When I think of Ice Hockey I can’t help but think of the film Goon. If you haven’t seen it then the best way to describe it would be Shaun William-Scott gets put on a hockey team to beat the hell out of his opponents. It’s a crap film but funny and after an hour of playing against Rich it turns out he is just like William-Scott!
NHL 16 returns to the Xbox One needing to make inroads on what was a disappointing year with the 2015 title. There are some welcome improvements to keep the regulars happy as well some neat ways to bring new players into the game. There is a full roster of hockey leagues so you are never short of teams to play as, it’s great playing as teams from the lower leagues.
EA Canada have made skating and passing their focus of the improvements this year, aiming to give players better control while keeping things fast paced while passing too, and from my time with the game it seems to work really well. The on-ice action is excellent, players feel like they have weight, especially when you time your body checks to perfection. Passing is fluid and shooting, although tough is great and when you finally hit the back of the net you feel like you have earn’t it.
EA Sports have introduced a new system across all of their titles this year which adds an overlay as you play to help guide players, old and new. The ‘On-ice trainer’ really is a stand out feature that not only helps to understand the game, but hone your passes and moves on the ice – essentially teaching you how to play the game without putting you through mundane tutorials that have little bearing on a real game’s scenario – it’s also great at showing when you are offside, marking the zone with a crosshatched red set of bars – it also learns how you play, and once you have mastered a skill or technique, it will move you on to a new one. Essentially your first season is one big tutorial, well that is unless you already know your slap shots from your wrist shots! More experienced players have the ability to tell the trainer how experienced they are at the game in the settings so they don’t have to go through all the basics first, it’s cleverly handled and will give you a different outlook on how to play them game.
Presentation in NHL is superb, each match feels like a live TV event, starting with real footage of the venue followed by introductions from the commentary team of Mike Emrick and Eddie Olczyk. It’s so good you’ll have to remind yourself that you’re about to play and not watch an NHL match!
On the Ice I noticed a few graphical glitches but was impressed by how things looked overall. A lot of detail has gone into the game, right down to one of the mascots banging his tambourine and dancing away. I thought it was pretty cool that some shots caused players sticks to snap. NHL 16 has a great control scheme focused heavily on using the RS to control the stick – flicking for wrist shots or winding back to queue up a one-timer. If you are a fan of NHL games of old you can event change your control scheme to match that of NHL ’94 on the Mega Drive, happy days! Whichever control scheme you use everything feels fluid and you’ll always feel like you are in complete control.
Elsewhere you’ll find plenty of games modes to play through, I spent a lot of the time playing through the Be a Pro career. It’s a great mode, especially as you get plenty of feedback on the ice about how well you are performing as well as receiving feedback from your coach as you sit on the bench. You get marked on offence, defence and team play and you’ll always know where to improve to get a higher marking.
Obviously you are only in control of yourself during Be a Pro so you are at the mercy of your AI teammates. Thankfully the AI is pretty good at helping get into position when building an attack, although they let you do all the work when trying to defend, only on occasion did they deflect a shot or turnover the puck. There are times though when the AI will make you despair, as loose pucks in front of the goal mouth are left, when they could have easily been collected, it’s frustrating, but could be a lot worse.
Hockey ultimate team gives you the chance to build your dream team of players, before taking on the computer or your online buddies for bragging rights (and more coins to build your team with). There are plenty of online and offline competitions to take part in ranging across all the difficulties, there are also certain tournaments that require a certain set of conditions for you to match before entering (all bronze players, certain chemistry levels etc.).
My favourite online mode has to be the online shootout – one player, one goalkeeper, whoever holds their nerve wins! It’s great for a quick game and is always a lot of fun. Seasons mode let’s you play full matches with the chance to get promoted to the higher divisions. There is plenty of opportunity to team up with your friends and try to lead your team to online glory through the EA Sports Hockey League, if you can get enough of your friends together you’ll undoubtedly have a great time playing this.
NHL 16 has certainly returned to form with this excellent title, players new or old will instantly feel comfortable with how the game plays and with a good selection of teams and modes to play through you’ll be well entertained this year.
Thanks to Xbox and EA for their support
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