For now what we'll be doing here at Operation Sports is posting a quick look detailing some of our initial thoughts on sports titles at E3. Once we play more of these games throughout the week we will post more fleshed out hands-on impressions this week and next.
In addition, if you have questions about the game you would like us to ask developers, feel free to post them. We can't guarantee we'll get them answered -- and it's probably better to not get too crazy specific -- but what we do get answered we'll post here on OS as well at some point. The same goes for if you just want to hear more about something we talked about in the article(s). For example, "hey dude, you talked about how the dribbling feels different, can you talk more about that?"
Based on what NHL 15 offered, it’s fair to approach NHL 16 with some caution. The gameplay of NHL 15 generally satisfied, with a few caveats in penalty logic, wacky collision physics and some holdover elements from previous years. The bigger issue was the feature set -- or lack thereof. While the new hardware generation resets the bar somewhat, it doesn’t allow for the jarring lack of modes and features that NHL 15 displayed. The good news is that things can only go up.
I was able to visit EA Burnaby in April to play NHL 16, and that version of the game was already in a much more “playable” state than previous year's pre-alpha builds. From what I played today at E3, things have only gotten better since April.
-The framerate during gameplay and cutscenes is really slick. This was aided by some motion smoothing on the TV that the demo was shown on, but NHL 16 felt and looked incredibly smooth.
-Overall, the gameplay seems like it’s finding a speed that complements the new technology. I enjoyed the pace of last year’s game, but now the collision physics seem like they have been tuned so that they aren’t bogging the game down more than they should. I particularly am liking some of the new animations on hits, where there are more glancing shots of knees, hips and legs, and it doesn’t always stop the player being hit, like in NHL 15.
-The ability to use vision control and precision skating makes blueline play and behind-the-net play even better this year, and I felt much more in control in various situations that would’ve resulted in frustration last year. It’s a subtle thing, but it helps the gameplay flow. Even the puck pick-ups are a subtle thing in terms of animations and gameplay, but there is a net gain.
-The presentation, buffed by the smooth framerate, has benefitted from the mascots, extra arena details, netting behind the end boards and enhanced player faces. That beard tech, in particular, goes further to making the players actually look like themselves. Since it removes some of the uncanny valley, it’s a welcome addition.
-There are some new camera cuts and crowd angles, and certain views help add a more TV-like experience, especially after goals and penalty calls. Not too many new ones, but enough that I noticed them.
-Goalie controls have been revamped, but I was not able to try that during this demo. As someone who enjoys playing some EASHL goalie, I’m hopeful for what this will bring.
-The menus are a lot faster, and you’ll soon be hearing about GM mode, which features much faster free agent lists and sim speed. These are good things.
-I didn’t love some of the goalie bumping that was allowed to take place, as there still seems to be some game logic that’s deciding to call a penalty only if a goal is scored after contact.
-The new on-ice visual training is quite flexible, showing why a user would lose a face-off (too early, too late, lower skill player, etc.) and when to deploy moves like poke checks. The aiming line/cone for passes and shots is quite helpful to really understand where things are going, and even an experienced player like me enjoyed seeing the target in the net for where a puck went in. I think EA should go further here, with skills training and more context, but this is helpful and looks clean and clear.
-Wrist shots felt similar, but slap shots released somewhat cleaner. Passing is more pressure sensitive, but the settings for the demo were fairly average. I’ll need to experiment more.
Glenn Wigmore: While the revamps to Be-A-Pro, GM Mode and EASHL will tell the story for the rest of NHL 16, I’m happy that the gameplay, which agreed with so many last year, is continuing to improve in some interesting ways. The presentation is also a step up, with more contextual commentary from Doc and Eddie, additional intros and lots of added arena detail that feeds into that elusive concept of “emotion.”
Chase Becotte: In short, I got to play every sports title in EA's booth today, and so far NHL's core gameplay impressed me the most.