Tag Archive: ea


“And it’s another ambush.” This innocuous, almost throw-away line of dialogue near the end of a side mission on the ice planet Voeld was one of the most compelling moments in my time with Mass Effect: Andromeda. Not because the situation or even the line itself was particularly thrilling, but because the exasperation with which the line was delivered was exactly how I had felt for about the first 30 hours of the 65 it took me to finish the campaign. The seeming self-awareness by Ryder was the first time I found myself able to finally relate to the new hero of one of gaming’s most beloved series, and yet succinctly summed up one of the main reasons why I was not enjoying myself.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is of course the fourth main game in BioWare’s epic space-faring RPG franchise. This latest chapter technically begins between the original Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, where a former N7 named Alec Ryder and his children sign up for a program known as the Andromeda Initiative, a space-exploration mission that sends them—and nearly 100,000 others from select races—off towards the Heleus cluster in the Andromeda galaxy while frozen in cryo-stasis upon special ships aptly called Arks. The journey is set to take just over 600 years, and the hope upon arrival is they will be able to colonize “golden worlds,” planets that appear hospitable for life from the Milky Way. Taking control of one of Alec’s fraternal twin children (male or female), you soon realize that the worlds you had hoped to forge a future on are no longer golden, and the ill-timed death of your father makes you inadvertently the tip of a new spear that must be forged if civilization is to thrive on this new frontier.

This task of finding and terraforming new worlds is one of your two major objectives in Andromeda as the newly designated “Pathfinder” for the Initiative—and I quickly grew to despise it. Ryder must make five planets viable for life to live on, but the process is the same each and every time: activation of ancient technology on each world to expedite the terraforming process while completing mundane tasks for people on or wanting to go to the planet. It’s bad enough the worlds can be boiled down to “ice world,” “jungle world,” “sandy desert world,” “rocky desert world,” and “hive of scum and villainy.” Combine them with monotonous, circuitous fetch quests that have you bouncing around the galaxy and suffering through long, unskippable interstellar travel scenes before getting just a couple of lines of dialogue and a green check mark in your menu, or being sent to an outpost to kill all the bad guys, and I honestly almost wanted the Initiative to fail. They’re the most transparent and dull quests an RPG can provide, especially with minimal main story involvement, and it all just felt like a mechanism to bloat the game’s length from the 30-35 hours it could’ve been—which would have fallen in line with previous games in the series—to the 65-75 hours you’ll likely need to do everything now, should you choose to do so like I did. If ever there was an argument that bigger isn’t necessarily better, Andromeda makes it.

The other major issue with this task is that it makes the universe feel like a knockoff of what the original trilogy had provided, as your job is just building this galaxy up to original Mass Effect levels.  When I landed on the Citadel in the original Mass Effect, the alien races and the scope of everything blew me away. When you land on the Nexus (wannabe Citadel) in Andromeda via the Tempest (wannabe Normandy), many alien races like the drell, quarians, elcor, hanar, and volus—to name just a few—have all been cut. Only the krogan, turians, salarians, asari, and, of course, humans, have supposedly made the trip from the Milky Way. To replace nearly a dozen other species from the original trilogy, all we get are the new enemies (the kett), one new ally (the angarans), and the references to a long dead race whose technology plagues Andromeda (the remnant). In a game that felt like it was trying to sell itself on exploration and new experiences, it’s depressing how little there was in Andromeda to genuinely explore and get excited about, since it all felt so familiar and barebones. BioWare should have streamlined the side quests, not the Heleus cluster.

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Luckily, your other main objective in the Andromeda galaxy will feel a lot more familiar, and is a lot more fun. Along your viability journey, you’ll come across the aforementioned kett, a ruthless alien race bent on conquering every species in the known universe. While not focused on all-out destruction like the reapers were in the original trilogy, the kett are interested in assimilation, and they are very curious in everyone who just appeared from the Milky Way. This conflict makes up the majority of the game’s story beats, and the missions associated with stopping the kett not only provide more variety than the viability ones, but are heavily grounded in the dialogue and character development we’ve come to expect from a BioWare game. The leader of the kett, the Archon, is the epitome of the ruthlessness that embodies his people, and my only complaint on that front is I wish there was more of him—and more length to this storyline in general—as he worked from the shadows most of the game.

Speaking of characters, it wouldn’t be Mass Effect without a ragtag group of aliens and humans coming together to represent the diversity this fictional galaxy is supposed to be all about. I was a little shocked that the group just seems to be thrown together rather quickly and haphazardly—you’ll have your entire squad by the start of the second planet—but I couldn’t help but develop strong emotions towards each and every one of them. In fact, the long chains of events that culminate in their loyalty missions might have been my favorite objectives in the game. And, because all of the characters don’t know the fate of the Milky Way since they left after the original Mass Effect, it is interesting to see them wonder about what might’ve happened, how old prejudices like those between salarians and krogans are still running strong here in Andromeda, and how they sort through the mysteries and baggage they brought with them which often prompted them to leave everything they knew behind in the first place.

What strengthens these relationships the most, though, is dialogue. Although some of the dialogue—and the acting in general—is hit or miss, more options than the Paragon/Renegade choices of the original trilogy have been offered to help provide a better, more rounded Ryder than Shepard. Some answers are more professional, while others more emotional. Some are guarded; others show a softer side to Ryder, and in turn, possibly your teammates. It’s a welcome bit of nuance for one of the series’ core mechanics. There’s even an opportunity within some cutscenes—almost like a Telltale game—where pressing a trigger button will have Ryder act impulsively, which could profoundly affect relationships down the line.

Of course, you’re not just talking in Mass Effect: Andromeda. The third-person shooter gameplay from the main trilogy returns with some tweaks to them. A new cover mechanic has been added that really doesn’t work as well as it should—most of the time, you’ll hug a corner you didn’t mean to, and even then you’re often still at least partially exposed. And, credit to the AI here, if you do stay in cover for too long, the enemy will quickly try to flank you. So, your best bet is to keep moving. A new jetpack that gives you some pure jumping ability has also been added that allows you to float when aiming, but really, flying above all your cover just makes you a prime target.

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The jetpack also introduces some teeth-grindingly frustrating platforming sections to the game. Exploring the ancient ruins you need to navigate in order to turn on each planet’s terraforming machines is a torturous exercise in futility. Adding jumping to a game with an emphasis on exploration makes sense, but it lacks the finesse necessary to keep the mechanic—and vertical navigation in general—from becoming nothing but a chore. Ryder never sticks a landing after a long jump, often times leading to him tumbling off an edge, and it is very difficult to judge distance here because the camera is positioned far too closely to your character. It’s perfect for a third-person shooter, not a third-person platformer.

The last major addition to gameplay is that four of the five planets you need to make viable require you to traverse them in the Nomad, the new version of the original Mass Effect’s Mako. Simply put, the Nomad sucks. You need to change gears to climb even the slightest incline on every planet, it lacks any sort of weaponry—which would have made the more bad guy-ridden planets a lot more fun instead of constantly having to leave the vehicle to shoot people—and even when you are able to climb up a mountain that should be accessible, you’ll find blue neon walls appear to signify the edge of the world, forcing you to take the long way around every mountain. Driving was almost as much of a chore as jumping.

As you complete missions, explore the landscape, and take out kett and remnant, you’ll level up like in any RPG. Much like the more nuanced dialogue options, there are many ways to make Ryder truly unique to you here in Andromeda. Dozens of power options fall under combat, technology, or biotics, with three non-passive choices being able to be carried into battle at a time (though they can be switched out on the fly via the menu screen if a situation should change). By spending points in each category, you’ll also unlock profiles, which give boosts depending on your playstyle. For example, the Soldier profile is exclusively combat tree-heavy in its bonuses, while others mix and match two of the three trees in its bonuses, with one profile skewing to all three. I preferred the Vanguard personally, which was a mix of combat and technology.

For as easy as leveling up is, though, the new crafting system is as much of a chore as a lot of the other systems added to this game. You can’t craft on the fly, having to either find a tucked-away research & development console somewhere on a planet, or return to your ship, which always takes back off into space for some reason whenever you return to it. I really don’t know why you can’t just go into the ship without it leaving dock and triggering the same annoying cutscene—trying to cover up the game’s awful loading times, perhaps. Collecting resources is easy enough, but building and equipping items is so bothersome I only touched the R&D consoles when I absolutely, positively had to make a change or craft a quest item.

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While on the subject of load times, now is also perfect to talk about how broken Mass Effect: Andromeda is from a technical aspect. Animation has never been a BioWare strong suit, but there were many instances while I was playing that the animation was busted or weird on another level. I’ve seen three different Drack (your krogan ally) walk into the galley on the Tempest at once; I’ve seen PeeBee (asari ally) blink out of existence in the middle of a conversation; I’ve seen the Nomad spawn in places it shouldn’t, like inside buildings; I’ve fallen through the world on fast travel points, and had Ryder randomly give speeches from cutscenes in missions that I completed hours prior. I’ve seen some shit in this game, and that’s not even including the long load times, the awful draw distance, and the instances where the game literally comes to a complete halt if you drive too fast in the Nomad as the planets you are driving on struggle to load into your game. This game is going to be getting patches for a long time.

Besides the campaign (which comprises the overwhelming bulk of Andromeda) there is also a multiplayer component. Andromeda basically borrows the wave-based, horde-like multiplayer from Mass Effect 3 and updates it with new maps, new enemies, and some new objectives. There’s also dozens of new loadouts available that can be unlocked, but I personally would rather just be given a couple characters that can be more deeply customized than all these starting templates that need to be unlocked. There are also microtransactions to purchase credits to unlock items, but going that route is wholly unnecessary. (Of course, I think the multiplayer part of Mass Effect is unnecessary to begin with, though.)

Fighting seven waves of enemies with friends to obtain items—some of which can be carried over to the campaign, like credits and crafting materials—loses its luster very quickly to me. That’s especially the case now that the single-player campaign allows you to send CPU “Strike Teams” to do the missions instead, getting you all the gear you want without the time commitment of having to find friends to play with and stepping away from the story. Managing these teams from a console on the Tempest was a lot more fun and a lot less time consuming than the multiplayer, but if wave-based survival with some objectives is your thing, there are also a lot worse choices out there than what Andromeda provides. Also, I had no issues connecting or finding people to play with, so that’s a plus at least.

Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t a bad game—but it is far from what we expect from the series. Poorly written fetch-quests, a dead universe that requires the player to bring any semblance of life to it, and more glitches than can be found tolerable in a game like this horribly mar the experience. There is a strong foundation of characters and story that is being laid down here, which gives me hope for the future, but this new chapter of the Mass Effect saga is a high price to pay in order to reinvest in a universe so many of us had come to love.

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Publisher: Electronic Arts • Developer: BioWare Montreal • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 03.21.17
6.0
There is a strong core of characters and story bedrock laid down in Mass Effect: Andromeda, but between questionable design choices, boring missions, and glitches galore, it’s hard not to view BioWare’s journey to a brand new galaxy as anything less than mission failure.
The Good The main story and new cast of characters are often as compelling as those left behind in the Milky Way.
The Bad Lots of busy work fetch-quests, a sense of everything being too familiar for being 600 light years away, and bugs—so many bugs.
The Ugly I fell harder for PeeBee than I expected.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I got to guest host on Nerd Alert this week with Kim Horcher. We talked about myriad topics, including the newest love interest in Mass Effect: Andromeda!

With the 2016-17 NHL season ready to start next Wednesday, October 12, EA Sports used NHL 17 to simulate the entirety of the season and predict major awards, including who will in it all.

Starting in the Eastern Conference, six of last year’s eight playoff teams return, including the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins after a second place Metropolitan Division finish. Only the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings are predicted to miss the playoffs. It’s the first time the Red Wings would miss the playoffs in a quarter century. NHL 17 also says the Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs will take their place. The Tampa Bay Lightning get the number one seed in the east, but their Atlantic Division rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, will win the conference.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, seven of eight teams return to the playoffs, with only the Anaheim Ducks missing out this year after a slow start. They are replaced by the Edmonton Oilers. The Nashville Predators are expected to take the one seed in the west, along with the franchise’s first ever Presidents’ Trophy with 110 points, and also the conference championship.

This means EA Sports is calling the Montreal Canadiens versus the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final, marking a match-up between two teams that conducted one of the most head-scratching off-season trades we’ve seen in some time, when Montreal exchanged PK Subban for Nashville’s Shea Weber. Even more surprising, though, is the prediction that Nashville will win the Cup in six games, with Filip Forsberg taking home the Conn Smythe trophy.

Other notable predictions is Carey Price of Montreal getting the Vezina for best goaltender, and Vladimir Tarasenko of St. Louis getting the Rocket Richard trophy for most goals from an individual over the season.

While those individual awards are definitely possible, and you never know what can happen in the playoffs, Nashville over Montreal in the Final sounds ridiculous in my mind. I think EA Sports needs to go back to the drawing board with these simulations.

NHL 17 is available now for Xbox One and PS4.

Like most annual sports games, EA Sports’ NHL franchise has gone through some growing pains over the past couple of years as it transitioned onto new hardware. With each new iteration, however, the series has taken huge strides forward—and this year is no different. With EA Canada looking to their sports game cousins over at EA Tiburon and Madden for a little extra inspiration, NHL 17 adds a ton of new features, and by continuing to iterate on their own systems, EA Canada has produced the most authentic on-ice experience to date.

The most obvious element taken directly from the gridiron guys at EA Tiburon is the fact that NHL 17 now boasts its own version of Draft Champions. Instead of picking coaches and schemes, though, your first major decision here involves selecting a general pool of players. Do you want perennial all-stars? Or maybe only players that were born north of the border? How about just Stanley Cup winners? Each choice will net you an impressive base team no matter what, but will also dictate the players and legends available to you according to the theme. For example, no one would argue picking Hall of Famer Mike Modano early on to center your first line—but if you choose the Canadian-born player pool, you’ll never see him come up.

The actual draft part of the mode is shorter—down to 12 rounds instead of 15—due to the fact that there’s far less players on a hockey team than a football team, but it’s still enough that every gamer should have an outstanding group. There are also four player choices each round instead of three, making each pick more painful as you get deeper and deeper into the draft.

I found myself enjoying NHL 17’s version of the mode more than Madden’s. Here, each team is chock full of superstars, unlike the Madden side where each team has myriad scrubs filling holes at too many positions. My only issue with the mode lies in the fact that Madden allows you to have both an offline gauntlet against the computer for practice and an online one against other players going on at the same time. With NHL 17, you can only pick one or the other, which sucks if, say, you were playing online and your internet goes out. You either have to re-draft and forfeit the remaining gauntlet, or wait until you get back online.

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The other new mode NHL 17 touts this year is World Cup of Hockey. Replacing the old tournament mode, the World Cup of Hockey pits the eight authentic teams from this year’s international tournament against each other in round robin, and then elimination play. It’s not the longest or most intense mode, but it’s a nice way to try out players you might not normally use in other modes. For those of us who live and breathe the sport, you can’t help but try to take your home team all the way—and, yes, I took Team USA to the final where I swept Team Sweden.

New modes are always fun to mess around with, but the core four pre-existing modes—Franchise, Be a Pro, Hockey Ultimate Team, and EA Sports Hockey League—have seen such major renovations that you’d almost think they were brand new, too.

EASHL has added a plethora of customization options for building your own arena and team in order to give yourself the truest home ice advantage possible online. As your arena evolves and levels up over five different tiers, you’ll unlock everything from being able to mix up what color seats you have on each bowl level, to customized scoreboard and entrance effects when your team takes the ice for the first time. In terms of gameplay, the mode also adds new player classes for your skater, like hitting sniper and jumbo forward, so you can have a more refined role when you actually do take the ice.

Hockey Ultimate Team has seen more drastic changes than just some customization features. When you start, no longer will you be saddled with a team full of scrubs. They won’t be superstars either, to be clear, but you don’t have to worry about minor leaguers from the OHL mixing with pros at the NHL level anymore, as you’ll be given a roster full of NHL-level talent. You can always improve your squad through skill boosts or finding better players in packs or the auction house, but you’ll be competitive as soon as you start now, which is great if you’re like me and don’t consider grinding for online currency part of a quality play experience.

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HUT also boosts several new systems borrowed from the Madden franchise. A new metagame for you to focus on in NHL 17 is the completion of sets. Collecting every player from a team and placing them in a HUT set will net you one of that franchise’s legendary players. There’s also a new Synergy system borrowed from Madden, which replaces the old Chemistry meter. This means you no longer have to hope for finding a “change team” card when opening packs so you can get all of one team on a line. Instead, each player will fall into certain categories, and when a team has enough of those players, they’ll all receive a boost. As one example, Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash of the New York Rangers have the “Wicked Wristers” ability; put them on a team with two others with that ability, and all four will have a plus-three rating to their wrist shot. It’s a big boost, and trying to mix and match Synergies adds a welcome level of strategy to putting your ideal online team together.

If online play isn’t your cup of tea, Franchise has you covered. This year’s Franchise mode not only allows players to control every facet of the team, but also the front office. I’m not just talking about contract negotiations like in previous years, but also having to meet certain owner goals to keep your job. You’ll have to decide on a marketing budget (who wants a Derek Stepan bobblehead the first time the Penguins come to MSG on November 23rd?) and stadium upgrades (hell yes we need more ice cream stands at the Garden). These moves permeate the mode so much that even the commentary from the returning Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro reflects these changes to the arena (those three guys do another fantastic job calling the games as part of possibly the best presentation package in sports games, by the way). It’s not the first time we’ve seen this level of team management detail in a sports game, but how it affects you staying in control of your favorite team is a nice added detail if you love to micromanage your team like I do.

If the idea of actually playing on an NHL team is your dream, Be a Pro mode also returns. There are two major changes here, with the first being that there are now three timing options to speed up the process of being a pro. Whereas it used to take upwards of 30 real-world minutes to play each game with authentic 20-minute periods (that’s with skipping to your next shift), the new 10-minute and 5-minute period options speeds up each game experience considerably—but come at the sacrifice of playing time for your pro. This double-edged sword really came back to haunt me, because your coach—who offers points on how he wants you to play between shifts—is also a lot more harsh this year.

While I appreciate the solution to speed the game up, I really felt my player was screwed when he didn’t make the team, and was sent down to the AHL to start the season. My rookie had eight points—three goals, five assists, and a plus-five rating to boot—in seven games and you couldn’t even stick me on the fourth line? It’s called Be a Pro, not Be a Minor Leaguer. With that kind of production and that end result to my pre-season, it still seems this mode is very unclear on what exactly it wants from you to be successful, leaving this still as one of the series’ weaker modes.

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Of course, these new bells and whistles in the modes are all well and good (mostly), but the thing that brings it all together is the gameplay. Some major changes to the all-around AI make this experience more realistic than ever before, and yet it feels completely different from years past. As impressive as puck physics and player movement always were, there were always moves and soft spots in the defense that you could find and take advantage of. Whether it was skating in a large circle from behind the net, taking slapshot bombs from the point with defensemen, or even just camping at the top of the slot, these strategies always worked because the AI players and goalies didn’t react in a way that actual NHL players do.

That’s changed, starting with the goaltenders. AI goalies will now more realistically play the puck, with shoulder shrugs and smaller, more nuanced movements. They’ll deflect a puck purposefully into the corner, headbutt it out of the sky, and scramble like never before if a puck starts to slowly trickle in behind them. They are also more susceptible to screens, deflections, and dekes on breakaways, though, to give them that sense of realism. Of course, should you decide to play as one of them in exhibition, Be a Pro, or EASHL, it’s still near impossible to be effective. I feel there needs to be a deep goalie tutorial mode, because as great as the visual trainer is—especially after this year’s upgrades will now teach skaters more pro-level moves like windmill dekes and spin-o-ramas—it doesn’t do enough for goaltenders. I often feel lost in the crease, that movement is sluggish, and that I’m always out of position.

The AI improvements also extend outward from the goalie, with defensemen now getting into battles with forwards in front of the net, and forwards moving into positions to better get rebounds and score those critical ugly goals down low, or block passing lanes on defense. Those soft spots I mentioned before are now gone for the most part; while they will occasionally pop up because a blown coverage will always happen here or there and a goalie will have to bail out his team, they are a rarity. The AI takes better angles and covers passes more aggressively now—instead of every AI player just blindly chasing the puck, often pulling themselves out of position.

This change, more than anything, has made NHL 17 feel like a brand new game. While it may be frustrating at first for long time players who have gotten used to how the game used to handle (admittedly, myself included), know that it’s better for the authenticity of the game in the long haul. And, if it really bothers you that much that you’re not scoring half-a-dozen goals every single game, you can always dumb down your opponents via the options menu.

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NHL 17 is another step forward in the hockey sim’s ever-continuing evolution. Better gameplay serves as a shining star in this year’s product, bolstered by new modes and important tweaks to existing ones. And, even if some of those are borrowed from other EA Sports games, NHL makes them all its own. Not every change was for the better, and there are still a few snags that hold it back, but overall it’s harder to get a better hockey experience than this outside of lacing up a pair of skates and gliding across a frozen pond.

Publisher: EA Sports • Developer: EA Canada • ESRB Date: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 09.13.16
8.5
NHL 17 takes a step forward with the series in terms of more authentic gameplay, but has lost its edge in a couple of its long-standing modes.
The Good New goalie and defensive AI makes the on-ice product feel more realistic than ever before.
The Bad Playing as the goalie is still a nightmare. Be a Pro mode needs to be sent down to the minors.
The Ugly It was a bad idea to put my controller in the freezer overnight to “enhance my simulation experience” the next day.
NHL 17 is available on Xbox One and PS4. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Madden NFL 16 saw the incremental changes of the several previous titles finally culminate in probably the best year-over-year improvements the series had seen to date. Therefore, it was only natural to assume that this might prove to be a down year. After all, how could they top the effort that changed the passing game and saw the addition of Draft Champions? Well, there may not be anything as flashy as brand new modes added this year, but Madden NFL 17 amazingly builds upon what last year’s game did, and may be the most polished entry I’ve played from the annual series in a very long time.

For me, Madden’s greatest mode has always been Franchise mode. Since I first started playing the series 21 years ago—don’t mind me as I take a moment and remember how old I am now, shedding a single tear at the thought of my own mortality—the idea of taking your favorite team to the Super Bowl was what drove you in the days before the advent of online play. When Franchise was introduced and I could then take my team repeatedly to the Super Bowl, I was hooked forever.

The mode has been tweaked countlessly over the years, but never before have we had so much control over our team I think. The addition of practice squad players and being able to focus experience points towards developing draft picks shows a better commitment to how an actual NFL team prepares for the future. Combine this with the returning college scouting system, where you spend points each week to see where potential picks should really fall in the draft, and if you’re likely to play at least several seasons worth of Franchise mode, then building up your team has never felt easier or more natural.

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Franchise isn’t just about building towards the future, though. In the here and now, new coach goals and predictions can determine your future with a team—as in if you don’t win now, you might not have that future to build towards. There’s the ability to practice and gameplan each week before your next opponent, and doing so successfully provides in-game bonuses to key player stats. For example, practicing Flood patterns on offense and Cover 2 on defense will boost your players when calling plays that fall in those categories in the game that week. Making legitimate game prep an actual part of Madden surprised me—first for being there, and then for being as enjoyable as it is.

The hardest part of turning any team into a dynasty, though, is keeping them together. New mid-year contract negotiations help make that a breeze, as you see how much a player could want before even getting to the off-season and potentially extend their contract right there. (It’s especially effective with those players who want to negotiate earlier in the year.) Sometimes you’ll realize it’s better to trade away a player who wants too much money, and you can get some sort of return before it’s too late. Sorry middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley; the Ray Carsillo-run New York Giants organization appreciates your service with the team, but we’ve traded you and a draft-pick to the Packers for Jake Ryan, someone just as good as you, who comes at a cheaper price tag, and is seven years younger than you. Welcome to the National Football League, folks.

It’s not just managing a team that has been beefed up, though. Once you take the field, several noticeable changes have made Madden NFL 17 feel like the most realistic game the series has produced yet, starting with the look. A new presentation package gives us more realistic camera angles on replays, and to my delight, the fewest animation bugs I’ve seen in Madden in years. There’s still the occasional hiccup, but the days of players glitching in and out of existence or running off the field and into a replay booth headfirst seem to be gone.

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Also, thank goodness the commentary team has been changed. Phil Simms and Jim Nantz sounded so repetitive and canned (just like in real life!) that I played the game on mute most times. Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis sound like they’re actually enjoying the game, making the recording sound fresh and inspired. Even little touches, like Gaudin taking note when you decide to skip the Larry Ridley halftime show and get back into the action, makes the product feel more alive and far more enjoyable.

In terms of gameplay, since last year had a focus on the passing attack, Madden NFL 17 turned its attention to the ground game. First up is how players will fight for extra yards. In certain one-on-one situations, a button prompt will appear on a defender or runner. If you’re the runner, it means you’ll most likely shed a would-be tackler, leading to a bigger gain; if you’re a defender, you’ll emphatically slam the runner down, halting their forward momentum. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it can be a game-changer, keeping you on the lookout for those shining moments.

Another tweak to the running game has been special moves. They’ve long been a part of Madden, but even after all these years, getting the timing down for spins, jukes, and stiff arms has never been an exact science. So, sort of taking a page out of the NHL series’ tutorial overlap, Madden now tells you exactly what button to press—and when—to help you learn the moves you’ll need to turn average runs into game-breaking touchdown scampers.

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As a heads-up, though, this feature is set to automatic as the default setting. I found after only a couple games that I needed to turn it off, because as much as it was great when my receiver or back would juke a defender out of his shoes and go for a big gain, it was frustrating when they would try to do a spin move around a wall of defenders. I’d rather just run forward at that point and try to churn my legs for an extra yard or two, instead of being spun down in the spot I’m standing. Besides, by then I had rediscovered my personal timing anyway. So, just as a word of advice: you might need to tweak the settings on this for it to fit your play style the best.

As great as this has been to help balance the running and passing game, the biggest gameplay changes may have surprisingly come from special teams. The third phase of football has long been overlooked by Madden, but this year they’re getting their due, starting with kicking. Borrowing the three-input system from the PGA Tour series, kicking field goals and punting now requires you to press a button three times before sending the ball (hopefully) sailing. The first press starts your power meter, the second sets power and starts to swing the meter back down for accuracy, and the third sets that. It finally adds challenge to what is an integral part of football, and one that had surprisingly become relatively automatic in Madden.

There are two sides to every kick, however, and defending kicks has changed as well—in that you can actually block kicks now. Jumping snap counts and actually being able to run around defenders makes it so that playing the other side of the ball on field goals and punts isn’t automatic anymore. More realistic blocking AI means mistakes can happen, and there are few things in football more exciting than a blocked kick. I’d blocked one kick in my entire Madden career—Madden 2004 with Osi Umenyiora of the Giants in a Super Bowl against the Bengals in franchise mode—up until this point. I’ve already blocked three field goals, and had one of my own field goals and punts blocked in only a couple dozen games in Madden NFL 17.

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Of course, this could use some better balancing, especially in online modes like Madden Ultimate Team and Draft Champions. In Franchise, it’s still hard enough to block a kick and it happens about as often as it does in real life, to say not very. In these online modes, since you start with lesser players—and, in the case of Draft Champions, may not fill all the holes you need to in the fantasy draft—it’s much easier for high-level corners to work around low-level linemen. This turns Madden NFL 17 almost into Madden 97 when it comes to playing against others—no one wants to kick the ball.

Speaking of these online modes, Madden’s online suite remains as vibrant as ever. Ultimate Team brings the “Chemistry” feature back (which I’m thrilled about), with clear markings on each card you earn telling you what system those players will best fit. Fill up your chemistry meter with enough players of a particular style (west coast offense, run defense, balanced offense, etc.) and gain bonuses for them in matches. This makes it easier to focus on how you want to build your team and how best to counter your rivals. New solo challenges—now with instant win conditions—expedite the team building process. Last year’s new mode, Draft Champions, also returns with new legends to bolster your roster. As of writing this review, servers appear stable and it’s been quick and easy to get into Draft Champion and head-to-head matchups.

Madden NFL 17 bucks a trend for annual franchises by showing that it can not only find new ways to continue to innovate, but maintain a high-level of consistent quality. Some new features may require more balancing for online play, and there will always be the occasional graphical or audio glitch, but considering where Madden was even just a few years ago, it has come a long way towards showing off its sports dominance and is much more than just a roster update like titles from its past. If you love football, Madden NFL 17 may be the best football game yet.

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Publisher: EA Sports • Developer: EA Tiburon • Release Date: 08.23.16 • ESRB Rating: E – Everyone
9.0
New features may need a little more balancing to be effective online, but overall, Madden NFL 17 is the most polished and enjoyable Madden yet, magnificently avoiding a potential regression after the successes of the year prior.
The Good Special teams, Franchise mode, and ground game tweaks make it feel like the most authentic football sim yet.
The Bad The occasional graphical glitch. The online balancing of the new features needs some work.
The Ugly That opening LA Rams vs Washington simulation. You really think that’s going to be a Wild Card Round playoff matchup EA Sports?
Madden NFL 17 is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

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As part of today’s livestream and presentation, EA DICE revealed that the future of Battlefield is going back to the advent of what we might consider modernized warfare with a World War I setting. Besides a single-player campaign with multiple protagonists, Battlefield 1 is looking to provided the most robust multiplayer suite the series has ever seen.

The first aspect of this is the largest maps yet. Arabia, the Italian Alps, and the muddy fields of France from the western front have already been confirmed and are just as destructible as anything we’ve seen before. Massive battleships can pepper coastlines and reduce them to clusters of smoldering craters, while tanks can rolls through narrow alleyways in urban France, leaving buildings in heaps of rubble behind them. One unique vehicle, though, will be cavalry horses. Riding horses can provide speed in multiplayer, while also giving players access to places normal vehicles cannot get to.

The battle for air supremacy has also taken a distinct turn in Battlefield 1. You can try to channel your inner Red Baron (the pilot, not the pizza) by hopping into biplanes. Some of these old-school aircraft will also offer players a chance to dominate with friends, as they’ll seat two people, meaning one person will pilot while the other will man the guns. Whether or not you can accidentally shoot your own plane like in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is yet to be seen.

The core of Battlefield 1‘s multiplayer, though, will remain with the troops on the ground. Players will be able to choose from one of four classes: Assault, Medic, Scout, and Support. Assault is great for taking out enemy vehicles, Medics are the healing experts, Scouts specialize in picking off single targets with sniper rifles or the like, and Support uses heavy guns to mow down infantry that cross their path. There are also vehicle-specific classes being introduced for the first time, like tank drivers and biplane pilots. While anyone can drive vehicles in multiplayer just like in previous games, these special classes will get boosts if piloting their vehicle of expertise.

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Personal weaponry is also a massive aspect of the new Battlefield. While flamethrowers, mustard gas, and zeppelins were teased in the presentation, we can confirm era-accurate ordnance of all kinds. Pistols, rifles (bolt-action, semi-auto, and fully-auto), and machine guns will be usable by players. You can also call in artillery strikes. Your melee weapon may be just as important as your gun, however, for the first time in the series.

In true World War I fashion, getting your hands dirty in the trenches and getting up close and personal with your enemies is going to be a large part of the gameplay. Knives, sabers, shovels, and trench clubs all offer up distinctive advantages and kill scenarios for players, while a special power called the bayonet charge will also be available for some particularly gruesome close-up kills.

One final change Battlefield 1‘s multiplayer is introducing is a heavier emphasis on team play. Lone wolves beware as charging blindly into battle should spell certain doom as EA DICE has admitted to trying to reward more strategic, team-oriented gameplay. How exactly this will manifest itself is yet to be seen.

And due to EA DICE failing to offer hands-on opportunities before EA Play in June, it’s difficult to tell just how all these changes will actually feel in Battlefield 1. The grounded, reality-based scenario definitely has me excited again, and the potential for even more varied locations not yet announced—like Prussia on the eastern front, maybe—has me wanting to know more. At the very least, it appears like Battlefield is taking a step forward by going back in time.

Battlefield 1 will launch on October 21st for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

No matter if you are a casual NHL 16 player or a full out member of EA Sports EASHL, we’ve all come across the stereotypical players from around the world. Whether it be the guy who pauses the game every five seconds or the rage quit troll – all of these types of gamers are unforgettable.

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With movies, TV, comics, and video games all being highlighted at the same time, New York ComicCon can easily bombard and even overload your senses. Even so, I was able to maintain my focus for just long enough to elbow my way through the massive crowds and get my hands on some awesome games—and here are my top five picks from this year’s show.

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Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Developer: EA DICE • Publisher: EA

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original Mirror’s Edge, and I think part of the reason was that while it had a lot of great ideas, some of them fell flat on their execution. My first time getting hands on with its reboot, however, has me as excited as fans who were head over heels for the original. While I only got 15-minutes of playtime, I’ve never felt more free while running through an open world as I did when controlling Faith. Dare I say, it even felt natural sliding through ventilation shafts, running up walls, and climbing over ledges in fluid, seamless motions that never took away my momentum?

The most telling part of how far the series has come since its original iteration, however, was combat. Having a full head of steam allowed me to pull off some insane one-hit takedowns on armed guards. The only time I had trouble was when I messed up a jump and slowed down my momentum. While I still closed the distance quickly between myself and my assailant—and proceeded to use punches and a spin kick finish to take them down—it took precious time that, had the individual not been alone, would’ve left me as a sitting duck. Situations like those further drive home the point that stopping likely means death in this new Mirror’s Edge, and flight is almost always a better option than fight.

 

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Unravel
Developer: Coldwood Interactive • Publisher: EA

My penchant for puzzle-platformers means that Unravel and its unlikely protagonist Yarny have jumped towards the top of my most anticipated games list. It’s heart-warming story retelling an old woman’s life, and those she’s lost touch with, is your only motivation to guide Yarny through a world wrought with peril around every corner.  Taking advantage of the fact that Yarny is made of—well, yarn—you can build makeshift bridges, lasso up to grapple points, and find inventive ways to traverse the wide-open world set before you.

In the demo I got to play, Yarny had to find its way through a forest and then past the ocean. The forest required careful precision as I leapt between small branches before finally tying Yarny to the end of a kite, using his weight to guide my unlikely vehicle down to the shoreline. There, the tide was my greatest foe, as timing momentum-driven jumps between the oncoming waves was far more difficult than it may sound. It was only a taste, but the more demos I play of Unravel, the more excited I become to see what other obstacles can be thrown in my path—and how I can overcome. If what we’ve so far is any indicator, Unravel will be a can’t-miss platformer next year.

 

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Indivisible
Developer: Lab Zero Games • Publisher: 505 Games

I didn’t play Lab Zero’s first game, Skullgirls, choosing instead to appreciate its beautiful art-style from afar. Hearing how much fun folks in the office had with it, though, I resigned myself not to make that mistake twice when the studio recently announced its latest game, Indivisible. This adventure sees a young girl named Ajna seeking revenge on local warlords who have ravaged her rural country town. When she decides to go on this classic quest, however, Ajna finds she can absorb certain individuals into her being, and let them out to help her battle when she needs to (thus comprising your four-person party with Ajna always at the front).

I was able to play Indivisible up through its first major boss fight, and it reminded me in many ways of newer titles like Dust: An Elysian Tail and Child of Light. Its side-scrolling exploration and art design aren’t anything new to gaming, but require tight platforming from the beautifully drawn characters. And, should you contact an enemy, the world seamlessly transitions into combat, where Ajna and her crew have to each wait for their individual time meters to fill before they could attack—and, while doing so, also possibly interrupt the time meter of their opponents. Depending on the direction you’re holding when you attack, as well as how much meter you let accumulate, your characters can do a variety of different moves. Some focus on singular opponents, while other moves perform area of attack damage, which are great for crowd control.

Even with only having played Indivisible for a half-hour, I could see the depth the combat had, and I couldn’t put my controller down. If Ajna’s story is even half as compelling, it looks like Lab Zero has another hit on their hands—should they hit their Indiegogo target, that is.

 

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The Guest
Developer: Team Gotham • Publisher: 505 Games

We’ve seen a lot of first-person exploration games recently, but Team Gotham’s The Guest creates a terrifying atmosphere that gets your heart racing and makes you question how much further you want to go from almost the very first puzzle. I was only able to explore a couple of rooms in my short demo, but hallucinations, ominous warnings, and evidence that your character isn’t the first person to become trapped in this foreboding hotel in the middle of nowhere were enough for my curiosity to power through my fear.

Relying on your wits, you’ll have to solve a slew of riddles on the way to piecing together the bigger picture of what is keeping you there. While those I saw in the demo were nothing more than finding the broken pieces of an item and putting them back together, or combining items to make something new, promises of more complex conundrums down the line have me excited to see what The Guest can do when finished. The only question now will be whether to experience The Guest in virtual reality, or with a keyboard and a mouse.

 

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Rise of the Tomb Raider
Developer: Crystal Dynamics • Publisher: Square Enix

With only weeks until Rise of the Tomb Raider releases on Xbox One, I still had yet to experience any of my dear Lara Croft’s newest adventure for myself. Demos and events had always seemed to conflict with other appointments, so I’ve been relatively in the dark when it comes to how Lara has changed since her recent reboot on the last-gen consoles. But, at NYCC, I was finally given a chance to play a small snippet of the game in a segment called “The Prophet’s Tomb.” Much like riding a bicycle, the new mechanics from the last game—and the familiar gameplay the series has long been known for—came flooding back to me.

Leaping away from collapsing floors, shooting out spike traps, and using levers to raise or lower the water level to obtain my encrypted prize has not only never felt so good, but also never looked better. The dynamic lighting of torches flickering against stones covered with a thin slime caused by the humid conditions of Lara’s environment was a sight to behold, and the slight nuances her expression would convey made her more lifelike than ever. My only disappointment was that, like many of the games I experienced at NYCC, my time with Rise of the Tomb Raider was short.

If you’d like more of a chance to experience Rise of the Tomb Raider, however, be sure to check out our own Emma Schaefer’s preview from a couple weeks ago, where she played an extended demo of the hands-on I got, as we all wait patiently for what is shaping up to be the best Tomb Raider game yet.

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Semi-pro

As a New York Knicks fan, I am extremely familiar with the concept of rebuilding a franchise. After a three-year absence from the gaming scene, NBA Live has been furiously trying to make up lost ground and get back to a point where it could stand toe-to-toe with its most direct competition. It’s first two years back, however, barely moved the needle with all those virtual ballers out there. The hope was that, like with many annual sports franchises, the third year on new-gen consoles could be the one that would announce NBA Live’s triumphant return to glory. Looking more like my Knicks, though, NBA Live 16 continues moving the franchise in the right direction, but only in baby-steps—and not to a point where it can actually compete just yet.

The most impressive addition to this year’s game comes in the form of the new Live Pro-Am mode. Here you can get ten human players together for some classic five-on-five action in venues that channel your local gymnasium or playground blacktop. Further illustrating that pick-up game feel, the first team to 21 points wins—which, for me, triggered flashbacks to games I played after school or during recess with my friends as a kid. If you can’t find human opponents, there’s also the option to take your five-man squad up against a series of computer teams of varying difficulty.

Playing with other people is really where NBA Live 16 shines. While my time online was seamless, it does need to be mentioned this was before the game’s wide release. Communicating via headset, setting up screens, calling out plays, and learning how to work with one another made me want to lace up my favorite pair of sneakers before playing again.

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One note, though. If you plan on playing with friends, you might want to talk before you group up because in Pro-Am you play as the created player you make when you first start the game and it wouldn’t be wise to take the court with five point guards. This means that Pro-Am mode doubles as a nice way to earn experience points before you take that created player into the single player Rising Star mode—NBA Live’s version of Be a Pro.

Besides Pro-Am, the usual suite of online versus modes return, including EA Sports’ card-based Ultimate Team. Live Ultimate Team adds a new feature where you can earn some of the NBA’s elite from early on in the mode, but can only keep them on your team for a small number of games before you lose them—adding a new strategic element to when and where you play certain players. There are also 160 offline challenges in LUT this year, allowing you to earn tons of coins and players for your squad before heading online.

My only gripe with this is that each challenge I saw is a full-length game. I think LUT needs to take a page out of Madden NFL 16’s MUT playbook and focus on shorter challenges like hitting buzzer beaters or making last minute defensive stops. It’s kind of exhausting to put in an entire game’s worth of time just to get a single card, especially if you fail.

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There have also been some tweaks to the offline components of NBA Live 16. The aforementioned Rising Star mode is accompanied again by Dynasty mode, which allows players to be the GM of their favorite NBA franchise and try to take them to glory. Dynasty still allows you to micro-manage every decision about your team, from making trades and re-signing free agents, to setting your starting lineup each night. If you decide to start with Rising Star, you’ll try to take your personal created player and turn them into NBA royalty.

Rising Star sees a major change for that custom player this year, and it comes in the form of the new progression system. Instead of upgrading a single point at a time, NBA Live 16 now sets threshold marks, so a skill may jump as much as five attribute points if you have enough XP to spend. Also, when you pick a position for your player, you now also have to pick a specialty. Point guards, for example, can be Shooters, Passers, or Slashers, each having their own boosts in particular categories when you start out, requiring less upgrading early on in your career.

Besides the skill aspects of your character, you can also customize their look down to the slightest detail. Tattoos, shoes, warm-up gear, and more are available to be earned. There’s also the Gameface HD companion app that even lets you put your own face on your player. I personally had a fair amount of issues linking the app with my PSN ID, and my odd-shaped head seemed to make the app go haywire on my first several attempts—but it’s an interesting idea if you can get it to work. Until then, I’ll stick with one of the pre-rendered faces.

Customization

There are also some welcome changes to gameplay when you actually take the court. New additions like clearer feedback on shots fix what used to be a confusing element from previous years. Now, a very clear shot meter comes up when shooting a jumper, and depending on skill level and how open the individual is, you receive a definitive percentage letting you know your chances of that shot going in when it leaves your hand. The hope is, over time, you’ll start to learn which are high-percentage shots and which aren’t. There’s also new feedback on called plays that tell you where to go and who you should be passing to in the hopes of getting an open look at the basket.

Unfortunately, things start to fall apart beyond the feedback. When controlling your player at a normal tempo, or if you try to slow things down to eat up some clock, it feels like you’re constantly fighting the controller. There’s almost no finesse when moving your player, unless you’re on the fast break sprinting towards the basket for an easy layup or dunk. And the more complex moves to break away from players guarding you are a series of semi- and half-circles on the right stick that remind you more of a fighting game than a sports title.

The worst gameplay offender, though, is your friendly AI. Whether in Dynasty or Rising Star, your teammates are nearly worthless. When I knock a ball loose on defense, I want my teammates to react to it like in a real game and scramble after it. When I’m boxing out on one side with my power forward, I want my center doing the same thing instead of letting small forwards run by him for easy putbacks. And while it’s great that I can call plays now, when I’m seeing the actual diagram on the court of where I need to be and where my teammates are supposed to go, I want them to actually go to those spots so I can pass or shoot like the play intended. I lead my team every night in points as a passing oriented point guard in Rising Star—not because I want to, but because if I pass the ball to one of my dunderhead teammates, they’re going to turn the ball over. It happens with too much regularity.

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Of course, the friendly AI isn’t the only disappointment, as the opponent AI isn’t very good either. Playing as my New York Knicks in Dynasty last night, I gave up one three-pointer. A stellar defensive feat? No. The AI, even with several open looks, never took a three-pointer unless it absolutely positively had to, which in the case of the one three I gave up, it did because it was at the buzzer to force overtime. If it were a three-point shooter, they’d look instead to try to drive to the basket. If it were a big man, they’d look to pass the ball. I can only control one guy at a time, and as alluded to earlier, the AI defense isn’t that good.

And really, that’s the disappointing thing about NBA Live 16. New modes along with additional bells and whistles for existing ones are perfectly fine, but there is still a roughness to the core gameplay that keeps it from being great. The reason why Pro-Am mode was so good when I played it was because it was humans versus humans, reacting and playing basketball the way you’d expect people should and would. Until that level of gameplay quality translates better into the offline modes, NBA Live 16 is a D-league title at best.

Developer: EA Tiburon • Publisher: EA Sports • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.29.15
6.5
NBA Live 16 takes a small baby step forward with the franchise, but there are still core gameplay elements that need to be smoothed out before it can be a championship caliber game.
The Good Pro-Am mode is a welcome addition to the online suite; better feedback on shot taking.
The Bad AI on both sides of the ball is still abysmal and gameplay remains stiff.
The Ugly My odd-shaped head drives Gameface HD insane.
NBA Live 16 is available on PS4 and Xbox One. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review.

Everything old is new again

A lot of focus went into the style and physics of last year’s NHL title, and in some ways it paid off. A hockey video game had never looked or played better than NHL 15, but in order to stay on its yearly schedule, EA Canada had to make sacrifices and cut featues—a lot of features. To the chagrin of its long-time fans, many aspects only came back in patches well after the game’s launch, and some modes never returned at all. With another year to work, however, NHL 16 brings the series back up to the standards set in previous years—and with an extra coat of polish for good measure.

The biggest returning feature is the beloved EA Sports Hockey League online mode and the 6-on-6 gameplay EASHL is known for touts two key additions. The first of these improvements is online couch co-op. Now, you and a friend can play on the same console and drop into a match whenever you both want making communication and practicing together easier than ever.

The other is player classes. The NHL series has long featured a dozen classes for forwards, defensemen, and goalies in their single-player modes, but as a part of online player customization, you can now choose the class you want to play with in NHL 16‘s EASHL. Having a balanced team will be critical to victory, but nothing may be more important than who plays as your net minder.

For too long, goalies have been ineffective in EASHL and it was often due to the clunky controls more so than the players themselves. Therefore, NHL 16 has introduced brand-new goalie mechanics. With a click of a trigger, you can drop into a butterfly and make yourself “look big” in net, or flick the right-stick to dive in front of the open goal mouth for that spectacular blocker save at the last second. I messed around with the goalie controls offline as not to embarrass myself too badly with them in an actual EASHL game, and although I still gave up five goals in a Rangers 6-5 win over the computer-controlled Blackhawks, gameplay in the crease is definitely a step up from what we’ve seen in the past.

I actually got to test out EASHL online with a full complement of 12 players, and besides a little lag at the start of the first period, it was just as exciting as ever. I helped lead my team to a thrilling 7-5 win in a scorefest, during which I picked up both a Gordie Howe hat trick and a regular hat trick from my natural gaming position of left wing, and choosing to play as a power forward.

While the online focus will surely be on the rebirth of EASHL, Hockey Ultimate Team—the NHL series’ other beloved online mode—has undergone some changes, too. The majority of the experience remains relatively similar—including the UI for the mode, which still could use some work when it comes to making your lines and getting your team ready to play. But a totally refreshed single-player mode has been added, providing players a less pressure-filled situation to try those new lines out in, earn pucks (HUT’s online currency that allows you to earn packs featuring additional players), and move up through a whole new set of divisions.

The idea of a HUT single-player mode is a good one, and something fans have wanted for a while, but its implementation could’ve been so much better. Taking on a similar structure to the online version of the mode, single-player HUT has you play through divisions as you try to create a powerhouse fantasy team. By winning, you’ll move up until you reach the top. The problem is that only the Rookie difficulty setting is available at the start of the mode, since you need certain card requirements to unlock higher levels.

Sure, you could just buy new packs with real world currency, trying to get the cards you need, grind away online, or save up the daily puck rewards for playing on consecutive days. But if you want to get right into the mode, Rookie difficulty is just not fun at all for a veteran player of the series—so those unlock requirements were very frustrating to find.

I won my first four games in single-player HUT by a combined score of 97-6. No, that’s not a typo; I averaged well over 20 goals a game on Rookie. After that, I had no desire to play the mode ever again. Either HUT single-player needs to be balanced better so that Rookie offers a challenge, or the difficulty unlocks need to be done away with. After all, it’s a single-player mode in a sports game. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to decide how much of a challenge you want from the start.

Speaking of single-player modes, NHL 16 hasn’t forgotten about its offline suite of gameplay options when it comes to getting the game back up to speed. First off, all the solo modes you expect are there. NHL Moments Live remains exactly the same as last year, allowing you to again replay the previous season’s most impressive moments and either replicate or change history depending on the stipulation, and will feature new content as epic games happen over the course of the new season.

There’s also Be a Pro, where you can create your own prolific hockey superstar and follow him or her over the course of a 20-year career. This mode remains mostly the same, as well, but has improved coach feedback and training between games, and brings back “classic versus simulation” options that were missing from NHL 15. Basically, the difference between the two is whether or not you can simulate between your Pro’s on-ice shifts, creating two very differently paced experiences. Besides this, Be a Pro (along with the other game modes) has added playoff beards. A truly minor detail, but yes, you can now choose how your facial hair will grow if your team makes it into the playoffs.

If you prefer to have a more top-down view of your hockey franchise, there’s the classic Be a GM mode, where you can run the day-to-day operations of your franchise like a super-executive, trying to bring your team a Stanley Cup and maybe even build a dynasty. The big change that’s come here is a new Morale system. Inspired by the Martin St. Louis/Ryan Callahan trade between the Rangers and Lightning a couple years ago, players will now tell you in Be a GM when they are or are not happy, and can even demand a trade. This affects your overall team morale, which boosts your players’ stats when high and decreases them when low. If you start wheeling and dealing players, it could actually put a sense of dread in the locker room, but getting rid of a nuisance could be a game changer. These are things you’ll need to keep an eye on, and knowing the pulse of your dressing room is a fun new way to interact with your franchise.

Even though the modes are mostly about getting back to the old status quo, the overall gameplay has seen some significant changes. Sure, there’s the tweaking of physics and skating mechanics that we see from polishing the game on a year-to-year basis. Arenas are more realistic, too, with authentic goal songs added and the presentation package adjusted to fit in with NBC Sports’ real-life changes. And there are the aforementioned goalie controls.

In terms of how you play and learn the game, however, the new on-ice visual trainer is the biggest revision to NHL gameplay since the league added delayed offsides and the trapezoid behind the goal crease. Turn on this optional feature, and you’ll see a new overlay during gameplay that tells you very clearly where your passes would go, where your shots would hit on the net (if at all), and even tells you what kind of check to use on defense. More experienced players, such as myself, might scoff at this idea, thinking it’s just for newcomers to the franchise. But if you choose the adaptive training option—so NHL 16 picks up on your skillset dynamically—after just a couple games it’ll focus on more advanced aspects, and I found that even I still had a thing or two to learn. Thanks to the visual trainer’s advice, I have a better than 50-percent winning percentage in the faceoff circle for quite possibly the first time ever. My passing percentage is up, and while I’m not scoring so many more goals to make the game no longer entertaining (unless it’s single-player HUT), I’m definitely putting the biscuit in the basket at a better clip.

Without a doubt, NHL 16 is better than its direct predecessor. But when I look at the product as a whole, while there are some welcome new features—and some that need more work—NHL 16’s most significant points come from adding old stuff back in, making the experience come across more like it’s just catching up to what it was before the console generation shift. That said, NHL 16 feels like a welcome return to form for the series, as solid top to bottom as the ice we skate on.

Developer: EA Canada • Publisher: EA Sports • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.15.15
8.0
New aspects in NHL 16 like the on-ice trainer and the Morale system in Be a GM give the game some welcome layers of depth, and the actual gameplay is as good as ever. However, you can’t help but get the sense that the biggest additions to this year’s game just came from putting back features that were cut from last year’s title.
The Good The new morale system in Be a GM. The on-ice visual trainer will teach even longtime players something new. The return of so many features initially lost in the console shift.
The Bad Single player HUT seasons needs balancing. Even with all the new and returning features, it felt like too much of this year was spent playing catch-up.
The Ugly The fact someone might actually want to grow a playoff “beard” like Sidney Crosby’s.
NHL 16 is available on Xbox One and PS4. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Online portions were tested at an event at EA Canada. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review.