Title: NHL 18
Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Release date: Out now
tl;dr:: EA is back with the only virtual hockey option
Price: $60 / £60
Family Focus: Click here for more information.

EA Sports is back, with the only option for a true hockey experience; NHL 18. As it is every year, EA Sports aims to improve upon its recipe by adding new features to make it the most realistic virtual hockey experience in the gaming sphere. Since 2K dropped the annual hockey game, I had been wanting to jump back EA’s take on the series, since I last played in 1998, but considering it wasn’t high on my “To Buy,” list, I always passed. When I had the chance to review this year’s iteration, I gladly jumped on the opportunity.

Once you boot up NHL 18, the game will ask you a few questions in order to adapt the difficulty level to your skills. The first will be to determine the control scheme you’d like to use. You can choose between Skill Stick (makes uses of the joysticks), Hybrid (mix of buttons and joysticks), and NHL 94 controls (buttons only). The former is the control scheme ideal for returning players, and the latter a control scheme for players of all ages. This first step will ensure that players of all skill level can pick up the game without too much hassle. Afterwards, you can choose between the A.I.’s difficulty level:

  • Rookie
  • Semi-pro
  • Pro
  • All-Star
  • Superstar

Despite being slightly different at the core, the endless hours I poured into NHL 2K7 actually proved useful, as it allowed me to actually feel “skilled,” with the NHL 94 control scheme. Unsure as to what to expect, I set the difficulty level at Rookie and managed to win my first match 23-5, which is a bit overkill. Yes, it did make things a bit too easy, but it’s a also a great sign of a franchise to be open and welcoming to as many newcomers as possible.

Thirdly, you can decide the type of gameplay: Arcade, Traditional, Competitive, and Full Sim. Pretty much self-explanatory; new players can still have loads of fun with the Arcade mode while yearly players can dive right in Full Sim mode. Arcade and Traditional are more for the pick up and play style of gaming while Competitive, and Full Sim will give players a bigger challenge to chew on. This also gives players a lot of way to experiment difficulty wise and find that perfect balance for their skill level. And thankfully, players can also adapt the overall difficulty at all times, even during a Season. If you feel it’s a bit too easy, you can make the necessary adjustments so it’s more of a challenge. Same thing if you’re getting pummelled; adjust it so the A.I. takes it easier.

Another helpful mechanic, for newcomers and returning players, is option of having an indicator above player’s head. While greyed out, the indicator will determine what action is best. For example, if you have the puck and are moving into the offensive, it will indicate “Shoot.” Once the game determines you’re in a perfect spot, the indicator will become blue, and you’ll time your actions to a fraction of a second to perform your action. You can still perform the action whenever, but when it’s blue, it means your chances of succeeding are higher. It’s perfect to nail down the timing to win face-offs.

Once you’ve set your ideal difficulty level, it’s time to dive in the plethora of content available out the gate. You can either do a quick game, or start a full 80+ game season. Want Cup fever without a full season? Jump into Stanley Cup mode. There’s also the possibility of doing 3-vs-3 games, making for a fast-paced match. And of course, like every year, you can assume the role of a General Manager and build the perfect team to reach the Stanley Cup.

While on the offensive, the game plays smoothly; there’s no better feeling than being able to work up a play and seeing it resulting a goal. Things can get tricky a bit on the defensive, however. While trying to catch up with a player who’s on a breakaway is pretty simple, trying to hit an incoming player or poke the puck away can prove tricky when skating backwards; it will take a bit of time in order to nail down this mechanic perfectly.

Additionally, the game doesn’t only feature the NHL, but also of handful of other leagues across the world such as the CHL. If you want to take a break from your Season mode, you can always tackle a bevvy of solos challenges in order to earn unique rewards.

Presentation wise, the game is pretty much hit and miss. First off, the players don’t always really look like they’re real life counterparts; at times it looks like EA Sports simply used a generic template and applied it to a handful of players. But while some feel like misses, others are a hit as they look near realistic. Audio wise, the game pretty much nails it. While in menu, players can expect a soundtrack full of rock tracks to pump them up before a game. In-game audio, the commentators and ambient noise really bring the game to life; almost as if you’re watching a hockey game on a Saturday night.

Also, when a big hit hits or a goal is scored, the crowd reacts accordingly and it can be easily distinguished. For example, a simple body check will result a mild crowd reaction, but a big and solid hit which sends a player flying, makes the crowd let out an appropriate roar. However, you can expect commentators to repeat the same things, sometimes multiple times during the same game making it a bit repetitive. But it’s overall fun and enjoyable.

Much to my surprise, NHL 18 is a game I’ve had a lot of fun with this year. Mainly because the game lets players adjust the game’s overall skill performance. New to the series? Mix up Rookie difficulty level with some NHL 94 controls, and it will ease the things up for newcomers; it won’t be too daunting nor too easy. Yearly player? You can crank the difficulty way up to Superstar in Full Sim mode and you’re good to go. Sure, there are a few minor annoyances such as repetitive comments at times, but it won’t affect the overall experience. If you’ve been waiting to take a dive into EA Sports’ NHL series, NHL 18 is the right place to start.

The Good

  • So much content to play around with
  • Adapts to the players’ skill level
  • Easy for newcomers to dive in

The Bad

  • Playing defensive, even on Rookie level, can require some patience/practice
  • Commentators will repeat themselves at times; sometimes during the same game
  • Hit or miss visuals

Family Focus

NHL 18 is rated E10+ and PEGI 3 due to the presence of mild language. I mean there *are* fights between players, much like in real life.

This review is based on a review copy of the game provided by Xbox UK.