The sports gaming market has reached a weird point. Very rarely do fans get true innovation in the experiences they get. Rather, it’s often just incremental updates to try and make the game slightly better than the prior year. With NHL 22, that’s kind of what we got. Sure, there’s the long-awaited transition to the Frostbite Engine, but it doesn’t really make that much of a difference in terms of the overall feel of the game.
NHL 22 Review
With the aforementioned move to the Frostbite Engine, a lot of fans were understandably worried about how the game would feel on the ice. After all, everyone has seen what’s happened to the Madden franchise since it’s move to Frostbite years ago, and it still hasn’t really recovered. Luckily, the game isn’t hindered by the switch. In fact, it almost feels pretty much the same as year’s past. Which, depending on your feelings of the series, is either good news or bad news.
The biggest change to the gameplay this year are the addition of X-Factors that sees various star players get performance boosts in different ways. Some players have better passing while others have more accuracy on their snap shots. In a way it works to differentiate the stars from the bottom-six forwards, but it just doesn’t add anything for me. Rarely do they come into play while in-game it feels, and more often than not, I forget they even exist.
The rest of the gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag. On the good side of things common annoyances like getting a tripping penalty if a player intentionally skates into after you lay down to block a shot and sticks going through each other constantly have been addressed this year. The stick collision system is the most impressive to me as, depending on the poke check or general position, you’ll see sticks collided and go up the shaft rather than straight through. Also nice to see are new shot blocking positions that help you get in better positioning, especially for those of us who actually like to play defense.
Passing the puck — and the puck in general — feels more natural on the ice than before. The magnetic stick issues from the past appear to be gone in favor of a players ability taking over. Passes also feel a bit slower this year in certain situations, which will lead to a small learning curve for longtime players.
There’s also a nice variety in the types of penalties that are called this year. No longer is everything an interference or charging or tripping. You’ll see elbowing, holding, hooking, and more called more consistently than in prior games.
Now, with every positive there are some negatives. In the case of NHL 22, there’s unfortunately quite a few. The AI is still a major headache as they’ll make boneheaded decisions with the puck far too often. At least two-to-three times a game in Be A Pro, an AI teammate will launch the puck out of the rink for a Delay of Game penalty. Other times, they’ll simply pass to an open wing instead of towards a teammate. It’s okay if it happens once in a while, but not, what feels to be, every other rush.
Another problem is the game just deciding to not do what it needs to do. Going off for a line change in Be A Pro had my player just stop at the boards for a minute only to then give me back control to continue a shift I was supposed to end.
One thing I hoped would be fixed with the move to a new engine is puck pickups. Sure, they aren’t as bad as they were, say, two years ago, but they aren’t where they need to be. Far too often I’ll knock a player down with a check only for my player to not pick up the puck right in front of him. Instead, the player who was hit will get up and continue on like nothing happened.
Oh, and there are still sweet spots where scoring a goal just feels unfair. This year, it’s pretty easy to skate into the furthest side of the slot — depending on your handedness — and take a simple snap or wrister to beat the goalie high. I was able to score that way again and again and again. It’s things like that that immediately kill any immersion within the game.
We’ll start off with the obvious. At long last, the slow and sluggish tile system is gone in favor of a faster and more streamlined menu system. No longer does it take 20-30 seconds to transition between screens and menus.
With the Frostbite engine, one would expect the visual leap over Ignite to be dramatic. Well, that’s not really what happened with NHL 22. When playing the game, you’ll rarely notice the difference in visuals. Hockey is just too fast of a sport to take the time and notice the improvements. It’s when you decide to slow things down and take a look via Instant Replay that you notice some of the finer details.
Jerseys no longer have the uneven textures around logos or numbers. They also flow more natural when in motion. The ice actually looks impacted over the the course of the game with noticeable skate lines as it progresses. Speaking of the ice, the faceoff circles and logos are finally accurate throughout the NHL. For as long as I can remember, circles were too small and too close together with players positioned wrong. Now, everything is spaced properly for a more accurate presentation.
Sticking with in-game presentation, James Cybulski and Ray Ferraro return as the commentary duo. The excitement of Cybulski’s calls remain, which make big moments like winning the Memorial Cup or Stanley Cup feel as big as they should. Ferraro provides good insight more often than not, but the lines do start to get overly repetitive after a few games.
The third person of the team, Carrlyn Bathe, rarely seems to focus on the action of the game itself. Instead, she only ever chimes in with little things about a player’s X-Factor ability. There’s no flow to the interactions between her and the other two, and it’s a bit off-putting.
A new addition to the presentation this year is augmented reality being utilized. Stats will appear in the faceoff circles and penalty information displays on the boards behind the players. It’s a pretty cool way to diversify itself from a presentation standpoint despite being viewed as a bit too arcadey for some.
My biggest gripe with presentation remains player scans. It’s another game and another year of me questioning why so few longtime veterans still don’t have their faces properly scanned. Players who’ve been in the league for over a decade like Vancouver’s Tyler Myers or New York Islanders’ Andy Greene still don’t have facial scans. It’s just frustrating we still have to talk about this year in, year out.
As for goalie masks. I get the need for getting the artist’s licensing, but it’s still sad to not have accurate designs for players.
NHL 22 returns with no new modes to mention of. Instead, all of the modes have seem some changes as the focus of this year was the move to Frostbite. What that means for players is everything feels familiar, almost to a fault.
Starting with Be A Pro, one the ice, aside from the problems mentioned earlier, it feels fine. You control your player and work to become an NHL legend. Off the ice, though, it’s a bit frustrating. Cutscenes get repetitive before you even get to the NHL, and some of them happen completely out of place. For example, after a tough overtime loss in the Memorial Cup tournament, my coach shouldn’t stop me in the hallway and tell me that, “We’re playing their zone and keeping the pressure on them”. The game’s over, we aren’t doing any of that.
I do like the idea of text-based interactions as opposed to voiceovers. It gives more flexibility for stories and interactions with coaches, teammates, media, and more.
With Franchise Mode, X-Factors make their way to the mode within Free Agency and Scouting. It’s up to you as the GM to uncover any potential X-Factors a player may have. The rest of the mode feels pretty much the same, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, it’s still the second-best franchise mode in all of sports gaming behind only NBA 2K, in my opinion.
For those who want to focus on expansion, there’s two options this time around. You can join as the Seattle Kraken with authentic protection lists and redraft the team. If you’re so inclined, you can even join as the 33rd team in the NHL and go through the full expansion process yourself.
World of Chel features the ability to once again alter individual attributes, though with restrictions. It’s a good step, but I still don’t feel like I need to have a minimum fighting skill if I play a mode like EASHL Threes where fighting doesn’t exist. hopefully in future years we get back to being to fully edit attributes in any way we see fit. But, for now, it’s better than what we’ve had.
The issue with World of Chel is that it’s pretty much unplayable right now. In EASHL, there are so many Desync issues that many can’t even play it. It’s been a problem since copies began going out, and continues to be even a week after release.
NHL 22 Review Verdict
NHL 22 comes to next-generation consoles in a much better shape than the last game to make a console jump (NHL 15) did. The game is fully featured and actually has a few new additions. At it’s core, however, it feels a bit too familiar to really feel like a next-generation leap.
Franchise mode remains fun and the gameplay is a bit better despite some AI concerns. EASHL offers the most replay value for online play while Be A Pro, even with repetitive scenes, is fun for a break from the two other main modes.
The decision to not offer cross-generation or even cross-platform play is still a head scratcher as it divides an already small player base even thinner. But I can’t say the game isn’t worth picking up, because it is. Just don’t expect to be blown away by what you get. Instead, you’re getting a good game that plays it safe in the jump rather than try anything drastic.
**NOTE: A copy of NHL 22 for PlayStation 5 was provided to SGO from EA Sports for the purposes of this review**
NHL 22 makes a successful jump to the Frostbite engine by playing it more safe than any other game in the past. It’s a fun game for any hockey fan, but won’t give you that true next-gen feel you may be wanting.