This is one of my favorite times of the year. Starting in late August, EA Sports and 2K Sports begin to release their video games, and last Tuesday’s release of EA’s NHL ’14 couldn’t have come any sooner.
When I picked up the game I obviously needed to see what the Blackhawks would be bringing to the table in this year’s edition. And I have to say, I was a little disappointed with how EA and its staff views the upcoming ‘Hawks squad. Now, let’s spare the player ratings numbers because sometimes those don’t seem to make a difference and you can have a player like Simon Gagne with a ranking of 82 in NHL 2012, who just happens to have the core strength of a block of cement, making it impossible to knock him down . However, I will give you my insights from the handful of games I played as the Blackhawks.
Last night I played four contests against the following opponents (in order): New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators. I realized that was a mistake because it was nearly impossible to score on either Henrik Lundqvist or Pekka Rinne, but you can only learn from your mistakes. I have to say that the game itself is very entertaining. There are center ice collisions that are somewhat mind blowing (i.e. I got to smash Ryan Callahan with Brandon Bollig, something an anti-Ranger fan like myself thoroughly enjoyed). The touch passing is as great as it has ever been and dumping and chasing in this game creates for some great skirmishes along the boards. All of that being said, here are my takes on how the guys at EA view the 2013-2014 Chicago Blackhawks:
- I know Patrick Kane is a small man, and I am well aware that he isn’t going toe-to-toe with the Zdeno Chara’s of the NHL. However, if you were playing this game for the first time, I am pretty sure you would think that number 88 has vertigo because he can’t stay on his feet. Kane is somewhat elusive in the game though he has issues taking hits both in the neutral zone and behind the net. His speed in the game doesn’t make up for this trait and I think they underestimated his toughness.
- On the other hand, Jonathan Toews is probably one of the most complete players in the game. He has great speed, tremendous stick handling abilities, and most importantly, his shot aim is precise, which sets up nicely for this top-shelf wristers that have become all the rage in these EA games.
- The defenseman are almost interchangeable. Duncan Keith has the most speed of the group, but the passing, shooting, and checking abilities of the entire group are somewhat similar. Brent Seabrook’s slapshot stood out somewhat, but it is amazing to play the game and not be able to tell the difference between Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
- Goalie Corey Crawford was not very good. As a lot of gamers know, the goalie in an EA NHL contest is very important to one’s success. The team at EA has struggled to advance its artificial intelligence for goalies and they didn’t make many strides this year. However, part of me kind of agrees with their assessment of Crawford in this edition. Crawford gave up a lot of rebounds in my four games and struggled with anything towards the upper half of the net. He moved exceptionally well from post to post and kick saved everything, including some tough one-timers
Overall, I think the game missed it’s chance in creating a really fun experience by being the Blackhawks. I expected more speed, better shooting, and a more open style of play, but what I got was a lot of collisions, poor passing, and shoddy goaltending. The game experience is still a lot of fun and I would still pick the ‘Hawks over any of the teams I played against, though it couldn’t hurt to make a suspicious trade for cover athlete Martin Brodeur to help my chances of winning a fake Stanley Cup. The only thing left to see is this year’s version of the Stanley Cup celebration. I wonder if they’ll model after whatever team won it last year…