Bruins fans rejoice! Our own Saint Patrice graces the cover of this year’s installment of the perennially stellar “NHL” series, bringing pride to black and gold as he beat out Public Enemy Number One PK Subban of the Montreal Canadiens for the spot. And it’s no surprise that “NHL”: Bergy Edition continues the tradition of improvement that has set “NHL” apart from EA Sports’ other series in the past two decades.
If you’ve played the series recently, you’ll likely acknowledge that it’s often worth buying, even for the little improvements that add to the big attractions of Live The Life, ’94 Anniversary Mode, NHL Moments Live and a bevy of online-based features such as EA Sports Hockey League and, of course, Hockey Ultimate Team. So the big question is, of course: what’s new?
Well, anyone who watches the nationally televised broadcasts throughout the season will recognize the new voices of the game: none other than Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olcyzk (also joined by Ray Ferraro with ice-level updates; Pierre McGuire, mercifully, is nowhere in sight). While many loved Gary Thorne and Bill Clement’s commentary the past few years, this year we’ve been treated with possibly the best voiceover crew possible, at least until the release of the long-awaited Jack Edwards DLC package (THIS IS A JOKE). While no game can ever match the off-the-cuff comments and excitement that these announcers would be able to give in real life, I am rather fond of Doc’s style and it is easy to get that in the game. He’s a bit like if Dennis Miller actually knew what he was talking about on Monday Night Football. He’ll use a couple words that sound like they have too many syllables, but he’s a smart guy both in life and in hockey and you have to respect that.
The other most talked-about feature in this year’s game is an all-new physics engine to give players the possibility of 12-player collisions at all times. If they hadn’t brought this up as a key improvement, I probably wouldn’t have noticed (I’m usually too focused on the puck and who’s carrying it), but I can definitely say that I’ve noticed the hitting constantly improve as the flow of the game has become easier to tap into with this series. Hitting can seem like one of those key aspects that of the game that game developers struggle to translate realistically, but now that we’re at a point where technology allows the fine-tuning of size, speed, and agility, EA has done well with their easy-but-realistic collisions. Take Zdeno Chara against, well, anybody else, and you’ll understand what this kind of hitting is all about.
From what I understand, we’re actually looking at a very stripped-down version of the game when it comes to PS4 and Xbox One versions. I have based my review on the PS3 version so I’m not 100% on every omission, but there are some serious, 10-game-misconduct-and-a-meeting-with-Shanahan-level fouls on those systems, such as no GM Connected, Anniversary, Winter Classic, Be A Legend or Live The Life game modes. There are also a host of customization features that are absent from the next-gen versions of the game. EA has promised to fix a handful of these with patching, but it’s looking too little too late. When the game launched, I was actually shocked to be having such a blast with my copy, while all over Facebook were the laments of PS4-owning hockey fans that don’t even have “NHL 14” to go back to.
Basically, what I’m saying here is: avoid the new-gen versions at all costs if you can. If you’re absolutely craving hockey and you sold one of those to pay for one, don’t get your hopes too high without doing your research first. However, if you’re the kind that only buys a sports game every few installments, you owe it to yourself to get back in the swing of “NHL”; you’ll at least have a nice piece to display in your collection next to your sealed copy of “Mutant League Hockey” for the Sega Genesis or your signed Tuukka jersey.
Final Grade: A- (Current-Gen version only)