Why EA Sports NHL 22 Has Me Concerned
EA Sports is primed to release another edition of their annual hockey franchise, NHL 22, on October 15th. And while I appreciate what I’ve seen so far in regards to the Frostbite engine (finally) making its way to the series, I’d be lying if I said I also wasn’t deeply concerned about the direction of this year’s game. Even with the respectable jump in visual fidelity, the scraps of footage that we’ve been fed leave me only with mere nibbles of confidence, as the on-ice product looks identical to last year.
I want to say once more that I really do think the Frostbite engine makes NHL 22 look better than last year. Players will now show expression when they’ve just scored a big goal or suffered a crushing defeat, and I love that. We’re beginning to approach the end of the days of playing with a bunch of Sears mannequins on skates.
In addition, the ice and the crowd look much better. Arenas have a much greater sense of depth, and the folks in the stands actually replicate a real-life crowd better than we’ve ever seen from the franchise. These are exciting changes that I’ve been waiting on for a long, long time, and I’m genuinely looking forward to getting my hands on NHL 22 so that I can feel it in action for myself.
Two Steps Forward and One Step Back
But it seems, as is more often than not the case, that the NHL franchise will take two steps forward and one step back once again this year. Sure, the visuals are hitting a level we haven’t yet approached. But if you were to compare the brief bit of gameplay we were shown with footage from NHL 20, or 21, you’d find it hard to tell the difference.
Yes, the ice is shinier, but players still jerk and flop around like it’s 2010. Yes, the facial animations are improved, but setting up a proper powerplay is still nothing but a pipedream. Yes, the lighting is more authentic, but the same frustrating AI (both team and opponent) will assuredly be as utterly inept as ever before. I hope I’m wrong. I really do. But I’m not getting much confidence out of EA that things will be any different, given that they’re more focused on getting the point across that NHL 22 will be coming to last-gen and current-gen systems.
It’s no secret that game developers get handcuffed in the few years surrounding a new console generation. And I appreciate the fact that there are investors to keep happy, so your product needs to be able to reach as many homes as possible. But the NHL franchise has become the proverbial horse stuck in the mud, its front legs struggling, yet at times, seemingly on the verge of escape. Its rear legs, working themselves deeper into the ground.
Rest assured, I’ll be keeping a close eye on NHL 22. I don’t think this will necessarily be a year to remember for the series. I don’t think 2023 will be either. But for all of my bitching and metaphors about horses, if there was only one thing EA had time to focus on this year, I truly believe that they finally made the right choice to bring Frostbite to the game. Hey, it probably should have happened two or three years ago, but, better late than never.
Stay tuned for our final review of NHL 22.
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