NHL 16 Review (XONE)

NHL 16 screen
NHL 16 screen. EA

NHL 15 will go down as one of the most disappointing sports games ever, not because the gameplay was poor, but because there weren't enough features and modes (which has been a trend with EA Sports' first attempts this gen...).  NHL 16, thankfully, not only solves that problem but also tweaks and improves the already solid gameplay to finally give fans a truly great current-gen hockey game.  Not only will hardcore fans be happy with NHL 16, however, but more casual fans will have a great time as well thanks to the new trainer and wealth of options to make the game play just how you want.

  Our full NHL 16 review has all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  EA Sports
  • Developer: EA Canada
  • ESRB Rating: “E10" for Everyone 10+
  • Genre: Hockey
  • Pros:  Fantastic presentation; great gameplay; tons of options to make it play how you want; on-ice trainer; lots of modes
  • Cons:  Hits lack impact; clunky menus; simming in BAP; commentary

Features

NHL 16 returns all of the modes that should have been in NHL 15 in the first place.  And the modes that return are fully-featured and not watered down like last year.  EA Sports Hockey League is back in full form.  You can skip the lengthy regular season and go right to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Offline shootouts join their online counterparts (and are a ton of fun).  Online leagues and games.  Be a GM (but no connected GM mode, boo).  Season mode.  NHL Moments Live will let you re-live moments from last season, and will also be updated to include moments from the upcoming 2015-16 season as well.

  Hockey Ultimate Team is also featured here, though not nearly as pervasive as the mode is in Madden.

And, of course, there is Be A Pro where you control just one player through their whole career.  Be A Pro and similar modes in other games are always my favorite, but it is kind of clunky here with the way the simulation works when your player isn't on the ice.

  There are lots of line changes in hockey, so you spend as much time looking at loading screens while you sim to your next shift as you do actually playing.  You could watch the game instead of simulating it, but the game has full 20-minute periods in this mode so getting through a whole game without simming it would take forever. 

Gameplay

So the game finally has the feature set back to match the fantastic on-ice gameplay.  One thing I loved about NHL 15 was that, for the first time in years, I could actually score goals.  I stopped reviewing the series for several years because it went too far on the realistic simulation side and I could barely play it anymore.  Well, NHL 15 was a lot more accessible for a more casual hockey fan like me, and NHL 16 continues that trend.  There are a ton of difficulty options to adjust the CPU to match your skill level, and you can even switch to an "Arcade" style where the controls are simplified and the rules are very relaxed.  Or you can use a hybrid of everything to make it play how you want.  I love options. 

The best thing about NHL 16, however, is the new on-ice trainer.  When you have this turned on, it will basically teach you how to play the game properly through handy little notifications that pop up over your player.

  When you make a pass, it tells you if it was good or bad.  Same thing when you take a shot.  Or when you win or lose a face-off.  Or when you play defense.  Even better, it gives you visual lines that show you where a pass is going to go and, better still, when you take a shot it shows you exactly where the goalie is covering so you can aim your shot to get around him.  By having all of these visual cues and assists, it will help you recognize these situations better so that you'll be able to continue playing at a decent level when you take the training wheels off and stop relying on the trainer.

  The on-ice trainer is the best new feature any sports game has had in years.

NHL 16 is a total blast when you're out on the ice.  The controls feel great and the game just plays really well.  Between the wealth of options and the trainer, it is also extremely accessible for fans of any skill level.  My only complaint is that hits seriously lack impact.  When you blow up a guy on the boards or even in open ice, sure he goes down, but there is no real reaction in terms of sound or anything.  It is strange that this aspect of the game feels so disconnected when everything else on the ice feels so good.

Graphics & Sound

Visually, NHL 16 is stunning.  The arenas look awesome and the ice is shiny and actually changes and gets skate marks over the coarse of each period.  The players look good or the most part, too, though some lesser players that weren't scanned in can look pretty iffy.  Animation is great all around, though.  Presentational touches that make each game look like a real NBC broadcast, such as a flyover of the city and arena the game is taking place in and having all of the on-screen graphics, really make a difference.  It feels like a real sport and not just a videogame.

The sound is also solid with good on-ice sound effects (minus the lack of booming hits).  Arena music is well done with each team's signature goal music playing just like it should.  Commentary can get a little repetitive, but Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk are so darn energetic and passionate you can almost excuse it.

Bottom Line

Overall, NHL 16 is head and shoulders above the bare-bones NHL 15 and is a game hockey fans can be proud of.  It is fully-featured and actually worth the asking price this year, and the on-ice action is better than ever.  The addition of the on-ice visual trainer and other accessibility options really open the series up to everyone, not just hardcore hockey sim fans.  NHL 16 is just a solid game all around that we can easily recommend.