Published on October 10th, 2023 | by Paul Stuart
NHL 24 PS5 Review
Summary: An amazing leap from NHL 23, NHL 24 boldly advances the series via new physics, presentation and overall gameplay. A must-buy for any next-gen ice-hockey aficionado.
The Great One
After a hiccup year in 2023, NHL is once again the unexpected king of next-gen console sport titles in presentation and execution…with a disclaimer being this statement implies microtransactions and grinding aren’t core requirements for your enjoyment of the game. Thus, if you’re hellbent on gathering every collectible piece of ice hockey gear, building the perfect Ultimate Team, or leveling up a CHEL player to the max, some caveats are in store.
Related and second disclaimer: veterans of NHL 23 and years prior are going to find a surprising, current absence of hybrid controls (fusing basic and skill stick) also insertion of a new goalie assist feature (which resets human controlled goalies after attempting difficult saves and accompanying extended animations). Both are big points of controversy amongst the NHL console faithful, with EA already promising to return the hybrid option in the near future. While the absence of a hybrid option didn’t completely frustrate, I was taken aback by the increased difficulty in puck protection (as no longer mapped to the familiar X button). Ditto some struggles in executing skill moves now mapped to individual buttons.
With these disclaimers aside, NHL 24 is the best NHL out-of-the-box in ages. I racked my brain to recall the last time I fired up a new NHL game and it so darn enjoyable. It’s a massive leap from the ho-hum NHL 23 in a number of ways, and all of them terrific.
To begin, the game looks and sounds amazing, perfect representations of favorite NHL teams and their arenas down to stadium nuance, crowd chants, music/goal horn selections, and all the little stuff like on-ice projection. Player models are also the best to date, pixel perfect representations of real-life counterparts, jerseys and gear.
NHL 24 places serious emphasis on momentum, specifically the realistic role of sustained offensive pressure to fatigue opposing defenses and goalies and increase likelihood of scoring. It’s executed to near-perfection, especially on power plays, where maintaining pressure will literally wear down a defense and significantly open up passing lanes and increase rebound potential. In tandem, NHL 24 features dynamic audio that adjusts to in-game situation, which improves immersion of these situations (whereas sustained pressure by a home team will increase volume and intensity of crowd cheers). Critics may argue that pressure builds up either too quickly or slowly, also the impact on goalies being uneven (based on talent level). All of these can and no doubt will be patch tweaked over time.
Unlike other EA Sports games which espouse the benefits of the Frostbite physics engine, NHL 24 is the first where you can literally feel and experience it. Collisions are realistic and appropriate, with larger players and skating momentum impacting hit intensity and end result. Thus, spamming the right analog stick is no longer the default option for checking, as big players will bounce off small ones, as appropriate. The NHL 24 Frostbite engine really shines along the boards, as players will jockey for position, knock each other over, or send players over the boards if out of position/off balance. Also, and thankfully, blue line artificial explosions are now toned down a bit, more reliant on said physics for outcomes.
Vision passing is another welcome new feature in NHL 24, where holding down the pass button will highlight player icons for a quick teammate pass. This is the exact thing I’ve been longing for in NBA 2K, where individual player passing (versus directionally facing) can be disjointed and over-complex. With this being said, NHL 24 has a terrible habit of passes not going where they should resulting in excess icing. Also, flip passes/puck dumps don’t currently execute, strangely underpowered, at present. Patch, anyone?
The NHL augmented reality (AR) engine also gets a nice tune up, with delayed penalties also time remaining on them now featured along the boards. In CHEL, boards also display personal messages, a cool touch. AR-driven stats are also better infused throughout in NHL 24, no longer confined to simplistic statistics of face off wins or X-Factor (player skill set). There’s likewise a new zoomed in camera for goals and big plays, a bit novel but can be a slightly hokey after a while.
On the presentation front, Cheryl Pounder joins the play-by-play team, a massive upgrade over the stale commentary by Ray Ferraro of years prior. Pounder’s comments are more aligned with actual game situation, not regurgitated cheese dedicated to the benefits of a single X-Factor. Simply put: she’s interesting, and we’re all better for it.
NHL 24 also added a number of user interface/gameplay options to allow fast jump-in. CHEL’s Battle Pass is designed to emphasize streamlined access to vanity items, and the quick play and unranked options allow easier in/out. Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) also sports an Objectives option for shorter games. Finally, I surprisingly enjoyed the arcade 3-on-3 HUT Rush mode with playable mascots and points for mini-achievements.
For most NHL players, CHEL is where it begins and ends, and that still works great. Crossplay allows everyone on next-gen to literally play together, and there’s unprecedented customization and skill tweaks. It was seamless to find a quick, unranked game, and servers worked perfectly.
Rounding things out, Franchise Mode and Be a Pro remain pretty similar to NHL 23, although the former now considers X-Factors in player development models. If you enjoyed these modes in earlier NHL iterations, not much will change (or innovate) here.
NHL 24 on the PS5 is a stellar hockey game, with tremendous gameplay and presentation improvements from an average NHL 23. With new emphases on immersion and in-game momentum, NHL 24 is a terrific next gen sport title, arguably the best of this year’s crop. Note improvements mentioned in this review are not reflective of last-gen consoles.