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NHL 22 review: Tough puck

(PS/XO) *** Age: 3+

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You could fit everything I know about ice hockey on the back of a matchbox, so take my views with a grain of salt. Then again, what game reviewer can claim expertise as a sniper, a racing driver or a space pilot?

The NHL franchise may not exist in the same rarefied space as juggernauts such as FIFA and Madden but clearly it’s taking cues from its EA stablemates. Alongside the core hockey game, for instance, lives the inevitable card-trading mode, HUT, which is just as controversial for its monetisation as the soccer equivalent.

NHL 22’s big selling point this year stems from its belated conversion to EA’s Frostbite game engine, which delivers a considerable upgrade that is especially visible on next-gen versions. Predictably, though, the overhaul has not come without its problems. Graphical glitches and other issues are a fairly common complaint, albeit less so since this week’s new patch.

The other significant addition cribs a feature that’s been in Madden for a few years. Superstar X Factor pushes the envelope of authenticity by granting certain elite players an intermittent special ability that sets them apart. The skill might massively boost shot power, permit impossible turns or enable accurate passes to off-screen team-mates. Sure, we can acknowledge this is just a game and top players can sometimes pull off inhuman feats in the real world. But X Factor strikes me as a cheat too far, at least in game modes meant to replicate reality.

Outside of that, NHL 22 does a decent job of recreating the peculiar world of ice hockey, where fighting is a tacitly approved part of the sport. In the game, it’s as simple as double-tapping one button to initiate a scrap. Far more interesting is the skill required to pilot a guy around the ice, snapping the puck from player to player before picking out a tiny gap in the goalkeeper’s defence and blasting it home – at least when it works.

The animations and physics have definitely advanced since my last encounter with an NHL title a couple of years back, thanks no doubt to Frostbite. But there is a sense that the underlying code just isn’t as smart when it comes to passing as it is in the likes of FIFA. Perhaps a new patch can resolve the anomaly but, in the meantime, committed hockey fans might want to wait a while.

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