Review: NHL 17 (PS4)

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Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One

Format/Hardware Used:

  • Blu-ray Disc
  • PS4
  • HDTV
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Title: NHL 17
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (26 GB)
Release Date: September 13, 2016
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $79.99 (Deluxe Edition)
ESRB Rating: E10+
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 492 of the podcast at 1:49:10.
ep492

Gameplay:
At first glance, it may not look like a lot has changed aside from a few new menu items, but it’s what’s under the hood that makes all the difference here. It’s the little things that can bring a game to life and this one has them in spades. It’s actually one place where Madden NFL 17 stumbled this year so it’s nice to see one of EA’s dev teams focusing on something so important.

Seeing a goalie and being able to recognize him by his stance and movement is something a hockey fan expects in real life. This year’s installment brings us one step closer to fully realizing that in video game form.

Goalies look and act more like their real world counterparts especially in the subtleties. Go pick the Kings and check out Jonathan Quick for example. The movement in general is more natural as they’ll lunge, lift shoulders, and react in a much more realistic way.

… a new Semi-Pro difficulty …
Skaters have seen changes as well where they’ll actually turn to accept a pass when heading up ice and naturally kick the puck from a skate blade to the stick in a very realistic way.

Net Battles have been added, allowing players to jockey for position to screen a goalie or tip a puck while defenders will try to tie them up or clear them out. It’s a good start and something that’s been sorely lacking in the past so it’ll be nice to see how it evolves over the next few years.

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To help ease new players into the game, a Semi-Pro difficulty has been added to lessen the jump between Rookie and Pro. There are a lot of smaller choices to make which can have a bigger impact on how you enjoy the game.

The Franchise Mode has probably undergone the biggest overhaul in terms of features. If you want to really dive in, you now have the ability to take control of all aspects of a team with a sim heavy experience deeper than we’ve seen in an NHL Licensed game since the heyday of the NHL 2K series. You control the full budget, including Marketing.

… a brand new, unique identity for your team …
You’ll have the learn the peculiarities of your hockey market and adjust merchandise, ticket, food, and parking prices accordingly. Set up special giveaway nights and even see a real representation of that fancy bobble head.

Upgrade and maintain your arena, or even create your own along with a brand new team and bring them into Franchise Mode. It’s impressive, especially compared to the amount of attention paid to it in years past.

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If things aren’t working out in your market, you may be able to relocate. This also runs incredibly deep, allowing you to pick from a number of cities, each with their own particular strengths and weaknesses. This includes a potential fan base, how much the city will offset the new arena cost, and more.

This is also where my favorite new time sink comes into play. The Team Editor and Arena Creator both allow you to dig deep in creating a brand new, unique identity for your team. I have issues with the color picker though as it’s just a large wheel with no way to get to the exact same color for different parts of a uniform or arena.

… drafts are built around themes …
You’ll also be presented with around twelve or more color options for all the different parts of a uniform but nothing is labelled. Being able to choose the colors for just about every little piece of a uniform is great but the color options desperately need to highlight the area that will be changed. Without this, it’s a pretty arduous process, made worse by the inability to pick consistent colors. It’s definitely a good start but a few tweaks are sorely needed.

As for new ways to play, Draft Champions has been ported over from Madden with some nice little additions. Instead of just picking players from around the league with a few legends sprinkled in, the drafts are built around themes.

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The themes can be anything from Canadian born players only, to Young Stars, or even All-Star Game Alumni. You’ll have a choice of one of four each time you start a new draft and there are twelve different themes at launch with more expected to be added throughout the year.

Playing and winning four rounds, unlike the three in Madden, unlocks cards for the Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) mode so it’s actually a fun way to build up your team while changing things up with a whole new set of players. Plus, where else will you get to play a number one line with Eric Lindros flanked by Bobby Hull and Cam Neely?

… bringing more emotion to the game …
Speaking of HUT, the Chemistry system is out this year and Synergy is in. Oooh, fancy marketing words that mean nothing. Well, no, not really. RPG nuts take note, because Synergy essentially adds buffs to your players or team as a whole. It’s an interesting way to keep things fresh and it should keep fans of HUT deeply invested in trying to find just the right combinations.

The World Cup of Hockey teams and tournament have been added and provide a nice diversion but I doubt people are buying the game specifically for that.

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Visuals:
Things look about the same as they have in general. The player models seem to be a bit more realistic than in the past and the arenas do have their own minor distinctions, but hockey is hockey and the ice sheet is always going to be the same.

It’s the little things I alluded to before that can trick you and make the game feel more realistic than in the past. The way the players move, and the goalies especially, will make all the difference in bringing more emotion to the game.

Tying into that, when a major milestone is reached by a player, it’s reflected on the ice and with the commentary in a way that hasn’t been done in the past. It’s a good step forward and something I hope will be built upon in future seasons.

… allowing players to really find their niche …
Audio:
While the sounds of the game are great as usual and the arena atmosphere is impressive, the commentary is desperately in need of an upgrade.

The live action addition a few years back was great, but I was even complaining back then about the repetition of phrases in the commentary and it feels like there hasn’t been much progress on this front.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Dropping in for a quick versus game is as easy as it should be but the real fun, for a fan of the game anyway, is in the full six on six and the EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL).

The class based system introduced last year has been expanded upon, allowing players to really find their niche. Personally, I’m a big fan of the new Puck Moving Defenseman option.

… a much better experience …
If you just jumped into a random game with a bunch of strangers, you don’t lose them after the match. There’s now a post-game “Dressing Room” so you can continue with that group to another game.

I’ve been very happy with the online offerings since the six on six and class-based systems were implemented. Players now have a better opportunity to excel based on skill rather than through the use of a skater with maxed stats which makes for a much better experience.

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Conclusion:
It may not look all that different from a cursory glance, but some substantial improvements have been made across the board in NHL 17. All the little additions throughout the game add up to something worth upgrading for.

There are still issues with the commentary and while the Team Editor and Arena Creator are a great first step, they still need some work before they can bee seen as more fun than a pain in the ass.

Overall, this year’s version is a worthy successor to NHL 16 and a good step forward for the franchise.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

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