NHL 18 Review: This Ice Feels So Nice
It's that time of year again: a new EA hockey game is hitting the ice. NHL 18 enters the rink with all the stuff you love from previous versions of the game while adding a new Threes mode, more in-depth deking, a training camp for mastering aforementioned dekes, a new NHL team, and more.
Casual fans of NHL games will enjoy the new Threes mode and veterans will have a successful run in franchise mode with all the new ways to keep the puck in their possession. And while many fans hold off on buying new additions of sports games because they don't feel like those games change enough from year to year, they may want to take another look at NHL 18 before passing on it so early in the season.
Although it's not perfect, NHL 18 is a fantastic addition to the series and really shows off what hockey games have to offer all sports fans. From solid gameplay to awesome modes, here's why NHL 18 shines.
And the sloppiest pass of the game award goes to...
NHL 18's Graphics
NHL 18's graphics are as fantastic as they are most years. Whether it's the realistic details behind player faces or environmental effects like stadium lighting, the graphics are solid all around.
While there could be more customization in terms of faces, skin tones, and more via a slider system or something similar in NHL 18, the rest of the player customization is graphically satisfying. You can pick from a wide variety of sticks, pads, helmets, and more, as well as customize their colors. You can even finally live out your childhood hockey fantasies with your favorite gear on your Be a Pro character.
There's also something simultaneously goofy and charming about seeing mascots skate around on the ice with actual players. If you ever feel like releasing some frustration, you can always body check your least favorite team's mascot.
NHL 18's Sound
The sound effects and announcer voices are fantastic. The hits are tough and the fights are rough. It feels like you're really in the stadium with how pumped you'll get when you hear sticks slap the puck or the crowd roar after you've scored a goal.
The only minor complaint I have in this department is the soundtrack, but that's not nearly as important as the rest of the sound design. Most of the songs weren't to my personal liking, though your mileage may vary in this regard. Even if I loved the soundtrack, most fans of sports games know how sick you can get of hearing the same 15 songs over and over again, so really, this is just par for the course.
Some tracks were actually enjoyable, like the Orwells' "They Put a Body in the Bayou", but after the 10th time, it can really grow old. Luckily, you learn to tune it out after a while and can focus on the beautiful sounds of body checking.
The greatest Faceoff since Cage vs. Travolta
NHL 18's Gameplay
The most important part of any game is the way it plays and luckily, NHL 18 knocks this out of the park (or rink, in this case). Whether you're going for a realistic simulation or wanting to play a more arcade style hockey game, there's something here to satisfy all player types.
If you're new or haven't played an EA NHL game in a while, there's an in-depth training mode to get you caught up on all the basics of the newly designed control scheme. Depending on your settings, this can be a simple two-button, old-school NHL 94 layout or an in-depth, stick-play heavy layout. There are numerous ways to deke with the full control scheme, allowing you to keep your opponent on their toes.
I'd like to take a moment to talk about Threes. I haven't had this much fun in any sports game in years. This is my absolute favorite mode. It's a 3 v 3 (not including goalies) mode that leads to some fast and exciting matches. If you play with Money Puck enabled, you can gain multiple points off one goal or take points away from your opponent with differing values depending on which money puck is active.
Not only is the mode itself fun, but NHL 18's new Threes Circuit mode has plenty of unlockables. If you're like me and are a sucker for meaningless unlocks, this will be enough to motivate you to get out on the virtual ice.
Of course, if you're looking for a more traditional hockey experience, fans of core game modes will be pleased as well. Exhibition play, Be a Pro mode, season and franchise modes, etc. are all present. These haven't changed much from previous iterations of the game, so if you had fun with them in the past, you'll have fun with them now -- especially with the newest NHL team: the Vegas Golden Knights. They're definitely better than the Reno Silver Knights.
Gotta love in-game transactions. Or not.
NHL 18's Hockey Ultimate Team
My only real beef with this NHL 18 is its HUT game mode. The Hockey Ultimate Team mode is incredibly interesting on the surface: earn players, coaches, bonuses, etc. by playing and spending in-game currency to open item packs and level your team. It sounds like a fun way to extend NHL 18's playability after players get bored of playing season modes, Be a Pro, and Threes.
The problem? You can also use real money to purchase packs in Hockey Ultimate Team. I am not a fan whatsoever of real currency transactions in most games, let alone in a game like this. Electronic Arts already has more than enough ways to earn money and this just seems a bit over the top -- especially since this is a full-priced game.
However, you can still have fun without spending real world currency, so if you're okay with grinding for in-game money, this mode might still interest you.
Should You Buy NHL 18?
If you're a hockey fanatic, you already know the answer to this question: yes. However, if you're on the fence because you don't know whether it's different enough from previous versions of the game, I have one thing to say to you: NHL Threes. This is the kind of mode that you can get your non-hockey friends into.
If Threes doesn't sound interesting to you, I'd maybe hold off just a bit. If it does, though? Go for it. You'll enjoy the puck out of it.
In closing, NHL 18 adds enough to keep the series fresh while retaining the core mechanics and game modes that fans of the series have come to love over the years. This is definitely a game I'll be playing for a while. Even though I have my (sometimes nitpicky) qualms about the game, overall, NHL 18 is nearly the perfect hockey game.
[Note: EA Sports provided a copy of NHL 18 for the purpose of this review.]