NHL 18 review for PS4, Xbox One

Platform: PS4
Also On: Xbox One
Publisher: EA
Developer: EA Canada
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1-8
Online: Yes
ESRB: E10+

EA Sports season is just getting going and the first release (of many) for them this month is NHL 18. Madden saw a strong start to EA Sport?s biggest time of the year and we?ll see how FIFA and the returning NBA Live do later this month, but now it?s time to talk some hockey. In what was mostly a marginal improvement last year, I?m happy to report while that statement still applies to NHL 18 with many aspects of the game, EA also took the time and effort to implement a brand new mode into NHL 18. A lot of what I wrote about in NHL 17 (here) still applies and I?m not going to rehash that stuff so feel free to go back to that review if you haven?t read it or you’re returning to the NHL franchise for the first time in bit.

Let?s get right to the main event of NHL 18; NHL Threes. Threes is the brand new, over-the-top, arcade style mode added to NHL 18. As you might be able to tell from the name of the mode, gameplay shifts from the traditional 5-on-5 to 3-on-3. Threes is reminiscent of old arcade style games like NHL Hitz and Wayne Gretzky Hockey; penalties are put on the bench, there?s an over-the-top (repetitive) announcer, and they have specialty game altering pucks. Threes is treated much like the Longshot mode in this year?s Madden; it feels like a completely independent game with its own menu. You can pick between playing pick-up matches or playing through the campaign, which has you go through circuits of different teams. Based on my knowledge of gaming history and a bit of EA?s history I?m kinda shocked that they decided to include this in NHL 18. Threes could easily stand alone as a downloadable release and many publishers probably would have done that, so I really applaud EA for including it for no extra cost.

Threes? rules are customizable so you can play a set period length or to a certain score. Playing to a certain score is the way to go, in my opinion, because of the specialty or money puck option. You see, when you play through games in Threes, as you score there will be a bar that tells which type of puck will be used next, and after each score they change. The Fire puck will give you up to 3 goals, while the Ice puck will give you a goal and take one goal away from your opponent. I could go without the repetitive announcer, but it is nostalgic to the arcade announcers of the 90?s sports titles. Minor gripes aside, Threes is a new mode everyone should check out.

Another new feature to NHL 18 is the ability to do an expansion draft in Franchise mode. Not only can you take over the brand new Vegas franchise, Golden Knights, but you can also create the NHL?s 32nd team and whatever you want to call it. Creating your own team means; choosing a city, building an arena, designing a jersey, logo, and even mascot all before the players you draft take the ice. As I said in last years NHL review, I?m not a huge hockey fan, but I do enjoy the sport, so this expansion option was perfect for me. I could draft recognizable players and build the type of team I like, while also customizing everything else regarding the team.

That?s really it for the new stuff (there?s a training mode, but that?s hardly a selling point), so EA?s sticking with the ?if it?s not broke don?t fix it? mantra that they typically use with their sports titles. The TV-style presentation is still some of the best of any sports game and I am baffled as to why they don?t put in the same effort with their other releases, especially Madden. I also really like how many options we?re given for controls, difficulty, and rules. These aren?t anything new to the series but they stand out when you play other sports titles and they lack the level of customization that NHL 18 has.

It feels like deja vu when you’re playing an exhibition game in NHL 18 because it?s very very similar to NHL 17, but that?s not a bad thing. If you’re a fan of the NHL and you buy this release annually, this review isn?t going to tell you anything to prevent you from your purchase. If you listened to my review last year and picked up NHL 17, as a casual fan who doesn?t pick up every release, this year is probably going to be a skip. There?s just not enough of a change year over year. Threes is a fantastic new mode and a way to enjoy some arcade style hockey (and would be perfect on the Switch wink wink), but it?s just not worth a $60 investment for a casual fan. Die hards will have a blast with NHL 18 and Threes is just an added bonus to what is already a tight, feature packed hockey power play.

Grade: B+