Hockey fans, this is the video game you’ve been waiting for.
EA Sports NHL 18 officially drops worldwide on September 15th, and fans of the franchise have a lot to be excited about. The new defensive skill stick makes its debut, and it does not disappoint. It gives defensemen something to work with as opposed to being skating pylons. NHL 18 also features the all-new “NHL Threes” game mode, setting players up for an arcade-style experience that is a step up from the “NHL ’96 Mode” from past editions of the video game.
I broke down my review into four categories that are important when judging a sports video game. “Presentation” will judge how the game is presented – how polished does the game look? How are the commentators and replay packages? “Gameplay” will judge the new additions to the game as well as the artificial intelligence (AI). “Realism” will judge the graphics and how realistic the world EA opens up. “Replay Value” will judge how effectively NHL 18 reels in a gamer day after day.
Presentation – 9/10
NHL 18’s presentation, as it has in past games, is doused in the cloak of NBC Sports. NBC’s logo is seen on almost every screen, giving the game the feel of a televised event. Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk give the call from the booth while Ray Ferraro joins them from time to time at ice level. These elements have become a part of the basic presentation format of the game.
The game takes a deeper dive into presentation than in past editions of the video game, however. Before each face-off, you get a unique camera angle of the ice. While this is a very small element, it gives you a great look at the detail put into the stadiums. There are even new angles of super fans and mascots that get implemented into a replayed goal package. You won’t see your player celebrating in the crease and then suddenly appear fist bumping his teammates at the bench, at least not as often.
While the commentary team will often fall into conversation about a player being close to a milestone or your team’s upcoming opponents, the majority of the commentary has not been updated in the past three years. You will still hear the same phrases multiple times per game.
However, EA has taken a step forward with the game’s presentation. Devoted players will likely want to put Doc and Olczyk on mute. As entertaining as they can be in real life, their video game counterparts sound robotic when they talk about “an incredible save” you’d expect any junior league goaltender to make.
NHL 18’s presentation earns a grade of 9/10.
Gameplay – 9/10
EA Sports stepped up their game with NHL 18 more so than in past editions.
Kiss the days of anxiously hammering the poke check button goodbye. With the all new defensive skill stick, defensemen are finally given a weapon to combat those dangling forwards. Simply hold down the poke check button and control it with the right joy stick. Even in the crouching position, you can more accurately control your player’s stick and body placement. This helps when you’re attempting to block a shot and don’t have enough time to stand your player up to adjust to the puck’s path.
The NHL Threes mode is also new to NHL 18. It’s especially fun to play with friends as you set each other up for explosive hits and dirty dangles. The EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL) also received its fair dose of three-on-three hockey.
The AI will always need tweaking, however. In one instance, the puck trickled out of my zone and the two defensemen at the point just stopped in place at my blue line. This allowed me to skate my player in between them, and they only started moving again when I had possession of the puck.
Overall, the game feels smoother, especially now that I’m not jamming away at the poke check button. Be ready for a load of tripping calls, however, as until you get used to the new mechanic, you’ll be logging minutes in the penalty box. Even then you won’t be able to put down your controller. This is the most complete ice hockey simulation EA has put together.
NHL 18’s gameplay earns a rating of 9/10.
Realism – 8/10
When judging a video game today, especially a sports simulation, how realistic it looks goes a long way to impress a gamer. You can play all day, but if Sidney Crosby doesn’t look like Sidney Crosby, then the facade is ruined.
NHL 18 does a fair job of creating the illusion that you’re in an NHL arena. Most players have their face in the game, but you can expect your bottom two lines to have the same generic face models as they have in the past. On top of that, EA still hasn’t figured out a way to install authentic goalie masks into the game. The devil-eyed bear on Tuukka Rask’s mask is just a black and white photograph.
Other than their faces and goalie masks, the players look real. Ever since the series moved to next generation systems, I’ve had people walk into the room and ask whether or not I’m playing a video game.
And, yes, they got the new Adidas jerseys spot on. Whether that is good or bad is up to the player, but no matter your opinion on the league’s new jerseys, you’ll be satisfied. The game features a number of jerseys dating back to the original six, and each one of them looks crisper than ever.
Lastly, EA added a number of new leagues to the game, which is about as realistic as it gets. NHL 18’s realism earns a grade of 8/10.
Replay Value – 10/10
If you’re a big hockey fan, expect your copy of NHL 18 to get comfortable in your console. Ever since this writer played the Beta version of the game, NHL 17 was just not as exciting.
I dove into the new Expansion Draft in Franchise Mode. It was so extensive that I didn’t hit the ice with the NHL’s 32nd team for at least two hours. Meanwhile, Be a Pro mode now allows you to request trades so you’re not caught in a Cupless drought on a team unwilling to move you.
If those two game modes don’t do it for you, there’s always Hockey Ultimate Team and the EASHL. That is if you want to bring your game to the next level against players across the globe.
If for some reason that isn’t enough for you, NHL Threes is joined by a slew of other game modes that will give you your hockey fix.
NHL 18’s replay value gets a rating of 10/10.
Overall – A-minus
Overall, NHL 18 earned a grade of 36-out-of-40 or 90 percent, which is good enough for an A-minus. It is the game fans of the series have been waiting for. EA Sports NHL has fully rebounded from the rough state the game was in during the switch to next gen.
The only thing holding the series back from a 40-out-of-40 rating are a few minor details that could be tweaked in time for NHL 19. Until then, I’ll see you on the virtual ice.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.