Never did I dare dream of the day an NHL game would top Madden or NBA titles as the Shacknews Best Sports Game, but 2020 is not a typical year. EA Vancouver offered up what I confidently describe as the best hockey game ever released if you are looking for simulation instead of arcade, and I fought hard for NHL 21 to get its recognition during our 2020 deliberations.
Don’t get me wrong; I can and will blast out a laundry list of things “wrong” with any NHL game, but that’s as much about me being too deeply invested as it is unbiased criticism. The truth is NHL 21 has so much to offer just about every player type it cannot be ignored this year.
EA Vancouver overhauled the Be a Pro mode with new conversations, cinematics, perks, and more. They added a frantic trade deadline activity that is perhaps the best thing in the game today. They worked on the core play to ensure a more fluid experience, including better save animations for goaltenders and improved AI teammates for a more immersive gameplay experience. They even peppered the title with new dekes, both functional and fancy.
The NHL franchise has been one of my favorites since NHLPA Hockey ’93. My first goal was a point shot by Jamie Macoun while playing on a friend’s system. I have played every game since that one. This year, I play Franchise Mode each weekend with a friend where we drink beer and try to build a dynasty team. There are spreadsheets and a whiteboard to track line combinations and prospects. When I’m playing solo, I have my Be a Pro where I bumped Zach Hymen off the left wing and joined Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the top line for the Leafs.
In a year where we all have built-in excuses as to why something isn’t meeting expectations, EA Vancouver rolled out a stellar entry into its hockey franchise with NHL 21. Congratulations to EA Vancouver and NHL 21 on winning the award for Shacknews Best Sports Game of 2020.
Check out the other winners from The Shacknews Awards 2020 in our Year of the Games: 2020 article.
Bill Lavoy posted a new article, Shacknews Best Sports Game of 2020 - NHL 21
Man, I haven't played a NHL game in YEARS!
I used to love playing both Madden and NHL every year, but I feel like maybe 5 or 6 years ago, either the games got too complex or I was just getting too old to play them.
I felt like Madden and NHL 12 were the last games I felt good at. Every year after that they kept making the controls more and more complex, admittedly in an attempt to make the gameplay for realistic, but it felt like it stopped being as fun.
I'm sure it's probably just me getting old and sucking at video games, but seeing this article about NHL 21 made me realize how much I miss the sports games I used to play all the time.
The controls aren't that bad. They do have classic controls that simplify things, but I'd suggest using the new ones.
These days, though, there are more tuners than you can imagine so you can tweak your gameplay to be exactly what you need to have a balanced, fun time. You can turn each individual penalty completely off if you want. You can make goalies better, or make it so you recover stamina faster. You can make face offs and fighting easier, make your shot harder or more accurate. Tweaking the settings is a bit of a chore, but I think if you really want to play, you can probably find a sweet spot that will give you the experience you're most comfortable with.
Oh, except online. Those settings can't be changed.