He shoots, he scores! The NHL 2021-2022 season kicked off on Tuesday, October 12. And with hockey on TV, I couldn’t help but be more interested in playing NHL 22. I haven’t played one of these hockey games since probably NHL 16 or 18. EA continues bringing modes that are either deliver slapstick comedy or the camera production is over-the-top (in a strangely good way). One of the biggest highlights of this year’s NHL game is that Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews is the star player on the cover. A fitting player for someone who’s had rising superstar fame with the Toronto Maple Leafs since joining the team in 2016 — despite the team, sadly, not being able to win a Stanley Cup in recent decades.
NHL 22 boasts about their new engine, Frostbite, that has revamped the way players look and the environment. From my comparison to back in 2017, I can definitely see how the new engine adds more vibrancy to the colours and textures of jerseys, every stroke and smoke of the skates are captured on the ice in-between periods. The dynamic camera angles from behind the glass when faceoffs setup are great as it makes me feel like I’m watching a real match. I can definitely tell the work on improving the likeness of the real-life version of hockey players to the in-game version has been improved ― of course, it still feels like their faces are a little too flat and hasn’t reached the level of animation like seeing the wrinkles and pores of Thanos in the Avengers films.
There are separate upgrades the Frostbite brings to the table for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S versions of the game. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to own any of these consoles due to the difficulty of finding one. However, there are great videos to compare the NHL 22’s Frostbite engine to the NHL 21 Ignite engine, which was the engine they used even before I took a break from sports games in 2017. A visual addition I thought was progressive was the use of augmented reality (AR) with displaying the players’ face and stats during faceoffs. It’s seamlessly integrated in the game and reflects how AR is being used in real-life sports matches.
Frostbite also brings more accurate hockey stick controls with faceoffs and poke checks. I noticed this immediately when I go for a poke check behind the opponent player, it’s easily to trip them and get a penalty. This was easily unrealistic in previous games. The only thing I don’t like about the stick controls right now is that the direction I’m aiming is a little too unforgiving because I keep trying to pass the puck between my defensemen and about eight times out of ten, they fire the pass back into my side of the rink. If there was a defender’s stick in the way I could forgive this, but it always seems to happen that my directional stick is not fully facing left or right and has too much of a downward position. I just want to pass tape-to-tape fluidly!
One of the biggest changes, or rather upgrades with the Frostbite engine is the new X-Factor animations. Essentially, certain hockey players are regarded highly both in the game and in real-life for their special abilities based on their real performances in matches. This could be like how Auston Matthews is good at shooting after deking out players. The game calls this X-Factor superstar ability, “Shock and Awe”.
“NHL 22 offers a lot with this iteration that can be overwhelming for new players…”
Another example is Connor McDavid’s signature stick-handling skills in real-life with the puck, so his special ability in the game helps him with a slight edge to deke out his opponents when he’s in possession of the puck — called “Wheels”. I think you get the point. It’s been a great addition to showcase the skill of star players, but I think it’s great that I couldn’t abuse these skills once I got them from Player Card Packs in Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT).
HUT Rivals has been a staple for online multiplayer gamers of NHL games across many years now. The main changes come with how users have to save up in-game points to spend on upgrading the hockey players’ stats and X-Factor abilities, if they have one. This concept is also applied to the popular esports game mode, “World of Chel”. For anyone who hasn’t heard of this game mode like I hadn’t, it’s an online game mode that bring your customized character to play in outdoor 4 vs 4 hockey matches that your friends can join to take on other teams. The typical Be A Pro mode had very limited choices for upgrading abilities, but NHL 22 diversifies skill-building with X-Factor and Superstar abilities.
NHL 22 offers a lot with this iteration that can be overwhelming for new players in the main menu when there’s so many game modes with more game modes within them. I would say this works as a plus for the game, rather than a detriment. Some gamers want the individual progression in the NHL with Be A Pro, some want to experience different rink environments in World of Chel, and some just want some silly fun like HUT Rush Threes where you can play as hockey mascots (you have to see it to believe it). Overall, I believe it gives sports fans and casual players a game mode everyone can enjoy with a massive graphics overhaul from previous games.