There will be complaints. Of that I can assure you.
EA Sports NHL series, entering its 26th year (now 53 year-old Glenn Healy was the original cover boy), is the franchise Canadian gamers love to hate.
Every year, Electronic Arts trots out a new version of video game pro hockey they promise is the best ever and every year certain fans complain they are paying $69.99 for a mere roster and jersey update. Some grouse that the gameplay has become too “cartoonish”. Others say it is too realistic and needs to be more fun (remember when you could make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed, for instance?). They complain the poke check or the one-timer is too effective. Or grumble that the online play is laggy and disconnects too much. Then they shrug their shoulders and buy it. It’s a dance similar to that of a pre-arranged fight between two highly paid goons on a Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre. The setup is ritualistic. The result is predictable: everyone ends up with twelve dollar beers.
Since the demise of the NHL 2K series, Electronic Arts is the only game in town when it comes to the National Hockey League. Today, it sells about 600,000 copies a year, most of them in North America. That’s a big number, but it pales in comparison to EA’s FIFA franchise, which sells more than 8-million copies every year, mostly outside of North America, of course.
In lobbys and forums, NHL 16 customers are a disagreeable lot. About the only thing they can come to a consensus on is that 2004, the version that featured Mr. “50 in ’07”, Dany Heatley, on the cover was a banner year for the franchise. Some, in fact, have of taken this opinion to the extreme.
Instead of buying the new version of the NHL series, they update a painstakingly patched, rebuilt version of it every year. Yeah, they actually do that.
The NHL franchise’s worst moment was its infamous NHL 15 debacle. Owing to time constraints imposed by developing the game for the next-generation PS4 and Xbox One consoles, EA simply left many of the legacy features out of the new iteration. This sent producer Sean Ramjagsingh to the Globe and Mail to apologize, but many weren’t having it, and the hashtag #NHL15problems briefly trended. NHL 16 was largely a return to form.
Will NHL 17 improve upon that shaky step back? It won’t be long until we find out.
For the second year in a row, EA is offering a sneak peek of its new hockey game in the form of a public beta. The good news is it will run from noon PST on July 28 until 11:59 p.m. PST on Aug. 4. on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The bad news? The sign-up is already closed.
So what will those lucky enough to be in on the sneak preview see? In videos released last week (see below), EA says it focusing on providing better battles in front of the net, offering more “authentic” goalie stances with the aim of allowing tenders to make more saves based on positioning rather than reactions, and improving the targeting of hits. The producers also say they have worked on making players more agile, so moves like spinning and pushing off defenders will be a new feature.
The YouTube video below, on gameplay, already has more than 200,000 views and it seems most people like it, with more than 2000 thumbs-up, compared to just 105 thumbs down. But you don’t have to dig far into the comments section to find the usual complaints. But YouTuber “Chief Xibalba” might have summed up the reaction best.
“I’m by no means a defender of EA, but lmao at the people constantly looking for something to bitch about,” he says. “These same people are the ones that are going to end up buying the game anyways as they always do.”
Below: NHL 17 | Gameplay Series: Control The Ice Trailer | Xbox One, PS4