NHL ’21 Review

Developer: EA Vancouver | Publisher: Electronic Arts| Release Date: October 13th, 2020 | Genre: Sports Simulation | Reviewed On PS4 Pro/PS5

This copy of NHL ’21 was purchased at retail.

NHL has been the Sports Franchise low on EA Sports priority list recently. There’s been a lack of changes to the series. It’s also unfortunate there won’t be a PS5 version this year. It has been going on since 1991 on the Sega Genesis through various developers. NHL ‘94 was the franchise’s running start and is still considered one of the greatest sports games ever made.

It has gone through various smaller developers such as High Score and Park Place Productions and is now in the hands of EA Vancouver. This newest one has been a bit more iteration than revelation. Starting with NHL ’16, the 8th generation has a solid start, and still plays well, but the more time goes on, the more they stay the same.

The Start of a Great Career.

This year’s NHL game is no different, but includes a few minor add-ons like HUT (Hockey Ultimate Team) Rush is a 3 on 3 mode that lets you play on an outdoor rink, play as mascots, and being stylish is key. It all ties into HUT which is where all the microtransactions go.

What has been fixed is some of the minor graphical issues. The game fortunately still runs on the Ignite engine which has powered the NHL titles since the beginning of the 8th generation. Models are of a solid standard but don’t hold a candle to say something like NBA 2K21. Animations are tweaked for the Create-A-Player mode which different styles give you distinct animations that make you learn the timing of special dekes and shots. The game ran smoothly at 60 FPS with in-game cutscenes being cut to 30. I wish for the next generation EA Vancouver gets the entire area of play to run at 60 or more. I also wish there were more facial expressions for the players during close-ups. This would add a bit more polish.

Knocking the bottle still gives you a trophy!

Controls as always are precise and are easy to learn yet hard to master with the skill stick. With the skill stick, you can pull off moves such as the moving La Crosse Deke, and between the leg shot. 

Being not a fan of gameplay affecting MTX, I tend to stick to single player and traditional Online matches. NHL 21, fortunately, has an expanded Be A Pro mode that is a step above the ones in Madden and FIFA. It has more similarities to Sony’s MLB: The Show ‘The Show’ mode. There are dialogue choices that gain you favor with your teammates, fans or management. Act like a primadonna and your teammates won’t pass to you, and resist management you wind up with the risk of getting traded. This adds a lot of replay value to the game which the core gameplay hasn’t changed much.

The game has a solid look, but pales to EA’s own or 2K Sports’ outings.

There is also your typical suite of sports game modes such as practice which has extensive tutorials and how-tos for the advanced moves. Saying that I wish they had trials for these moves since they are a bit more situational than a go-to. 

The presentation is top-notch with great commentary by James Cybulski and Ray Ferraro. The TV-like presentations from prior entries are there as well. I do hope this line of quality stays with the next generation. Audio is also great with the ambiance of the heckling or cheering you on depending if you’re the home or visiting team. It also comes with a licensed soundtrack with genres from Rock, Pop, and R&B. 

Overall, NHL 21 is more of an iteration than a revelation as stated before. Casual players will be excited about these new modes while the more hardcore base looking for more drastic changes will be disappointed. It’s an alright sendoff if not remarkable to the PS4 era of Hockey Games. 

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