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The NHL 14 demo released yesterday to give fans, casual and hardcore, a taste of what’s to come on September 10th. I sat down and played the demo for a few hours and was able to gather my thoughts well enough to provide some quick impressions about the demo, positive and negative. So let’s do this!

Positive

  • The skating engine has been refined and feels smoother than it did last year
  • Defensemen no longer get caught flat footed and catch up, or stay with, the offensive player
  • Hitting has been improved greatly over last year
  • Fighting is fun this year
  • You can now control and cycle the puck in the offensive zone a lot better
  • Pucks get to the net off shots from the blue line a lot more
  • Screens and deflections happen often and more realistic
  • Puck physics are more realistic and more unpredictable
  • Hardcore and Hardcore Simulation options in the game options menu
  • Interference penalties being called when they should
  • NHL 94 goal horn
  • Scrums in front of the net when play is stopped

For the most part, the hitting engine stands out the most as one of the best parts of the game. Lining up hits is simple and weight and height actually matter with the players. I can’t take a Jonathan Toews and steamroll Zdeno Chara just because he has speed. Toews pays for it most of the time by laying himself out. The Enforcer Engine also makes fighting more enjoyable and makes it look as realistic as it is in real life with players defending their teammates after a hit from behind or when they get hit nasty by the opposing team’s enforcer.

Playing in the offensive zone feels much better than last year as I was able to cycle the puck and work the blue line without going offsides often. Players did their best to keep the puck in and keep the play alive which I truly enjoyed. In my first game, 3 out of 4 goals were all from the point and off slapshots. At first I thought the slapshot was a bit overpowered only to see in the replays that the reason they went in were due to screens in front of the net. Also, pucks now get to the net through traffic a lot better and are bouncing around in the zone more realistically than it did in NHL 13.

My biggest gripe in NHL 13 was how flat footed the defense was and how often breakaways happened in the game. I rarely had a breakaway opportunity, unless the setup was on point, and my defense did not allow the AI to skate around him unless I controlled him and tried to go for the hit impatiently. The skating engine also feels more fluid and smoother than it did last year. However, it took me a while to realize this because, in a way, felt like NHL 13. Not sure if I should categorize this as a good or bad thing so I’m leaving it in-between.

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Negatives

  • Fighting happens too often in the demo and it’s automatic
  • Boardplay hasn’t been fixed
  • Skating into the offensive zone is still as easy as ever
  • Short side is still a money goal area
  • Face-off spamming still intact
  • Stick lifting feels useless
  • Penalties not called correctly
  • Presentation, presentation, presentation
  • Figure skating around players still happens
  • Random puck physics result in odd goals from odd spots on the ice
  • Goalies challenge shooters outside of the crease at bad times
  • Hip checking is still awkward
  • Weak shots = Big rebounds

While the Enforcer Engine makes fighting a lot better in the game, they happen way too much in the demo and sometimes off of clean hockey hits. They always show the reply of the hit that started the fight, which is nice, and at first most fights were from hits were from behind or blindside hits. After a while though, almost everything became susceptible to fighting. Even shooting at the goaltender after play stopped resulted in fights. While I’m fine with scrums after the play to back opposing players away from their goaltender, if the AI constantly goes after a player for shooting at the net, purpose or not, online is going to be a long and fight heavy process. It would also be nice to have an option to not fight, as no matter what or how, once the CPU drops the gloves, there is no other option but to fight and you can’t choose another player to fill in for his spot.

Boardplay is still bad. Players still get sucked into the boards easily by the AI, while it’s still difficult to lock them into boards at the right moment. This also means that players will still be able to skate down and initiate the boardplay mechanic in order to avoid a hit. Penalties, while better in a way, some calls are still missing. Hitting from behind, boarding, and most importantly, fighting instigators are not being called when they should. Stick lifting will still result in slashing penalties (first time I did it, and from a good angle, I got called) and tripping has rarely been called which used to be called a lot last year.

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I tried to keep the impressions short and sweet since the game will be out in a few weeks and I’ll have more time and better opportunities to really test out the game in our review. These are just some of the things I like and don’t like coming from the demo, and I am sure some things will be tweaked and changed, like the amount of fighting in the game. Keep an eye out for our review in a few weeks and feel free to leave your comments and impressions of the demo below.