Review: ‘NHL 23’ brings the atmosphere, women, and more

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Review of: NHL 23

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4.5
On November 2, 2022
Last modified:November 2, 2022

Summary:

NHL 23 completely revamps crowd reactions and adds women IIHF players and new desperation moves, and it all works splendidly to create not only the best hockey game in a generation -- but one of the best sports games ever.

If you ask any sports fan why they prefer attending live sporting events, odds are they’ll say it’s because of the atmosphere and presence of fans that create an energy you just can’t get from watching at home. Sports video games have tried for decades to somehow recreate that energy, usually with mixed results. That changes this year, as NHL 23 developer EA Vancouver has not only found a way to give players a taste of the live-action energy, they’ve used it to make their game better for it.

When EA showed us a glimpse of the new game back in July, they touted the new crowd reaction features, but nothing could have prepared me for how wonderful it is. More than just crowds cheering goals, or counting down the final seconds of a close game, NHL 23 somehow generates energy for the player with these new crowd interactions — including realistic hat trick celebrations and massive pregame introductions. Playing on PlayStation 5 with Pulse 3D headphones, I’m completely immersed in what I’m doing on the ice. And scoring a goal not only results in a fist pump from myself but hearing the crowd either go wild or be completely deflated — depending on where I’m playing — is incredibly satisfying.

I’ve played some intense games in these first couple of weeks that I will never forget, mostly because of how much the crowd reactions sucked me into the game experience. I wasn’t just playing for me, or my HUT rankings — it felt like an entire arena of fans was riding my every move. It’s such a beautiful experience and it’s one of the reasons I just can’t stop playing this game.

Screenshot via Electronic Arts

And I’m barely scratching the surface of the new features in NHL 23. Also new for this season are desperation moves. There are over 500 new animations, and for desperation moves, imagine you’re in the final seconds of a tie game. You skate across the blue line with a defender skating up fast and a goalie ready to ruin your night — you can take a special shot and go all or nothing to try and win the game. These could be shots while falling to the ice, or wild slapshots from the dot that find the back of the net. There are so many options and it’s outstanding.

Admittedly, during the first few games I played, I got burned by these desperation moves. The Bolts came back in the last minute of a 2-0 game and scored two goals — both with insane “hail Mary” shots that got through my goalie. I ended up losing the game in OT on — you guessed it — another desperation move by Steven Stamkos. It made me angry, sure, but I can appreciate that the feature has made its way into the game, and now that I’ve been the benefactor of the moves, it just adds to the praise I’m heaping on NHL 23.

The last major change in NHL 23 is the inclusion of female players — a first for the franchise. Sarah Nurse is one of the two cover stars — along with Anaheim’s Trevor Zegras — and she’s there for a reason. The women IIHF players are some of the best players in the world, and having faster, more agile wingers and centerme — er — women can make the difference on the ice. Co-ed games in Hockey Ultimate Teams (HUT) are a blast, just don’t try to start a fight with another player. While I’m sure they’d kick your teeth in, fighting isn’t allowed in IIHF, so if there’s a woman on the ice in your contest, fighting is outlawed. And that’s fine. Hockey is such an amazing and beautiful sport that fighting is a fun bonus when it happens, but adds nothing to the game as a whole.

Screenshot via Electronic Arts

EA Vancouver has also added cross-platform play, though players can only play between PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, or PlayStation 4 to Xbox One — you can’t cross generations. This is supposed to alleviate wait times for online play in NHL 23‘s myriad of online modes, though the feature is not active at launch and will be coming in an update later this month.

Once you get past all the new features, NHL 23 is another solid sports game experience. The actual gameplay — which seemed to get a few tweaks last year — is as tight as ever, and the second year on the Frostbite engine allows for player models and arenas that come to life like never before. In fact, the new crowd reactions and women players seem tailor-made for the underlying, and I’ve never seen so many of my favorite sports stars look and play so realistically.

All of the beloved game modes return, including a revamped Franchise, HUT, World of Chel, Be A Pro, HUT Rush, NHL Threes and Ones, and tournaments, including the new IIHF Tournaments. NHL 23 is the total package and a wonderful love letter to one of the greatest sports in the world.

It can’t be easy to roll out a new sports game each and every year. It’s tough enough trying to review these games and find new ways to present what are essentially roster updates and polishes, but when a developer finds the right combination of new features and whistles and bells, it needs to be celebrated. NHL 23 feels like a brand-new game in so many ways. I’ve dominated this series in previous years, and yet I feel like there is a real challenge on the ice this time around. It’s not only charged me up for the new NHL hockey season that just kicked off, but it keeps me booting up this game each and every day to continue my franchise and my Be A Pro career, in addition to my World of Chel development. If we rate sports games on the number of options to play, NHL 23 is a clear winner. And the crowd loves a winner, this year more than ever before.

This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Electronic Arts.

NHL 23
Fantastic

NHL 23 completely revamps crowd reactions and adds women IIHF players and new desperation moves, and it all works splendidly to create not only the best hockey game in a generation -- but one of the best sports games ever.