The world of sporting events and world video games often clash. It’s difficult to use one to capture the realism of the other, but occasionally the two can collaborate and come up with something pretty incredible.
EA Sports, as a designer which has been known to come out with quite a few different game entries, some of which have been good, and some of which have been bad. Is this new entry, NHL 20, any good? Let’s take a look.
So, let’s start this whole thing off by taking a look at the positives. There are some to behold here, one of them being that this game actually feels and plays more like real hockey. One of the longest-standing problems with any game that tries to replicate hockey, in particular, is that the physics are never usually quite right. Ice physics as a whole tend to be quite hit or miss, with some games having them as incredibly stiff and slow-moving, whereas others have them as too sensitive to be playable. There needs to be a physicality and a presence behind your actions. You need to be able to build up momentum and have it feel like you’re actually accomplishing something because otherwise, you’re not going to get anywhere.
From a presentation perspective, this looks and feels a lot more dynamic. Past entries in the franchise have been quite slow and clunky, with players looking like they have to build up momentum just to get going, and then they are unable to stop due to the lackluster ice physics. However, this doesn’t happen here. It’s quite easy to play, the overall aesthetic is quite nice, and the commentators are very lively and accurately do a good job of keeping track of what’s going on.
Of course, this is still just a game, and they’re going to be negative. The ice physics are just as much of a problem as they are a benefit in this game. There is no real sense of physicality behind your actions, so the momentum that you have doesn’t make sense. When you stop to take a shot, you don’t stop dead, so much as skidding to a halt. This makes it a little bit more tricky to predict how to make certain plays, and the AI of the other team, while fairly sensible, can be quite counterintuitive to work around sometimes.
The problem of physicality further occurs when two players interact. There needs to be a proper weight behind this interaction, but what happens at the minute as one player is simply shoved unceremoniously off the ice. Now, this isn’t in any way indicative of a real game, and there needs to be some kind of jostling or pushing system implemented, just so players can actually properly interact with each other and battle for the puck.
The emphasis of this game is very much on multiplayer. The single-player campaign, while passable, is desperately in need of a modern coat of paint, but EA seems to be very stubborn on how they implement this. It’s not working quite the way the people wanted, so you are better off just sticking to the multiplayer and online modes. Microtransactions also make an occurrence here, which isn’t great, as they usually herald the idea of people using a shortcut pr cheat, for players who don’t want to put the hard work and effort in.
It is safe to say that reactions to this have been fairly mixed. This isn’t a perfect simulator of hockey, but it is as close an approximation as we have had from EA in a long time. Realistically it looks the part, it performs well, the gameplay is relatively smooth and cohesive, but there are a lot of things that could be altered. The physicality of the players isn’t quite there, so interacting with other people on the ice isn’t quite as satisfying as you’d like it to be. However, to be fair, ice physics physicality are two things which are notoriously difficult to get right in any type of game.
The main draw from all of this comes from creating your own team, experimenting with things like how well the players get on, what coaching methods you use, and things like that. You can use micro-transactions if you want to try and bypass some of the actual grinding that goes into these games, but alternatively, you can unlock the items and resources that you need simply by playing the game. As a system, it is fairly complex, which means that even veteran players will have something to explore and experiment with.
The fundamental truth about this game is that it is still a work in progress. We haven’t quite mastered committing hockey to a video game format yet. We are very nearly there, and there are a lot of different things that people can do to make this better, but at the same time, it’s not quite going to be as straightforward as an actual simulator. It’s close, but it just doesn’t quite do it in certain areas. It’s definitely worth a go, but you should think about the multiplayer aspect first and the single-player options as an afterthought. There is a barebones single-player campaign here, but it’s not perfect, so you’ll have much more fun getting out there and playing with other people.