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Game review 18 October 2021, 15:04

author: Giancarlo Saldana

Giancarlo Saldana has been covering video games and tech for over a decade for publications like 1UP, GamesRadar, TechRadar, MacLife, Blast Magazine, and more. Twitter: @giansaldana

NHL 22 Review: Stale Icing

NHL 22 promises some added upgrades thanks to a new engine and next-gen horsepower. With a lot of the same features returning from last year’s installment, you need to ask yourself if the upgrade is truly worth it.

The review is based on the PS5 version. It's also relevant to XSX, PS4 version(s).

Yearly sports games run into the issue of offering enough new content to keep fans satisfied through a new season. This year, 2K released some notable upgrades to NBA 22K that made it a worthy upgrade to last year’s installment, but it also featured some gameplay refinements that made playing it so much more fun.

PROS
  • Improved stick physics and animations
  • Awesome DualSense features
  • Crisp graphics and cool AR features
CONS
  • More of the same
  • Player faces appear washed out and unrecognizable
  • Questionable Be a Pro design choices

With the NHL season starting up, it’s time to turn our attention to EA, whose series has been somewhat of a mix bag over the years – reliable, but a bit stale. While NHL 22 looks and plays beautifully, it is, essentially, last year’s game with minor, but notable improvements. Fans who have never played a hockey sports title will love its robust offerings and how it truly makes you feel part of the action on the ice. But if you follow the series regularly, you will want something more.

Nice ice baby

There is no denying the energy you get from playing NHL 22. From the shouts you’ll hear on your controller to the fanfare that blares after a goal – its audio presentation is top-notch and puts you right in the rink during every game. Even the rumble you feel changes throughout a match to mimic how worn the ice gets through each period. There are notably many new lines of commentary in this year’s edition, too, making your games feel fresher and more current.

To add to the spectacle, the new Frostbite engine adds a lot of detailed improvements to the overall presentation during games. The ice looks shinier, skid marks are more apparent, and lighting has gotten a huge upgrade, making the overall environment feel more real. And that’s saying a lot considering most ice rinks are pretty bland.

To add some color into things, this year now features augmented, reality-like graphics that superimpose stats and banners on the ice or behind a player when he’s benched. These design choices not only look cool, but also blend in seamlessly with all the action and resemble what you’d see on a live game.

While textures look sharper, player faces look more washed out and obscure than before. Most famous players you can recognize, but other, less notable ones will have you squinting to make yourself believe it’s Brandon Carlo rather than John Doe. Even the audience is questionable, and you will often see the same expressionless models next to copies of themselves in the same row, making it all feel less real.

Engine tune-up

Taking it to the rink, however, the Frostbite engine helps the game get to that level of realism it always aspired to. Depending on how you prefer to play, matches can feel as arcade-y or as much of a simulation as you want. We kept the default settings during our time with the game, and it’s safe to say it feels like an improvement on all levels.

Gameplay feels more fluid and responsive, and the slower feel of the game respects your choices and gives you time to make your plays. The puck, for example, doesn’t feel magnetized anymore, so don’t expect every pass you make to magically make it to your teammate. On offense, you have to pay more attention to your surroundings and watch out for any obstacles in your shot’s trajectory. When you’re defending, cross-crease goals now won’t feel impossible to block.

Stick physics have also been improved in how they look on the ice so you won’t see sticks just phase through players anymore. They will actually collide with one another as you’d expect them to, and you will even hear that satisfying smacking sound when two sticks clash.

New physics also contribute to how quickly your player swings when passing or shooting. If he is tired, you will definitely feel it both in his reaction time but also in how much harder it is to press the shoulder button to make that pass. This, combined with the rumble of skating you feel on the ice, make for an impressive sensory experience.

Same old, same old

Besides these aforementioned changes, the rest – and the bulk – of NHL 22 remains unchanged from NHL 21. All the modes from the previous year are back including Franchise, Be a Pro, and the microtransaction-heavy Hockey Ultimate Team. It’s a shame the menu layout leaves you wanting something sleeker considering the addition of AR banners on the ice, but the game does offer enough content to keep you busy.

VERDICT

“Playing it safe, NHL features a plethora of fun yet all-too familiar online and offline modes that play well and look great. The engine upgrades it received this year and enhanced animations make it one of the best hockey sims out there even though it has the potential to be so much more. Fans of the series will feel some slight improvements, and newcomers will receive a robust package that will keep them busy all throughout the season.”

The one “new” addition this year is X-Factor abilities, which set notable players apart from the rest of the pack. Madden has been doing it for years now, but the game now gives pro players like Patrice Bergeron, Victor Hedman, and Auston Matthews distinct abilities in shooting, skating, defense, and others, and make it obvious they’re better than the rest of their team. While this doesn’t change the overall flow of the game, these abilities give notable players their own personal touches and offer some stylized animations when an ability is used on the ice.

Because the game reuses several modes from last year’s installment, you would hope they would have ironed out or improved their overall experience, but sadly, that wasn’t the case. Be a Pro mode, while intensive and quite hearty, still doesn’t feature voice acting for your character leading to some quiet conversations between him and reporters or managers. Even certain dialogue options are barely visible because of poor font color choices on certain backgrounds.

Bottom line

By no means is NHL 22 perfect nor is it groundbreaking. In fact, if the game didn’t tweak its physics or improve its graphics output, it would be an exact copy of last year’s version – good, if not average. With roster sharing coming out next month, this game has potential to be even better, so only time will tell what other improvements or changes we will see in the near future.

NHL 22 Review: Stale Icing - picture #8

Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.

Playing it safe, NHL 22 features a plethora of fun yet all-too familiar online and offline modes that play well and look great. The engine upgrades it received this year and enhanced animations make it one of the best hockey sims out there even though it has the potential to be so much more. Fans of the series will feel some slight improvements, and newcomers will receive a robust package that will keep them busy all throughout the season.

Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com

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