Last season, EA decided to skip the new-gen consoles with the NHL franchise, using the extra time to migrate the game off the aging Ignite engine and going with the superior Frostbite engine for NHL 22. For a game played on ice, it’s odd that it took EA so long to bring their flagship engine to their NHL series, but now that it’s here, the wait was certainly worth it, as the game has never looked or played better. And how it looks and plays is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the new features on the “next-gen” consoles.
NHL 22 feels familiar to players who have played the game in the last few years, especially NHL 21, but as you dig deeper into the new features, the true shine begins to break through. The X-Factors change the game in so many ways. For example, a player with the “Shnipe” X-factor can nail incredible one-timers past even the best goalies, and not to be overmatched, certain goalies have X-Factors of their own. I’ve both used this to my advantage in games, and have been burned with some amazing gameplay from my opponents, both CPU and human.
Puck physics, stick use, and player animations have been revamped, and while EA Vancouver touts this change year in and year out, in NHL 22, it’s more than noticeable. I’ve done things with the PVC rubber disc that I’ve only ever seen in real hockey, and each time I can pull off something amazing, it feels exciting. Plus, I’ve seen goalies make some stupidly incredible stops, to the point that I have cursed out loud. Passing feels decidedly different, as you have to be more precise than ever to hit your open skater, or you risk a costly turnover in the opponent’s O-zone. In fact, most of my time with NHL 22 has been spent practicing my passing, as it’s such a major aspect of the sport.
Even though everything feels familiar, it’s these little touches that make this feel new. Speaking of new, the Seattle Kraken join the league this season, and NHL 22 welcomes the franchise with open arms. The Kraken jerseys and stadium are represented, as well as the roster, seeing as how the real NHL season kicked off last week. The Arizona Coyotes remain the only NHL team without their real stadium in the game, though seeing as the team will be moving locations after this season, this head-scratching decision from years past makes sense here.
NHL 22 looks downright amazing. The Frostbite engine adds so much more to the player models and overall lighting and shading that I’m not sure there can ever be a better-looking hockey game. The fine details on athletes’ faces and the fabric of their sweaters showcase an engine flex that players haven’t seen in the NHL franchise for almost a decade. The presentations during the game, like stats superimposed on the ice before face-offs, adds a neat little touch, and remove the need to constantly pause to check my stats.
NHL 22 retains the game modes of previous versions, including Franchise, Season, Be a Pro, World of CHEL, Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT), and the various Ones, Threes, and Fives. And on top of all that, each mode uses the X-Factors when applicable. The new menus get rid of the silly “pin” feature and keep everything easily accessible. I’ve found that I’m more apt to jump into a game mode since that I’m not limited to three modes “pinned” to my main menu screen.
The HUT mode in NHL 22 also introduces a new feature with Power-Ups. Certain X-Factor players can be juiced up with Power-Up cards, which can raise their stats. It’s funny to pull a superstar player, like cover boy Austin Matthews, and see their power ranking in the mid-70s, only to discover that you can use those power-ups to turn Matthews into a monster on skates. This is similar to the change made in MLB The Show 21 this season, and it adds a new long-term goal to chase down as you work to build up your good players to become the best. I only wish these changes were applied to all players, similar to MLB The show, and not just the handful of designated X-Factor players. Still, I like where EA Vancouver’s head’s at, and the direction the franchise might be heading in future seasons.
I’ve been playing NHL 22 on a PlayStation 5, and without a doubt, the most exciting new feature is the use of the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and built-in speaker. You can literally feel the rumble as your player’s skates cut across the ice, and each deke, stick poke, and block rumbles in your hands. The speaker blasts the sounds on ice, like the puck skimming the surface, the impact on the boards, coaches calling line changes, whistles, and the best part: the song that plays when you score a goal. The DualSense is already my favorite controller ever, and NHL 22 makes it even better. I hope other games take note of how to use these tools creatively, as I cannot stress enough how neat this is.
NHL 22 comes to new-gen consoles with an exciting bang, but there is plenty of room for EA Vancouver to improve. At its heart, the game feels and plays like previous versions, and the new engine and graphical fidelity, along with the amazing use of the DualSense controller only goes so far. X-Factors are a start, but giving players the option to build and improve the forgotten guys on the fourth lines would make this so much better. That aside, NHL 22 is the best-looking hockey game ever, and the tweaked, but not completely overhauled gameplay compliments those visuals enough to make longtime fans excited to take the ice again this season, all while offering up a warm welcome to new players looking for the excitement of a hockey game from the comfort of their couches.
This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Electronic Arts.
It's odd that it took EA this long to bring their flagship Frostbite engine to their NHL franchise, but now that it's here in NHL 22, the wait was certainly worth it, as the game has never looked or played better.