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Recap: “NHL 23” brings atmosphere, women and more


If you ask a sports fan why they prefer to attend live sporting events, they will probably say that it is because of the atmosphere and presence of the fans that creates an energy that you just can’t get from watching at home . Sports video games have tried to somehow recreate that energy for decades, usually with mixed results. That changes this year, because NHL23 Developer EA Vancouver not only found a way to give players a taste of the live-action energy, they also used it to make their game better for it.

When EA gave us a look at the new game in July, they touted the new features to viewer reaction, but nothing could have prepared me for just how wonderful it is. More than just spectators celebrating goals or counting down the last few seconds of a close game, NHL23 somehow creates energy for the player with these new audience interactions – including realistic hat-trick celebrations and massive pre-game introductions. When playing on PlayStation 5 with Pulse 3D headphones, I’m totally immersed in what I’m doing on the ice. And scoring a goal not only results in a fist punch from me, but it’s incredibly satisfying to hear the crowd either go wild or go berserk – depending on where I’m playing.

I played some intense games in those first few weeks that I’ll never forget, mostly because the audience’s reactions drew me into the gaming experience. I wasn’t just playing for myself or my HUT ladder – it felt like an entire arena of fans were watching my every move. It’s such a beautiful experience and one of the reasons I just can’t stop playing this game.

Screenshot via Electronic Arts

And I’m just scratching the surface of the new features in NHL23. Also new for this season are Desperate Moves. There are over 500 new animations and for desperate moves, imagine you are in the final seconds of a tie. You run across the blue line while a defender rolls up fast and a goalie is ready to ruin your night – you can make a special shot and try anything or nothing to win the game. This can be shots while falling onto the ice, or wild slapshots from the point hitting the back of the net. There are so many options and it’s outstanding.

Admittedly, in the first few games I played, these desperate moves burned me. The Bolts came back in the last minute of a 2-0 game and scored twice – both with insane Hail Mary shots that went through my keeper. I ended up losing the game in OT on, you guessed it, another desperate move by Steven Stamkos. It angered me, of course, but I appreciate the feature making its way into the game, and now that I’m the benefactor of moves, it only adds to the praise I lavish on it NHL23.

The last big change in NHL23 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. IIHF players are some of the best players in the world, and faster, more agile wingers and centerme—er—women can make all the difference on the ice. Coed games in Hockey Ultimate Teams (HUT) are great, just don’t try to start a fight with another player. While I’m sure they’d smash your teeth in, fighting isn’t allowed in the IIHF. So if there is a woman on the ice in your competition, fighting is prohibited. And that’s okay. 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 also added cross-platform play, although players can only play between PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S or between PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – you can’t cross generations. This should shorten waiting times when importing online NHL23‘s myriad online modes, although the feature isn’t active at launch and will appear in an update later this month.

Once you have all the new features behind you, NHL23 is another solid sports gaming experience. The actual gameplay – which seems to have had a few changes over the last year – is as tight as ever, and the second year of the Frostbite engine allows for player models and arenas to come to life like never before. In fact, the new crowd reactions and 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 popular 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. NHL23 is the total package and a wonderful declaration of love to one of the greatest sports in the world.

It can’t be easy launching a new sports game every year. It’s difficult enough reviewing these games and finding 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 and whistles, that deserves celebration will. NHL 23 feels like a brand new game in many ways. I’ve dominated this series for the past few years and yet I feel like there’s a real challenge on the ice this time. Not only has it recharged me for the new NHL hockey season that has just begun, but it keeps me pumping this game up every day to continue my franchise and Be A Pro career, in addition to my World of Chel development . When we rank sports games by the number of game options, NHL23 is a clear winner. And the crowd loves a winner, this year more than ever.

This rating is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Electronic Arts. Recap: “NHL 23” brings atmosphere, women and more

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