‘NHL 18’ review: NHL Threes arcade mode buoys otherwise solid but unspectacular entry

EA Sports’ series NHL games long have focused on simulation ice hockey.While “NHL 18” is no different at its core, …

‘NHL 18’

Out now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, $59.99

EA Sports’ series NHL games long have focused on simulation ice hockey.

While “NHL 18” is no different at its core, the biggest and arguably most fun addition is a distinctly arcade experience.

The new mode, dubbed NHL Threes, mixes three-on-three hockey seen in the NHL All-Star Game and in the current overtime format with the lighter sports game setup of “NBA Jam.” Games are fast, hits are big, and some goals can be scored with modifiers that count as two. The gameplay type comes with its own meaty campaign circuit that offers unlocks such as players, uniforms, arenas and mascots.

NHL Threes’ commentary is more loose, with a “Jam”-style announcer drawing a clear distinction from calls by Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk in the main game modes. The smaller-sized rink is more colorful than usual, too. Although not completely over-the-tip, there’s no mistaking Threes for the rest of the game from neither an audio nor visual perspective.

EA Sports could easily have separated NHL Threes into its own budget-priced stand-alone game, so to package it in with the mainline franchise is great to see.

For those uninterested in arcade-style hockey, “NHL 18” might be considered a bit of a disappointment.

The top innovation to the on-ice action is complete control of the stick on both offense and defense. Spectacular dekes one might see from the likes of Connor McDavid, this year’s cover athlete, are at advanced players’ disposal. Skates and hockey stick now are controlled by separate analog sticks, so it’s possible to both move and sweep on defense. Both are satisfying, but not game-changing additions.

Otherwise, there’s not much that moves the needle added to the formula. The Vegas Golden Knights have arrived and available in franchise, and a custom expansion team can be created as the NHL’s 32nd club for those who fancy that.

“NHL 18” already was a building upon a very good foundation, but the need to buy this year’s edition is almost entirely dependent on whether NHL Threes tickles your fancy. If it does, the game won’t disappoint. If Threes will go unplayed, buyer beware.

Scott Fontana