NHL games often fly under the radar as far as EA Sports major Juggernauts go.
Madden and FIFA almost always seem to dominate the headlines, but EA’s work with Ice Hockey continues to be absolute top-drawer and a ton of fun.
NHL 21 might just be the best yet with its huge improvements to Be A Pro which sees you take the part of an up and comer intent on winning the Stanley Cup itself, starting with the most humble of origins.
The road to the Cup is obviously the part most interesting to players, letting you form close bonds with your teammates, as well as your potential coaches and naturally building your path to the NHL. This all contributes to how you play and what skills you earn.
A career mode has been seen as a real mark of quality in EA games in recent years – often a reason for people to revisit past entries when rosters are outdated and new features have subsequently been added. NHL 21 genuinely has a good one, certainly among the best the series has seen to date.
And the game sets you up nicely with a really well developed, easy to follow training regime to make sure you’re ready for it. Some of the advanced shots are obviously a lot trickier to master – but the game gives you all the tools you need to learn and develop your skills. You’ll absolutely need to master them as you climb your way up the rankings.
It’s not just Be A Pro that’s seen some new updates here, with Franchise Mode getting some new trade deadline decisions, as well as value assessments, giving stars legitimate properites akin to the real life counterparts, basing it on form and quality.
Other updates can be found in Hockey Ultimate Team Rush and World of Chel, really focusing on the customization options and the differing of playstyles. That’s something EA have done brilliantly well here is giving these players their own quirks and styles that make them wholly distinct. With some players, you will genuinely notice the difference based on how they move, the shots they play, and how they gesture.
The game itself flows and plays beautifully, the sensation of skimming across the ice, circling the goal with puck on stick, gracefully weaving between the opposing team is as fast-paced and fluid as the NHL itself.
There is a satisfaction to NHL that’s not really present in other sports games. It feels like anyone can get the basics – learn to pass, use your stick to claim a puck, take a shot at goal – but there’s so much you can learn. There’s some really clever trick shots you can use to fool the goalie and get the puck past them. There’s also some smart play you can use for breakaways and genius ways you can defend from oncoming attackers.
It’s up to you how much you take from the game but EA have wonderfully balanced it so you can play at a pace that suits you.
Something else I love about NHL is the ability to pin the three modes that matter to you on the front screen. It makes sense because NHL 21 is absolutely stacked with things to do with Franchise Modes, 3v3, or if you just want to jump in some action.
NHL 21 is first-class entertainment. It wonderfully captures the feeling at being at a Hockey game with the bright lights and roaring atmosphere. The highlights and camera shots give you the feeling of being up close and in on the action, and all told, it’s great fun to play.
There were some pretty bad frame rate drops at times when the camera pans from the crowd to the ice, and there’s definitely a sharp learning curve on doing some of the shots and a level of complexity in the way they’re controlled which will be frustrating at first, but NHL 21 is the best Ice Hockey game I’ve played to date and it’s one sports franchise I’ll certainly be dipping in and out of in the months ahead.
+ Be A Pro is the best it’s ever been
+ NHL gameplay is incredibly satisfying
+ So much variety to keep you entertained
+ Looks and sounds wonderful
– Some Frame Rate Dips
– Controls can be harsh on tougher shots
NHL 21 is now available on PC, PS4, and XO
Code kindly provided by EA
Tested on Xbox One