Game Reviews

‘NHL 18’ Review: Last Year Was Not A One-Timer

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Quick Take: NHL 18 adds polish and new controls and new game modes to an already stellar foundation and creates one of the best sports games on the planet.

Last year, I was completely enchanted by NHL 17. So much so that I named it one of my games of the year, and the best sports game of 2017. The additions that EA Vancouver brought to the game worked for me, and I could not stop singing its praises all winter long. But now that the 2017-18 NHL season is upon us, EA Sports has delivered a new version, NHL 18, and my personal fears that this new game could not live up to last year’s offering have been completely unfounded. NHL 18 is actually better than last year’s game, and I’m completely shocked — and thrilled — about it.

Hockey, Redefined — Again

To be clear, NHL 18 builds off the amazing foundation from last year’s title. New creative attack dekes gives the player so much more control of the puck, and mastering these dekes can turn you into a superstar in no time. To get players ready, NHL 18 includes a Hockey Canada Training Camp mode, which is an intuitive tutorial that guides the player through the game’s controls, and teaches some of the more advanced techniques, including the various new dekes.

NHL 18 Review

I usually skip these tutorials, but was interested to see what I might be able to learn. The presentation uses video of real-life players and coaches showing you the moves, then in-game footage of the moves, and then instructs you how to pull them off. The entire tutorial took less than 20 minutes, and after a few seasons of Stanley Cup-level gameplay in NHL 17, I’m actually even better this year having taken the time to go through this “training camp.”

Modes, Modes, Modes

Also new in NHL 18 is the NHL Threes Mode. This is a fast-paced arcade mode that reduces the game into a madcap 3-on-3 match, with odd bonuses, like money pucks (goals are worth more points), new presentations, and a mascot mode, where NHL mascots take the ice. Players have autonomy to create their own rules for Threes, and the action can even be taken online for some fun games against far away friends and strangers. Everything here is over the top, but not like NBA Jam over the top, which is good. This is the perfect distraction from the various other game modes, of which there are many.

NHL 18 Review

Playing NHL Threes with mascots is insanely fun.

In the new Franchise mode, players can opt to take the newly minted Vegas Golden Knights and build them into a winner, or they can create the mythical 32nd NHL team (to even up the league), or just take your favorite team and run the day-to-day on the way to a Stanley Cup. Last year, I primarily played Season mode, and this year I took on the mantle of running the entire franchise. And I must say, I enjoy this mode. As team general manager, you are responsible for almost every aspect of the franchise, down to what is served at the concessions (poutine is a must!). I juggle contracts and facility upkeep, and I can opt to suggest to the owner to relocate the team if the opportunity arises, and there are even new locations available in NHL 18, including cities in Europe.

EA’s Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) and Draft Champions also return, with new whistles and bells, and players can can demand a trade to a specific team with their Be A Pro created player. All of this just adds so much more to NHL 18 and gives the player options on how they play, who they play with (couch co-op is available in most modes), and where they play (home, online). Even the control schemes have been revamped, giving players many more choices on how they control their players, using the sticks, face buttons, or a combination of both.

NHL 18 Review

Hit The Ice

But even with all of these modes, new and old, and additions, what really matters is the gameplay, and NHL 18 delivers like no other. Hockey, in and of itself, is one of the toughest games to play. The dual stick controls gives the player so much control over the puck that even a novice player can pull off an insane top shelf wrister on a seasoned NHL goalie. The shot targeting returns, showing the player the best chance to score a goal and guide lines for passing and on-screen suggestions for moves and shot types help pad the experience. I’ve seen and done things in NHL 18 that I’ve seen in real hockey games, like using the L1/LB button to deflect a shot in midair into a goal, and I’ve even shot a one-timer and watched my teammate jump up in the air to avoid the shot (and screen the goalie) for a satisfying score. Stunning.

NHL 18 Review

The creative attack dekes let me scoot the puck between my opponent’s legs for a pass, a shot, or just to continue my attack, and the new defensive stick control gives me a new level of zone defense, as I can poke check the puck, or even raise the stick of an attacker, loosening the puck from their possession, and risk slashing and high stick calls (which happens often, I’m ashamed to admit). My goalie is not the best, but once I learned the defensive stick moves, I can now help him out by keeping the puck out the hands of the other team’s scorers and out of the offense zone entirely, giving me full command of the ice each and every game.

Building A Winner

I’m halfway through my first Franchise season in NHL 18 and I’ve tried out all of the various modes. I can say, without a doubt, that this game is once again at the top of the sports game pile for 2017. NHL 18 does so much right, and looks great while doing it. The player models are life-like, with the level of detail on the faces and bodies out performing all other sports games. The broadcast presentations, along with Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro always talking about the “butterfly,” gives a sense of realism and the graphics are simply stunning all around. I played this on a PS4 Pro, and I’m not sure if it is optimized for the more powerful system, but the game looks better than last year, and, by now, we all know how I felt about last year’s game.

NHL 18 Review

NHL 18 is a stellar hockey experience, and is the best hockey game I’ve ever played. I’m sure that in a few more years, EA Vancouver will run out of new ways to make it better and we will fall into stagnation until the next major overhaul. The rumored move to DICE’s Frostbite engine could signal yet another huge advancement in the long-running series. But until that time, if you love hockey, you need to be playing this game. If you love competitive sports games, you need to be playing this game. If you love games in general, you need to be playing this game. Play this game!

NHL 18 is available now for the PS4 and Xbox One. This review is based off a PS4 review code provided by the publisher.

SCORE: 4.8 out of 5

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