Evolution or revolution? NHL 18 review Technobubble

U4GM Date: Sep/21/17 10:47:17 Views: 1221

The Article from rgj.com by Jason Hidalgo

Technobubble covers games, gadgets, technology and all things geek. Follow Technobubble poobah Jason Hidalgo’s shenanigans on Twitter @jasonhidalgo or his Tabiasobi Youtube channel.

Evolution vs. revolution.

That is the question for any gaming franchise that gets iterated on an annual basis.

Call of Duty. Madden NFL. Pro Evolution Soccer. Each has to find ways to serve up gameplay that builds on the tried-and-true while finding ways to make the same experience feel fresh.

Some try a change in eras or locations. Others add a new story mode where none existed before. Regardless, it’s a matter of deciding whether to go for incremental change or a large-scale remodel.

In the case of NHL 18, the game’s brain trust opted to double down on last year’s gameplay and go for polish instead of throwing out the kitchen sink. Figuring if this is enough of a change for you depends on whether you’re a hardcore player of the series, an occasional player or a newcomer to the series.

One of the biggest strengths of this year’s NHL game entry is accessibility. This focus on providing an enjoyable gameplay experience to a wide swath of gamers of varying skill levels and hockey-playing preferences is reflected in the various options available in the game, whether it be through classic difficulty options or even the control scheme.

Do you love the modern Skill Stick-based control system that uses the right analog stick to more accurately simulate stick handling? Perhaps you prefer the old-school button controls from 1994? Maybe you prefer a hybrid version that combines modern and classic controls? Once again, NHL 18 makes all three options available so you can play how you want to play, or at least close to it.

As someone who played sports games the most back in the ’90s, I was actually surprised with how much I’ve come to prefer the Skill Stick controls, which I got introduced to in NHL 16 — the first NHL game I’ve played after taking a break from the series for years. It took a while to get used to at first as I unlearned old habits. Once I got familiar with it, however, I’ve found it to be a better control scheme thanks to the intuitive way that it simulates the movements of a hockey stick, whether it be on offense, defense or faceoffs.

Then again, this is old news for series veterans, who are likely more interested in figuring out what’s new. Personally, there were two additions in this year’s iteration that I quite liked. At the top of the list is the new NHL Threes. This mode serves up 3-on-3 action that feels like a turbocharged version of the classic hockey experience. Thanks to fewer bodies to clutter the rink as well as the removal of icing and offsides penalties, you end up with a faster-paced game that encourages scoring bursts. There’s even an option for “Moneypucks” that provide different point values — up to +3 for Fire Pucks or up to -3 for Ice Pucks, which take away points from foes and adds any remaining ones to your score. If you like zippier, arcade-style matches with an element of point shenanigans, NHL Threes are a neat addition to the series’ selection of modes.

Another change that does not get as much attention but I find to be a great inclusion is a new tutorial mode, something I actually clamored for in my NHL 16 review. One reason it took me awhile to get used to the Skill Stick controls, for example, was because I had to look stuff up and then try to learn and apply them. NHL 18’s new training mode, however, lets you go through and practice all the key controls while they are explained to you. It works especially well when combined with the On-Ice Trainer introduced in NHL 16.

On the offensive side, for example, you can learn how to do normal shots, slap shots and wrist shots. Passing and aiming is also explained, as well as the various approaches to faceoffs. For puck-handling savants, there are two sections for basic and advanced dekes, including between-the-leg and one-handed tuck moves that are highlight reel-worthy. Just like in real life, these look awesome when successful and embarrassing when you fail (and could lead to a scoring opportunity for your foe to boot) so make sure to use them wisely.

On defense, you can practice various moves like body checks and stick lifts. After introducing a stickier defense last year in NHL 17, this year adds defensive skill stick skills like poke checks to further round out your options. I did notice that stick lifts can work too well at times, though, especially in situations where folks get bunched up, so you’ll want to keep that in mind. On the plus side, it makes playing defense a lot more interesting.

For folks who want to get into the action right away, you can do your traditional quick matches or jump straight into the Stanley Cup Finals. Folks who appreciate the grind of a full hockey season can still experience that, too. For an even fuller simulation experience, you can go through the expansion draft in Franchise Mode. Sin City fans can even play as the new Vegas Golden Knights expansion team, which, by the way, is just about the least interesting unrelated name you can come up with for a Las Vegas team. I mean, Vegas Wayne Newtons sounds a heck of a lot more intriguing than the generic-sounding Golden Knights, and I’m not just saying that because I’m being a salty Renoite. Well, maybe just a little.

Fantasy team lovers can continue to dabble in NHL 18’s Hockey Ultimate Team mode as well, though, to be honest, I’ve never been a fan of free-to-play-style mechanics in a paid game. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Having said all that, NHL 18 admittedly suffers from the same issue that plagues every annual series at one point or another. Although NHL 16 did a great job in reinvigorating the franchise after the less-than-stellar NHL 15, the lack of big changes in NHL 17 and now NHL 18 makes it feel like the franchise is settling down into cruise control a bit. It’s still a fun and well-polished game that I feel is actually better than the previous two, at least when judged in the present. Whether the changes are enough to convince gamers who like hockey but don’t feel the need to change games every year — especially with all the good games competing for gamers’ wallets these days — is a question that is certainly worth asking. If you’re looking for big changes, you’ll have to wait a bit more.

That being said, if you’re a gamer who is looking to give hockey another try after a long absence or a newcomer who wants to take a stab at an NHL simulator, the new training mode, as well as several beginner-friendly features, make NHL 18 the perfect game to skate into.


NHL 18 builds on the foundation of the last few games while adding a fun and fast-paced 3-on-3 mode as well as a much welcome training mode for new or rusty players. Admittedly, the changes might not be enough to shake off that “been-there, done-that” feeling for some veteran players of the series who are looking for more. If you’re a new player or someone returning to the series after a long absence, however, NHL 18 serves as the perfect entry point.

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