|System: PS4, Xbox One|
|Dev: EA Canada|
|Pub: EA Sports|
|Release: September 15, 2017|
|Players: 1-12 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Violence|
by Sean Engemann
EA Sports has honed the formula for the annual releases of their sports franchises. It basically involves packing in tons of modes and delivering tight gameplay controls, but leaving just enough of a crevice to promote improvements and added content the next time around. NHL 18 does exactly that, adding a few more offensive dekes and the much needed Defensive Skill Stick, as well as opportunities to create an entire new team from scratch or ditch conventional rules for a more arcade-inspired campaign mode. It does just enough to warrant a full label, and not simply bite-sized extras crammed into what would otherwise be dubbed NHL 17.5. It keeps the series moving forward, with enough meat to keep fans satisfied until next year.
On the ice, the controls feel very similar to those of the past few titles, except this time there is more of a push for players to adopt the full breadth of maneuvers using the Skill Stick option, making the Hybrid and NHL 94 schemes extremely limited in versatility. To get you acclimated to the system, the Hockey Canada Training Camp goes through the basics of shooting, passing, defense, faceoffs, and deking. The new advanced dekes, such as the backhand drag shot and one-handed tuck, have great animations and enough deftness to confuse the AI and look highlight worthy on instant replay, but are extremely situational, requiring skating angles and opposing formations to be just right in order to pull them off successfully. The Defensive Skill Stick, on the other hand, is a useful application every time you’re on defense. Using the right analog to fully control the hockey stick lets you compensate and counter whatever deke your target is attempting and allows you to adjust when your opponent is attempting to lure your poke check into a penalty.
But the Training Camp has some omissions. Though it does teach you poke checks, body checks, and stick lifts, there is no formal instruction of proper use of the Skill Stick on defense. Other elements, such as diving in front of a slap shot or how to start a fight and throw punches, requires you to learn by accident or manually check the controller configuration.
There are several expansive modes in NHL 18, each of which could easily soak up dozens upon dozens of hours individually. Franchise offers the full breadth of ownership and management, giving you the powers to create a team from scratch, customizing logos, mascots, arena features, and other backend elements. You start right from the draft, move into signing contracts and wrangling in free agents, and oversee revenue and fan happiness to make your team the one everybody wants to watch. It is by far the best mode for those who like to control every minutia, but more than a little intimidating for those who’d rather just hit the ice. If you’d prefer to focus on a single user-created player, the Be A Pro mode allows you to start from the junior leagues, train in different areas, build experience, and improve your stature going into the draft, then work your skills in the NHL to continue growing in skill and fame.
There are also modes to jump right into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, do quick shoot outs, or play entire seasons in the NHL or in another league, such as the ECHL, Liiga, and Switzerland’s National League. It’s nice to see global recognition in NHL 18. However it is a shame you can’t use these teams outside of Season Mode, not even in a Quick Play match.
The most disappointing mode is the newest one, called NHL Threes. This arcade-focused mode shrinks the rink, speeds up the actions, and dispenses with icings, offsides, and a few other rules. In its place are flames, mascots in the line-up, and commentary pulled straight from a WWE match. The vocal jabs are terrible, and the atmosphere is cheesy and painful to submit too. There is a full campaign to play through, with unlockables to collect, objectives to complete, and a lineup to fine-tune, but with the whole setup is so cringeworthy, it’s hard to imagine many hockey purists opening up this can.