With its new commentary system, teams, and updated presentation package, NHL 20 represents the biggest shake-up of the franchise in years – and it’s mostly positive changes. Combined with excellent controls, smooth gameplay, tons of fun, and engaging different modes to play, exceptional attention to detail and respect for hockey culture, NHL 20 is a step forward that is generally excellent. This is our NHL 20 Review.
NHL 20 Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
- Developer: EA Vancouver
- Publisher: Electronic Arts, EA Sports
- Genres: Sports game
- Release Date: July 26, 2019
NHL 20 Review: Official Trailer Video
NHL 20 Review: Gameplay
The most significant change for NHL 20 is the broadcast package. It’s almost entirely different this year, and the changes – which include commentary, user interface, and images – are mostly positive, however, not always for the better. Commentators Mike Emerick and Eddie Olczyk are out, while almost the entire NBC Sports Network licensing package, including live-action sequences, has also disappeared. It’s a shocking change since Emerick and Olczyk have been the voice of EA’s NHL games since NHL 15.
The latest commentators are Canadian sports radio personality James Cybulski and former player and current analyst Ray Ferarro. They usually do it adept at calling plays with style, flair, and personality, and their banter manages to capture the essence of hockey culture with hockey IQ and talent. However, some comment lines are repeated too often, and Cybulski, in particular, sometimes sounds like he is hammering it and pretends that every game is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
Outside of the new commentary team, NHL’s updated broadcast presentation includes 20 more colorful and dynamic images that display relevant information in more eye-catching ways. Along with the brighter colors and sharper fonts, NHL 20 introduces more dramatic, slow-motion highlights from target scores, as well as Overwatch-like “Play of the Period” and “Play of the Game” highlights. These moments are good at breaking down the essential pieces, and with their unique angles and close-ups, they make for fun moments to sit back and enjoy your performance.
Part of this updated broadcast package is a new location for the score clock, the only major mistake. It’s now at the bottom of the display compared to the top left in last year’s game – and it can’t be moved in the settings. The latest score clock location opens up more screen space for action. Still, I found it difficult to quickly and easily see important information such as time remaining in the game, penalty minutes, and other data points while monitoring the action at the same time.
NHL 20 succeeds most with excellent, sleek controls that give you the freedom to perform any hockey move you can imagine. There are also changes in animations and skate mechanics that make the game look more lifelike. Building on what was already the best step forward from the NHL 19 franchise, this year’s entry feels faster and smoother with better animations, more realistically depicting key transition moments, such as catching a pass and getting an intro more quickly. Overall, the gameplay on the ice feels faster and more faithful to the real NHL experience.
There are also new shot animations, which are contextual and better reflect what a shot might look like from a particular area of the ice depending on angles, strength, speed, specific player attributes, and more. In NHL 19, your player often still completed the shot animation even if the puck was never there, which looked very strange, but that rarely happens this year. NHL 20 also introduces “Signature Shots” to some of the league’s top players, one of which is PK Subban’s thumping slapshot and Alex Ovechkin’s electric one-off timer.
Unfortunately, NHL 20 doesn’t make much in the way of improving player models. The character models for referees, players, and the crowd seem to be mostly unchanged from last year’s version. When the replay camera zooms in on the fans on the glass, you may wonder what kind of time vacuum the NHL series exists in, so people can never age from year to year or look completely different.
The NHL series is known for its sleek, precise controls, and this level of excellence continues with NHL 20. Regardless of which control arrangement you use, the controls ensure full control of your player with fantastic simplicity and plenty of depth at the same time. Puck possession and smart play are paramount in NHL 20, and the authorities always give you many different options for holding the puck, bypassing defenders, providing the extra pass, and lighting the lamp.
Besides the standard hockey simulation, NHL 20 has a plethora of arcade-style modes. The pond hockey mode, Ones – where three players compete on a small outdoor court – introduces four new locations, including a track on a remote farm and another inspired by Canada’s Rideau Canal. These new locations, along with the weather effects such as snow falling during matches, make Ones an even more authentic and holistically representative representation of the outdoor hockey experience.
The Threes mode, meanwhile, remains NHL’s flashiest and craziest mode with full-blown commentary, stringing mascots, plenty of goals, and big hits. It is the mode in which I found myself coming back partly because of the fast games compared to the standard simulation mode and the constant progress rewards in every game played.
The social hub, World of Chel, returns with NHL 20 with some notable updates. The most significant introduction is the “Eliminator” mode, the spin of NHL on Battle Royale. You can do it alone in Ones or team up with two others in Threes to try to survive four consecutive rounds in a series to win the tournament. It’s an exciting, incredibly challenging, high stakes challenge that, like the Battle Royale games it’s inspired by, will encourage you to keep coming back and improve your skills.
Ultimate Team also returns, and the notable addition is the introduction of Squad Battles. These work the same way as in Madden and FIFA, where you compete against HUT squads created by other players or, after launch, sports stars and celebrities. Hockey Ultimate Team is all about sharpening to collect new cards, and it remains a fun experience to put together a fantasy team made up of legends and current stars and compete against others.
NHL 20 review successfully captures the ice hockey experience from the ponds to big games under the bright lights, with excellent attention to detail and profound yet straightforward controls that are the best in its class. Once you’ve overcome the shock of Eddie and Doc, the new commentary team does an excellent job of providing informative and playful banter. While the multitude of different modes of the game each have their specific feel and appeal, that takes a long way from NHL 20 to make an excellent representation of hockey culture across the board.