Ah, the EA Sports NHL franchise, a frustrating garble of stagnation and glorified roster updates. If you’re familiar with the series and play every year or at least every other year, there’s a goos chance the phrase “this is the exact same game” rolls through your head at least once. There are many improvements in NHL 22 that lead to better overall game play, but yet, there’s a portion that still feels like the same old NHL games released year after year.
Seems worth noting out of the gate that I’m not a hardcore gamer. So this review won’t include any online or multi-player modes, Just an overall breakdown of the game. I already did a write up on the NHL 22 alumni rosters here.
If you’re a longtime fan of the EA NHL series you probably remember NHL 15/16/17 era games when every time you attempted a poke check it was a penalty, or when you crashed the net and the goalie got the whistle it was a goalie interference. Who else would seemingly be on an endless 5-on-3 for most of the game?
This is actually something I thought they addressed well in NHL 21, but made further improvements for NHL 22. After a dozen games played in franchise mode, it feels like a much more realistic version where any penalty, especially tripping, is deserved. It’s no longer “your stick is in the same general vicinity as this guy” but rather actually getting the stick entangled in the opposing players feet. And I don’t think I’ve drawn a single goalie interference yet, again, a much improved part of the game.
MLB The Show moved to the Xbox for the first time in 2021 and it was substantially better in just about every way than it was on the Playstation in The Show 20. Both the field and the players looked so much more realistic, which may have set the bar way too high entering NHL 22. The game isn’t bad from a visual perspective, some things have actually far improved, but others have been the same for years now.
-Some in-game features are new this year, including statistics such as penalty kill and powerplay percentages, goalie stats, and skater scoring stats, appearing on the ice before every face off.
-The overall look in the rink, the ice, the boards, the fans, all look a bit sharper than they have in the past.
-The facial scanning has seemingly improved as well, but the bodies and jerseys have not. The skaters still look like the same jagged, poorly rendered humanoids they did a decade ago.
One aspect of the game I’ve appreciated the most through the early days of single player modes is that goals are harder to score. Everyone who has played the game in the past remember that cross-ice one-timer that would go in 99 out of 100 times, but that hasn’t been nearly as prevalent this year.
The oppositions defenders actually, to an extent, play defense. They’re not just pylons. They pursue the player carrying the puck and the cross-ice passes are harder to connect, and scoring on them if they do find the target is much more difficult. It feels like a real hockey game, and as a solo gamer who plays this in his free time, having to focus a bit more and get creative offensively keeps me entertained much longer.
Getting scored on also feels a bit more difficult. In past years, no matter how good your goalie supposedly was, would get turned inside out at the slightest pressure from the other team, but now it he feels a little more tuned to the game action, making a save or two that would’ve been easy goals in past versions.
All in all, NHL 22 is a better game than in the past. If you’re holding out about upgrading from past versions of the game, this may be the year to do it. Yet, even with all the slight improvements, there is still the unshakeable feeling that it’s rinse and repeat year after year.
I purchased the game and went into it with the ” I’m expecting the same old thing” mentality, but objectively speaking, it was a pretty good game that is clearly heading in the right direction. Is there more that could be done to overhaul the experience? Yes, absolutely, but is it also a game that for the first time in years that overall feels like a different experience? Also yes.
The game itself has an overall more realistic feel to it, which is much appreciated. But in the future, maybe upgrade the players themselves. As a bit of a hockey jersey snob myself, updating the the jerseys to team specs, or at least as close as possible can go a long way to a better product. The Flyers specifically look like they’re in knockoff jerseys. They style of right, but the outlines on the numbers are not. It’s little things like that that make a more immersive experience.
On a side note, why is Auston Matthews on the cover again? They couldn’t find… I dunno… anybody else? This would be a much better cover if I do say so myself.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)