causing mayhem. Arena authenticity has been heavily improved, with inclusions such as the Lighthouse at the Xcel Energy Center, to flames bursting around the arena at the Saddledome. EA have also added team-specific celebrations, chants, and goal music for many teams. 

One of the big features of last year’s game was the addition of an NBC presentation package, and it’s back again in NHL 16.

One of the big features of last year’s game was the addition of an NBC presentation package, and it’s back again in NHL 16. Doc & Eddie feature in the game’s opening cutscenes, and although they’re sometimes relevant and add to the story, they make too many vague ramblings which don’t have any relevance to the current situation. I love the idea, but its potential hasn’t quite been realized yet. The new NBC overlays make the game feel like an actual TV broadcast, including the new NBC Wednesday Night Rivalry package, which is excellent. On the whole, I still feel as though there’s a lot more potential from a presentation standpoint, and although what’s there is impressive, the overall experience rarely feels different from game to game.

Playoff beards are finally here, and they’re great. Towel waving continues to act as a stunning visual, but there’s not much else to draw you into the playoff atmosphere. The same Stanley Cup winning animation that you’ve all grown used to is still present as well. Of course, Doc & Eddie also provide the commentary (with Ray Ferraro chipping in on occasion), and there’s more variety this year from the two. Doc still doesn’t come across as naturally as he does on TV, but there’s much less repetition on his part this year.

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