NHL 22 Review (PS5) | Push Square
New generations of consoles can prove difficult for sports franchises: performance problems, bugs and reduced functionality are systematically guaranteed. This is certainly the fate that awaited EA’s NHL series as it transitioned to the PlayStation 4 – after all, we still have nightmares about the abysmal NHL 15. Surprisingly, EA Vancouver has solved this problem with NHL. 22, and while the result isn’t an overwhelmingly new experience, it’s refreshing to see the ice hockey simulation stay on track.
The most important thing to know with the NHL franchise when it debuts on PS5 is that all of the NHL 21 modes are present and correct. That’s even more important when you consider that this year is finally the year the NHL switched to the Frostbite engine, years later than EA’s other sports titles. You won’t notice too much a lot of that change, but what’s there is positive. The base game experience remains unchanged, but things like ice surfaces and arena lighting are clearly better than in previous years. This engine switch introduces new texture bugs, although many lingering bugs from previous seasons have been fixed, making the trade a sort of wash.
Unfortunately, aside from the engine change, the list of new features is pretty slim. The biggest gameplay change is the introduction of X-Factor abilities, brought to you by Madden NFL. These X-Factors work like activated abilities for many of the best players in the league, but honestly, that doesn’t have too much of an impact on the experience. While abilities – of which there are a ton to choose from – aren’t as noticeable in full squad modes, they feel more important when playing locked as a player in modes like Be A Pro or Use your skater in World of CHEL.
The bigger problem is that while, yes, the X-Factors billed as abilities are new, the things they allow to happen on the ice were already technically part of the experience. Moments that would previously have looked like luck or RNG successes now have names and animations attached to them. The overall result is always a net positive, because the presentation is massively enhanced by their presence, but X-Factors isn’t as game-changing as we’d hoped.
While there are a few small changes, it’s actually all for huge things. Small tweaks are all welcome, however, so they’re worth mentioning. List sharing, while not available at launch, will return. This restores a feature not offered to the community for a long time, dating back to the PS3. A brand new feature for the DualSense comes in the form of an advanced rumble that lets you feel the ice as you skate. The rumble also apparently changes with the condition of the ice, allowing you to feel how much wear things can get at the end of a period. It’s a small thing, sure, but it’s worth it.
The last notable improvement concerns the physics of the sticks. While in years past sticks tended not to behave on their own, this was eventually fixed. While the changes are largely in the animations, players no longer slide sticks through bodies as if they were gathering a spectral dissident of the hockey gods. Sticks move around players or collide with them as you would expect a piece of wood to do. This is also related to the pickup of the puck. Reaction times when it comes to passing and controlling passing in the rush seem to have been a bit blunt. In theory, this sounds like a detractor, but we found it made the game a bit more fun – not all strip-to-strip passage will be controlled cleanly. It all stands out in online fashions and adds an unforeseen fun element to the case.
Unfortunately, measures to prevent cross-fold overrun exploits appear to have receded. The reactions from the Guardians seem to date back to a few years ago when it was almost pointless to do anything else. Considering that the frequency of crossfolds has felt under control in recent years, it’s pretty daunting to see, but something like it could be easily fixed with a few slider adjustments. Crossed fingers.
Beyond those changes, everything else is either the same experience from years past – same HUT this year, which just got a new coat of paint and that’s it – or has changed slightly. Unfortunately, many of these changes come with caveats. For example, ice graphics have replaced the listing in previous installments, corn you will need to be a quick reader, as they are often not long enough on the screen. There’s a new team to have fun with in the Seattle Kraken, corn there was clearly no consideration to be a pro about them. For example, we were praised by reporters for setting the record for assists in our first game – with, uh, 0. The menus are much faster, corn the change in color made much of the text more difficult to read. The list is lengthened increasingly.
NHL 22 surprises by debuting on a new console without removing any of its modes, but those who have played NHL 21 might find this version a bit too much familiar. The X-Factors on paper should be a game-changer, but for the most part disappointing. Switching to Frostbite dramatically improves the loyalty of the rink – although the character models still look downright demonic – but should it really be the the biggest change the game? The ultimate question is: can the price hike be justified on the PS5? And given that not much has really changed between last year and this year, the answer To be a “no”.