Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Early Game Review: 'NHL 24'

"NHL 24" is more like a measured, well-executed power play set piece than a thrilling breakaway. It takes calculated, smart risks that advance the gameplay in meaningful ways, building on the strengths of last year's title while minimizing its flaws. 

The hockey sim may lack the wow factor that convinces lapsed players to come off the bench in line-change masses, but its refinements and clever adjustments will satisfy its base.

Due out Friday, the game takes on the grit and forcefulness of cover star Cole Makar. Like the bruising Avs defenceman, the on-ice action delivers chilling hits that deliver crushing momentum shifts. 

Much of the on-ice improvement comes from the implementation of the new Exhaust Engine, which orchestrates the nuances in the ever-evolving interplay between offensive pressure and the goaltenders' alertness, energy level and overall effectiveness. 

The shift leads to the sort of questionable goal allowances and heroic saves you tend to see in real life, but which previous games had trouble simulating. Well-integrated into this dynamic are Vision Passing -- which lets you flick the left stick to size up a possible pass before you make it -- and Total Control Skill Moves, in which star forwards use flashy moves to work their way past defenders and clear up space to fire off shots.

Also spicing things up are Flex Moments, which deliver more than 75 new goal celebrations into the mix. The attention to detail is mesmerizing, with flourishes and nods from the gameplay to the color commentary and new snippets of atmosphere that capture the culture of each arena, that will make superfans smile.

When I'm blowing off steam in between more serious games, I spend some time with Chel, the franchise's take on street hockey. Chel, like standard multiplayer, gets current-gen crossplay that lets you take on frenemies on other platforms. While it remains to be seen whether a new World of Chel Battle Pass will hook gamers in or chase them away for its efforts to squeeze more money out of players via microtransactions, it's pleasing to see that developers channeled more effort into the mode.

While I would have appreciated more adjustments to franchise mode and Hockey Ultimate Team, the mechanics that remain in place are still as addictive as ever. Constructing your squad is something akin to shaping a Bonsai tree, tasking you to cultivate your squad by playing to its strengths and snipping out the weak spots.

Rugged and robust, "NHL 24" is the hockey fan's hockey game. It's proud to thrive in its insular world, ever ready to share its bounties with outsiders who decide it's time to suit up.

Publisher sent review code.

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