Review – NHL 22
Getting straight to the point, NHL 22 is just another hockey game to me. That’s not necessarily a negative, there’s just more behind it the simple person would overlook. When you take the time to think about it, the primary focal point to any sports games to the consumer is how the game feels and plays. The majority of players are usually diehard fans of the sport, so how close the game brings them to reality is whats going to determine the fun factor and replayability. A casual player usually focuses on selecting their favorite team and going up against their friends, sticking to that formula, and not really venturing off to explore the additional features the game has to offer. On a critical analysis standpoint, that simply cannot suffice, as it needs to be analyzed on video game expectations as a whole.
Hockey fans will be pleasantly not surprised that NHL 22 is extremely responsive with its controls, as it has been so for quite some time. Why fix what’s not broken? What I really like about arcade-style hockey is that the game allows you to choose between shooting with standard buttons, or using the right stick to completely determine how your player controls and shoots the puck. That feature is obviously for the more dedicated, hardcore players, but it definitely gives the game a more lifelike personality.
There is a very nice addition intended to accommodate the PS5 DualSense controller that makes NHL 22 stand out, for now. Pressing down the R2 trigger while skating gives your player a speed boost. Naturally, like any normal human being, fatigue is going to play a part in a player’s performance, and they will eventually need to be replaced to avoid losing their team’s momentum.
In earlier games, figuring that out was kind of a mystery, and required you to take your eyes off your player and look at their stamina gauge at the bottom corner of the screen. In NHL 22, just like in FIFA games for the PS5, when a player gets sluggish, the R2 trigger becomes stiff and more resistant to being held down, which is really just a fantastic simple addition that aids the player in knowing when to switch lines, all while remaining focused on the ices.
I did come across one glaring issue with the controls, something not experienced with previous hockey games, and while I didn’t venture through the options menu to see if it can be changed, I can only pray that it can be. As previously mentioned, R2 is your speed boost, Square is your wrist shot, and Circle is your slap shot (assuming you chose hybrid controls). Naturally, you want to be able to shoot while holding down your speed boost, but no, R2+Circle or R2+Square brings up an offensive and defensive menu, respectively. That means you have to release the R2 button briefly to get the shot off. It’s definitely a momentum killer, I can’t tell you how many times I had a wide open shot beefed because of a force of habit.
Now, perhaps it’s because I’m playing this on the PS5, and I’m expecting more from it, but how NHL 22 looks graphically reminds me of a Magic Eye picture. You know, where you stare at jumbled mess of patterns for a prolonged time until a hidden picture shows up. Only this time, the more I look at this game, which started out looking gorgeous, the more graphical imperfections I found. Face models on star players look very detailed, but the same really can’t be said for everybody else. The supporting team players look pretty standard and the crowd themselves look and animate pretty generically.
Thankfully, because the game is played from a bird’s eye view, the focus isn’t really on their faces. The real graphical standouts are the ice and the statistical menus. To be fair, the ice definitely looks absolutely amazing, the glares from the headlights and the indentations made with the ice skates are undeniably realistic, and the stats that show up on ice in between puck drops or when the period ends jump out at you like a high strung jack in the box that demands (and gets) attention.
If you’re wearing headphones, NHL 22‘s audio can be delightful at times. The sounds of the skates crunching on ice with every movement are deliciously authentic. You do have to put with a lot of annoying menu narration when you first boot up the game, so be wary of what to expect during your initial setup. Also, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to start a fight or call anyone out, but the announcers sounds like they should be staying home painting toy models and not announcing hockey games. They’re off-puttingly annoying and a stain on this game.
One of the best features in NHL 22 is The World of CHEL, which is essentially a Create a Player fanatic’s wet dream. Ranging from facial hair to the angle of how your back is arched when you skate, the Create a Player functionality is overwhelmingly detailed, maybe a bit too detailed for my taste, as these attributes aren’t really of importance in a fast-paced arcade-style hockey game. But I digress, kudos to the devs for achieving incredible attention to creative detail.
Once a player is created, you have to level them up, as you can’t just default all their stats to 99 and call it a day. You have to bring home the bacon, you can’t just snap your fingers and expect pigs in a blanket. To level up, you play in the NHL ProAM, where you partake in 3v3 or 1v1 outdoor hockey scrimmage challenges and earn XP, atrrtibute points, and open lootbox style sports bags full of unlockables. Yeah it’s more hockey, I get it, but the outdoor settings and the warmup gears you play in give it a refreshing feel. You are only in control of your created character, so you have more freedom and opportunities to get yourself open for plays, but sometimes your computer teammates do too much of the work that it takes a little bit of the fun away.
The other feature that gets lost and forgotten in the action is the X-Factor. Essentially, this feature gives star players perks that give them the advantage over other players. For example, Tampa Bay Lightning’s forward Nikita Kucherov has a perk that allows him to have a more focused and precise snapshot while skating fast. This feature is lost in the actual gameplay because arcade hockey is so fast-paced that you’re more focused on finding an open player and shooting the puck regardless of who’s in possession. I feel like X Factor more benefits the goalies, the one player who you don’t control. The feature is nice on paper, but ultimately I was too focused on playing hockey to realize there was a feature that gave me advantages in said sport.
Hockey games, to me, have the longest appeal and replayability out of all sports games. The default four-minute periods result in more fast-paced, “attention to detail” arcade-style competition. Sure, the games don’t last as long as football or baseball, but I can guarantee you that, unlike them, you’re going to want to play another game or two because of its pace. NHL 22 has that same good old familiar feeling, the only real difference being the updated roster that corresponds with the year. But the real question is, how long does one just play a standard hockey game over and over again until saturation kicks in and you shelve it until next year, when the same game comes out? That’s the reality and problem of all sports games: while it’s good, it’s all too familiar, and eventually, people are going to get fed up with it.
Why are star players the only ones getting the amazing graphics treatment? The ice looks unbelievable, though.
Familiar, crisp and responsive controls. The stamina feature ended up being a huge plus. I did come across with one annoying control-related issue, though.
Ice crunching pleasantry outweighed by goofy announcer annoyance.
Additional features are both refreshing and irrelevant, it’s all hockey at the end of the day.
Final Verdict: 7.5
NHL 22 is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of NHL 22 was provided by the publisher.