EA Sports gets us back on the ice for some fast and brutal ice hockey action in NHL 17.
Switching from the comparatively sedate, but no less exciting, pace of Madden NFL 17 to the frantic madness of NHL 17 was a bit jarring at first. Mending the thrills of FIFA with the contact of Madden and the brutality of UFC, the NHL games are a guilty pleasure of mine.
It's nice to play a team sports sim where fouling and fighting are all part of the game.
Ice hockey is a fast game and EA Sports' NHL series has been bringing the game's thrills and spills to our sofas for twenty-five years. There's been highs, like the classic NHL 94, and there's been lows, like the comparably barren NHL 15.
For NHL 17, EA Canada have really pulled out the stops. The result is one of the most feature-rich NHL games in a long time. EA Sports have plucked practically all the game modes from their other titles and shovelled them in for this year's NHL offering.
No matter how you like to play your hockey, NHL 17 has got something for you, be in a straight exhibition game or the strategy of running your own team franchise, it's all here.
Season mode gets you straight in playing a season with your favourite team. If you want to concentrate on one player, you've got Be a Pro Career.
If you fancy yourself as a GM, there's Franchise Mode. This game mode puts you in full control of your team from players to your arena. You set seat ticket prices, control the budget and buy promotional items.
Then you've got Draft Champions, Online Verses, Playoff Mode and, of course Hockey Ultimate Team.
Hockey Ultimate Team takes the same format of collectable card/fantasy team management hybrid as in the other EA Sports team titles. You play games using credit from wins (or real cash) to buy card packs with mixture of players, perks, team items and staff. You can trade or use the cards to create your ultimate team for online of offline play.
This year we've got the World Cup of Hockey tournament as well. The Toronto-hosted event is running right now (between the 17th September and 1st October). NHL 17 features all eight participating teams: Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden, United States, Europe and North America. Fan can take their international team from the group stages to the finals.
If you are serious about your hockey, EA Sports Hockey League allows you join a team and play other teams online. Not for the feint-hearted!
Ignoring all the ways that you can play NHL 17, how does the game actually feel to play?
The answer is: very satisfying.
The players handle themselves on the ice beautifully. It takes some getting used to, especially if you are used to FIFA, but once you learn to anticipate the movement on the ice the controls feel great. NHL 17 brings you the full ice hockey experience, including the brutality of the game. Expect to get into on-ice fights as you team's enforcer takes on your opponent in a show-stopping fist-fight.
The passing and puck control is a sweet as ever, inviting plenty of fast-paced exchanges around the goal-mouth. The action is intense and unrelenting. On higher skill settings I'd go as far as to say exhausting!
As with last year, NHL 17 caters for newcomers and returning veterans alike. If you need some practice, there's Online and Offline Shootouts, as well as Practice Mode. Last years on-ice trainer returns which will be a welcome addition to new fans and returning gamers still trying to get to grips with the game. The on-ice trainer gives you all the prompts you need to skill-up with NHL 17. At the end of each period the coaching feedback tools highlight where you need to improve your game.
The commentary whilst accurate, does get repetitive quickly. They really could do with recording a bit more banter between returning NBC commentators Doc Emrick and Ed Olcyzk.
The visuals are fantastic, only let mildly down my the “uncanny valley” look of some of the players. Other than that the player animations are amazingly realistic. The gameplay remains slick and smooth, with EA's Ignite Engine doing a great job with the physics. The puck flies across the rink at breakneck speed and there's a very satisfying crunch as you body-check your opponents.
No other team sport mixes such gracefulness with aggressiveness. NBA 17 feels great to play, as you nimbly skate towards your opponent take the puck and shoot to the goal. There's a certain chaos to the gameplay that really give you a sense of achievement when you succeed. For Ice Hockey fans NHL 17 is a no-brainer, but I'd also recommend it to FIFA and other digital sports fans looking for something new.