For years, the creators at EA Sports have battled and toed the line of bringing arcade-like systems and simulation into some of their games. NHL 24 is a prime example of that. You can go back as far as NHL 99 or the early 2000s and see how the less severe arcade feel took the spotlight.
Some of this was due to technical limitations, but a lot of it was a choice. In NHL 24, the developers not only tried to do it all once again, but they wanted to do it with many new mechanics and a physics engine that they were hoping revamped the game and made it “feel like hockey.”
But did they succeed? And is this a game that feels like the real game of puck while also making it fun and engaging? Let’s lace up and find out, shall we!?
Sports games typically have quite a bit to offer. Gone are the days of the Season, Playoffs, and Tournament modes. NHL 24 is no different, giving players over a dozen methods offline and online.
Similarly to games like EA Sports FC,many of the newer, flashier, and updated modes remain in the online menus. So, depending on what kind of player you are, this may be a big plus or another reason to question whether these EA Sports games are for you.
Regardless of your choice, there is no shortage of options and variety. Online modes like Hockey Ultimate Team and World of CHEL also offer offline games and tournaments that will reward your players and teams, so there is a small cross-section of gameplay options.
Bringing Your ‘A’ Game
NHL 24 may not be the most revolutionary sports title of all time, but the developers did make some significant changes that have improved the gameplay. I found the new body checking and physics engine a big step up. Gone are the days of players acting like magnets and being stuck in animations when trying to lay out their opponent. Now, momentum and positioning work as they should and I rarely felt cheated or frustrated when making a hit or being hit. This was the most significant improvement in my time with the game.
The most important thing for any sports game is how it plays and feels. NHL 24’s new physics and player animations go a long way in the dev team reaching their “feel like hockey” goal.
Passes feel more realistic and possible, with a newly added option of a simple button press to dish the puck to the right player. I liked this new mechanic but felt it was sometimes challenging to implement. The hockey game is so fast that holding down the pass button and choosing which face control to press sometimes took too long, and I’d create a turnover. That said, I still found I was completing and directing more successful passes, even if I didn’t use this new mechanic for every access I made.
EA said it put in a lot of effort to make playing as a goalie more fun, realistic, and rewarding. It isn’t perfect, but the new style of play is a big step forward. I began my ‘tender Be A Pro career in the OHL and went up to the big club, being drafted by Anaheim. I had a blast even if I was losing games. The controls felt more intuitive, and most of the time, I felt like I was making a difference between the pipes and not constantly out of position.
Online, No One Can Hear You Scream
Online is where things got messy for me. Again, I admit that my skill level just isn’t there anymore. I don’t play hours and hours of NHL 24 with friends like I did in the early 2000s, so I’m not as sharp. My biggest reason for putting down the hockey franchise for several years before NHL 23 was the massive shift to online play.
I had a good time playing World of CHEL for the most part; creating and customizing my player and unlocking new gear is fun and does feel rewarding. Sadly, when it came to playing the game, I found myself (and often my teammates) standing still like pylons when one player on the other team skated in circles before scoring in one of three repetitive ways. For me, there’s still a massive frustration while playing online.
I don’t know how to “fix” this, but if you are matched against a highly skilled player, don’t expect to touch the puck very much. I often stood still, constantly poke-checking, hoping to get a loose puck and a quick change on the other end. “Cheesing” a game isn’t fun, especially when you’re on the receiving end. I ran into this time and time again. So, I spent most of my hands-on experience with NHL 24 offline, and I suspect that will continue. Thankfully, there’s lots there for me to enjoy!
If online play is your thing and you’re looking to be a stand-out player on the ice in World of CHEL or with your HUT team, there’s a good amount to work with in NHL 24. It’s just not for me.
I still think this is a significant improvement over recent years. The team at EA deserves the credit for helping steer this hockey ship in the right direction. For example, I was skeptical about how they’d make playing as a goalie better. That’s the first mode I want to open when I start the game.
NHL 24 still has flaws, and some are more glaring than others depending on your player type, but it’s undeniable that the presentation, variety, and on-ice product are still excellent. For returning players, I think there is just enough to enjoy, while anyone who’s stepped away for a few years should be pleasantly surprised with where the gaming industry’s biggest hockey franchise is headed.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
Review: NHL 24
NHL 24 has made big on-ice improvements. And despite a somewhat frustrating online experience, it's undeniable that the team at EA is taking this series in the right direction.