While the NHL season might be a little under a month away, the annual release of everyone’s favorite hockey video game took place last week. EA Sports’ NHL 17 became available for purchase in stores worldwide on September 13, featuring St. Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko on the cover.

After taking a look at the anticipated new features and thinking about how much I really didn’t enjoy the game’s 2016 predecessor, I headed to the store and picked up my copy of NHL 17.

The first thing I noticed after sliding the disc into my Playstation 4 was that the game had a full soundtrack this year, which comes as a change after last year’s game had a loop of instrumental background music that never changed. The variety of music in this year’s soundtrack is a minor change, but refreshing to say the least.

After navigating through the game’s newly designed main menu and entering an online exhibition game, I was excited to see what kind of improvements had been made since last year’s disappointing display of unrealistic gameplay.

After winning the initial face-off, I already noticed new player animations that weren’t present in years past – both with skaters and goaltenders. EA Sports has been boosting their increased goaltender animations for a while now, and I, being a former goaltender, was eager to see the changes EA was talking about.

I noticed a number of new and improved player animations from the goaltenders that made the entire gameplay seem much more realistic. However, despite the number of new animations, I also noticed that goaltenders seemed to be conceding an alarmingly high number of goals that they shouldn’t be. In my first game alone, I saw three goals that would hit the goalie in the chest and trickle past them into the goal. I understand that there are fluke goals, but the number of goals that were being scored that should have been stopped was frustrating, unrealistic and annoying.

Next up on the list was the changes in physicality. In NHL 16, players could skate about, shielding the puck and not get knocked off it, which is unrealistic, but is what I became accustomed to. That made it hard for me to adjust to the sensitivity of players in NHL 17. Any time you come remotely close to an opposing player, you are most likely going to be bumped at least enough for you to lose control of the puck. I see that EA Sports was trying to correct the flaw from 2016, but I think they overcompensated.

The third most noteworthy change that I noticed was the addition of battles in front of the net. Players that you aren’t controlling now set up camp in front of the goal and begin battling with computer players from the opposing team, a nice touch by EA. However, the players stay locked up there after the play moves elsewhere, a minor flaw, but one that surely gets on my nerves.

Finally, EA added some new features to the game, some of which are returning from versions of the game prior to 2016. First off, the game offers a ‘World Cup of Hockey’ mode, using rosters from the real life tournament that is taking place right now. The game also features a ‘Franchise’ mode, an improvement of the usual ‘Be a GM’ Mode. In Franchise mode, you are able to take control over almost every aspect of the organization, not just the team.

The game is definitely enjoyable and is certainly an upgrade from NHL 16. The improvements made to gameplay make for a fun gaming experience, but I think EA failed to take the next step. At a certain point, it’s difficult to completely change the game after so many years. But, if the NHL video game franchise could have found a way to really wow consumers, this year would have been a great year to introduce it.

Crae Messer can be contacted at cmesser@kscequinox.com

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