Tag Archive: NHL


I had a chance to play some of NHL 18‘s new Threes mode early and dominated the competition. Check out the new arcade-like mode below. NHL 18 will be available from EA Canada and EA Sports on September 15th.

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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.

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.

A shorthanded debut

NHL 14 was the pinnacle for EA Sports’ NHL franchise—and that’s saying something, considering its quality and consistency for more than two decades. It seemed like the folks at EA Canada had crammed in every mode and feature they could come up with and pushed the technology to its limits on the last generation of consoles. But this peak seemed to come at a perfect time, since it was just as we began the transition to new consoles. It seemed more than plausible that EA Canada could reach new heights this year with NHL 15 on new-gen hardware.

Unfortunately, this is another case where expectations were greater than reality. It’s not that the on-ice product is bad with NHL 15. In fact, once you decide to start a game in Be a Pro, Be a GM, or any of the other modes, actually playing a game of hockey might be better than ever. The new NBC presentation package makes it feel like every game is Game of the Week, and commentary from the team of Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro is stellar. I’m about 40 games into my Be a GM mode (I play every game of the season), and I’m just now starting to hear some repeat commentary, but I’m still getting surprised here and there.

The graphics have also made a spectacular transition to the new console generation, and everything looks sharper and crisper—you can almost feel the chill of the ice itself. What’s more, the player models are amazingly realistic and even borrow a few tricks from EA Sports UFC when it comes to bruising and facial contortions from fights. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the eye of a guy you pummeled in an earlier bout swelled shut by the third period.

The biggest improvement comes from the revamped physics, though: huge player pileups when you crash the net, realistic puck bounces that lead to frustrating turnovers or fortunate close calls, and more dynamic goalie saves make it seem like you’re watching a game in real life. All the goal-scoring glitches of past years have seemingly been erased as well—the AI’s improved all around, and your opponent always tries to anticipate your every move. And even the issues with faceoffs—my one disappointment from last year’s game—are now fixed, since you can use your stick with more pinpoint precision than ever before.

When you get off the ice, however, everything takes a horribly sour turn. Countless modes from previous years have been nixed. Even with patches coming in during the next 60 days to bring back Playoff Mode and Online Team Play, you’re still missing EA Sports Hockey League, Winter Classic, and Be a Legend. NHL Moments Live mode from NHL 13 was brought back to cushion this blow, but you still don’t want modes completely removed from the game. It feels like instead of continuing to build on what they’d created over the previous few years, EA Canada instead hit the reset button with new-gen.

The worst part, though, may be the fact that EA Canada scaled back the modes that did make it into the game. Be a Pro has lost the “Live the Life” feature introduced in last year’s game, which allowed you to interact with teammates, family, fans, and the front office and deal with a balancing metagame as you tried to keep everyone in your life happy while also maintaining a high level of on-ice play.

You’ve also lost the ability to simulate to your next shift in Be a Pro. Now, you have to watch the entire game on the bench when you’re not playing, whereas last year, a button press would move you forward in time. This becomes particularly painful if you take a penalty and then have to watch the minutes tick off on the clock from the sin bin. I don’t want to watch a hockey videogame. I want to play. These subtle omissions have turned one of my favorite modes from last year into an afterthought when I boot up the game now.

Be a GM has its own set of issues now, too. To begin with, your team’s AHL affiliate has been completely done away with—now, minor-league players are just “in the system” instead of accumulating any stats or progress whatsoever. There’s also no GM tracking mechanic anymore to let you know how you’re doing or to give you an idea of what goals you need to aim for. The preseason and fantasy-draft options have also been removed, and the year-end draft for each season is fully automated by the CPU. If I’m running a franchise, I want to run the franchise! Don’t take any aspect of that away from me—and especially don’t assign it to the computer!

To make matters worse, the little control you still have left becomes all the more complicated due to the panel user-interface system that’s now permeated every EA Sports franchise. Yes, being able to jump to my favorite modes as soon as I start the game up is a welcome addition, but making trades, changing my lines, and even just resting my goalie have all become a chore because of this new system. The old list system had its problems, but it was nowhere near as bad as what this universal UI homogenization by EA Sports has done. Changing your lines is so difficult that in Hockey Ultimate Team, one of the patches is solely to help adjust this. I wish this patch were for all game modes, because changing lines and making adjustments in Be a GM right now is a nightmare.

And speaking of HUT, nothing has infuriated me more than not being able to earn pucks (the HUT currency used to buy packs to get new players) in single-player modes outside of HUT. Yes, you earned many more for playing online, but as someone who loved Be a GM and Be a Pro modes and spent more time there than anywhere else, it was nice to still earn a few pucks for playing the modes I wanted to play. This only helped extend NHL 14’s life for me; after a while, I would play a little bit of HUT because I’d accrued so many pucks. Now, it feels like the best way to get pucks is to buy them through microtransactions. EA Sports trying to squeeze more money out of us? Color me surprised.

After playing limited demos of NHL 15 leading up to its release, I could not be more disappointed with the final result. It feels like so much time and focus went into getting the graphics and physics systems up to snuff for new-gen that EA Canada forgot about the rest of the game. At the very least, there’s hope, though. Now that the transition’s been made—however painfully—next year’s title can bring NHL back to its former glory.

Developer: EA Canada • Publisher: EA Sports • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 09.09.14
7.0
The new physics system, presentation elements, and graphics are definitely a step forward for the franchise, but the wholesale removal or scaling back of so many modes leaves you wondering how such a great series could struggle so mightily with the console transition.
The Good The physics and graphics are the best the series has ever seen.
The Bad So many modes and features are missing compared to NHL 14 that it’s hard to believe this is the full game.
The Ugly This will go down with Madden 06 as one of the most disappointing generation transition games for a sports franchise.
NHL 15 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.

Ray Carsillo gives his predictions as to who he thinks will win the Super Bowl, talks about David Diehl retiring from the New York Giants, and glosses over the Pro Bowl because no one cares about that. Welcome to Ray’s Man Cave!

On April 18, 2007, the New York Rangers baked three pucks into a giant sponge cake outside Madison Square Garden the day of Game 4 of their first round series against the Atlanta Thrashers. They then got 10 diehard Rangers fans to jump into said cake. If you found one of the three pucks, you got tickets to the game. I was one of those fans, and came up short. BUT my boss at the time, Joe Pardavila, also jumped into the cake, and gave me his puck. I found this tape of the event in my archives (it was given to me by the fine folks at MSG) and thought it might be fun to digitize and put it out there for a good laugh.

An EA Canada job listing suggests that an open-world Star Wars game is in development at the studio, Kotaku reports.

One of the listings, specifically for an animation director position, mentions that they’re looking for someone “…to help define and deliver on the vision for a major new next-gen open world action game.”

This would make EA Canada the third EA studio to start work on a Star Wars title since EA and Disney agreed to a 10-year licensing deal a short while ago. The other two studios are DICE, which is currently working on a new next-gen Star Wars: Battlefront, and Visceral Studios, which is working on a yet unnamed project that was revealed back in May by their own job listings.

Two other recent listings for Star Wars executive producers, one for EA Canada and another for Visceral Games, are almost identical and could signify a joint venture between the studios. 

EA Canada is best known for its work in developing both the NHL and FIFA sports franchises. The extra hires would make sense for the studio, since it would surely need to bolster its staff to take on another franchise, let alone one such as this (or even to collaborate with another studio, especially with the prospect of this being an open-world action title).

It doesn’t matter, though, if EA Canada is working with someone or alone, Star Wars fans everywhere must be excited by the prospect of multiple next-gen adventures coming their way at some point. Here’s hoping the Force is stronger with this one than it was with Star Wars: 1313. 

If you’ve followed hockey over the past 20 years, you know there have been few players as dominant as Martin Brodeur. Many consider him the greatest goaltender of all-time, as he holds or is tied for 25 different NHL records, including most wins and shutouts. He has won four Vezina trophies (best goalie in the league), three Stanley Cups, and even a pair of Olympic gold medals.

Now, he has one more line to add to his prolific list of accomplishments.

With more than 22 million votes cast, Brodeur has beaten out the Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to earn the right to be the cover athlete for EA Sports’ NHL 14.

Some would say that this was more about his career accomplishments—since his numbers have begun to trail off in the twilight of his career—but this was the second year that the public vote for the honor. If anyone nodded their head in Marty’s direction, it was the fans.

“The support I’ve received throughout the cover vote campaign has been incredible,” said Brodeur in a press release. “My kids pushed me to participate in the campaign, and they are really excited to see their dad on the cover of the game they play all the time. I want to thank all the NHL fans who campaigned and voted for me.”

Brodeur is the first goaltender to grace the cover since NHL 97, when John Vanbiesbrouck of the Florida Panthers was given the honor.

Of course, being a New York Rangers fan, this year I may have to print out a picture of Rangers’ captain Ryan Callahan and toss out Brodeur’s cover slip. No offense, Marty, but it wouldn’t feel right having you in my video game library.

NHL 14 skates onto PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 September 10 in North America, September 13 in the rest of the world. 

All it’s missing is the Zamboni

With another NHL lockout looming over the 2012-2013 season, folks who prefer frozen ponds to pitches and gridiron are itching to get their fix. That means that there may be added pressure this year for EA Canada’s NHL franchise to step up and deliver a lifelike experience, since this game might have to tide hockey fans over for the entire winter. Fortunately, in most regards, NHL 13 does indeed rise to this challenge.

The most notable addition to this year’s game is the True Performance Skating physics system. More so than ever before, momentum and contact with other players will affect your skaters in the most realistic ways ever seen in a hockey videogame. As soon as you start a game—whether in Exhibition, Be a GM, Be a Pro, or any other of the classic returning game modes—tactics that you’ve used in the past need to be thrown out the window. In fact, you’ll have to think more like an actual NHL player now if you hope to succeed in this game.

Once you get used to accidentally slamming yourself into the boards over and over again, you’ll probably notice the improved positioning and difficultly in getting around your opponents—and that’s because of an overhauled AI system. Opposing skaters, more than ever before, move exactly as they would in real life; you’ll feel like you need to pull out a dry-erase board before too long and start drawing up plays to get around it.

But even if you should find a way by the AI players, there’s always the goaltender waiting at the end. He’s the most important part of any team—and the best teams are always built from the netminder outward. And since a lot of flaws from last year’s version are now fixed—the wraparound glitch foremost among them—goalies now have dozens of new animations that allow them to react and play the puck better than ever before. If you’re not smart, you could end up making some scrubs like look brick walls, but no matter what, you’re going to have to work for your goals.

So, the gameplay’s seen a facelift for the better, but as far forward as NHL 13 may go in terms of the on-ice action, in other areas, it seems like EA Canada’s taken a step back. The new, broader rating system is one of these areas. I personally liked having players rated by their roles in a system, and I liked knowing if my winger was a tough guy or a sniper—it helped me lay out my four lines accordingly. Instead, players are simply broken down into forwards, defensemen, and goalies, and I have to look more closely than before at everyone’s individual stats to decide if this is the guy I want on the ice to send a physical message, or if he’s going to be taking faceoffs for me on the power play.

Another knock against NHL 13 is that even though the opposing GM AI is touted as “improved,” I think it looks more like it’s been lobotomized. I appreciate that the game highlights players who are more likely to be traded than others by an organization. But if you try to acquire a player who isn’t highlighted, the computer seems adamant on preventing you from getting him. Even when I tried to do the real-life trade the Rangers did with the Blue Jackets for Rick Nash, the computer refused! (Obviously, I played before roster patches went live, so I was trying to make the league as accurate as possible). I even tried sweetening the deal so it was better than the real-life one with extra first-round draft picks. And still, the computer refused me!

Despite a handful of infuriating moments like these, NHL 13 is still probably the best hockey experience yet once you actually take the ice. Plus, a lot of the other modes have a few new goodies sprinkled in to liven up those experiences. Be a Legend has all-new faces, including a pair of female Olympians, and the game also offers a new playoff format for Hockey Ultimate Team. Finally, the Be a Pro mode features the ability to demand a trade once you become a big enough star. All in all, this is a step in the right direction for the NHL franchise, and it gives me a lot of hope for future iterations.

SUMMARY: The actual gameplay is leaps and bounds ahead of NHL 13’s predecessors, but the GM AI has taken a couple steps backward in noticeable—and discouraging—ways.

  • THE GOOD: New physics system adds previously unseen levels of gameplay nuances.
  • THE BAD: Presentation and GM AI is worse than in prior years.
  • THE UGLY: Having my New York Rangers stand by and watch as the Los Angeles Kings raise their Stanley Cup banner to start the season! Argh!

SCORE: 8.0

NHL 13 is available on Xbox 360 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.