NHL 20 delivers fast, fluid, and frequent action on the ice, offering the best core gameplay mechanics seen on this console generation.
NHL 20 offers players the most progressive slide forward in terms of core gameplay mechanics that the current console generation has seen, but did EA Sports do enough to build from the solid platform that the core mechanics provide? After checking out this year's take featuring the likes of the new Eliminator game modes, an updated franchise experience, and deking our way through the online action, we can firmly attest that NHL 20 represents the best of what the franchise offers on the current console generation - though some game modes seem to have been left on the bench.
When NHL 19 announced that the series was going to switch over to the Real Player Motion engine that powers the likes of the FIFA franchise, there were always going to be growing pains. Now that the NHL developers have had time to acclimate to the engine however, they seem to have struck a fine chord between realistic player and puck physics and an intuitive stick control system. NHL 20 is perhaps the most fluid-feeling NHL game of all-time, with the in-game skate, deke, and checking mechanics all working together relatively flawlessly. Given that this is the groundwork the entirety of the game is built off of, this was a major aspect to get right - and that's exactly what the developers have done.
The theme of borrowing what worked in FIFA extends into HUT, which now features Squad Battles - an single-player experience which allows HUT players to test their squads against celebrity-inspired lineups in offline competition to win points. Ultimate Team now features over 400 hockey icons that players can potentially win in card packs, with the trading card-inspired game mode providing as addictive as ever - which is exactly why EA Sports is keen to invest so much into it.
In stark contrast, the EA SHL and Be A Pro modes have been left almost entirely untouched, with the developers having largely focused on the more-popular World of CHEL instead. Ones and Threes proved to be wildly popular recent additions to the franchise, with EA Sports now updating both modes with battle royale-inspired versions that provide plenty of high-stakes gameplay in a relatively short time frame. The end result is the same Ones and Threes gameplay that fans already liked, but with an optional short tournament elimination system that makes the latter stages feel like a cup final. EA Sports is continuing to compliment World of Chel with weekly cosmetic rewards, and has expanded on last year's series-first outdoor rink with a selection of new outdoor variants that range from a farmland rink in Saskatchewan-inspired prairies to the Rideau Canal.
Speaking of visuals, gamers will see a jarringly different strategy to how the game presents itself: gone are the NBC television mechanics and the long-time commentary team of Mike Emerick and Eddie Olczyk. The duo have been replaced by radio personality James Cybulski and former hockey pro Ray Ferarro, with NHL creative director William Ho explaining that having local Vancouver-based talent allows the studio to update commentary lines on a more regular basis. Given that this is their first year of action, some of the commentary feels repetitive at the moment - though hopefully regular audio updates will make this less noticeable as the year goes on. All-in-all, the new visuals come across just as smoothly as the game's physics engine, and the result is finely-tuned production value that comes in spades.
Fans of Franchise Mode will be happy to hear that EA Sports has invested in some new game-changing elements, which include the likes of line chemistry, coaching staff mechanics, an all-new conversation system, and a new scouting system that combine to provide a fresh coat of paint to a game mode that, despite NHL 19 adding a few bells and whistles, hasn't seen a large focus like World of Chel. For gamers who enjoy seeing their draft picks blossom into the next Auston Matthews or help their favorite team hoist the Stanley Cup, it's great to see Franchise Mode get some much-needed love.
Much like the ice that the in-game players ply their trade on, NHL 20 has a stunning amount of polish. The game sets a high quality tone with a physics engine that makes even the most basic actions feel fluid and authentic, and it builds on that feeling with plenty of fun gameplay experiences: whether one chooses to hop into World of Chel and dab after slamming home a slap shot in Ones, break the Leafs' playoff curse in Franchise Mode, or simply best their friend for bragging rights in a quick game, NHL 20 is the real deal: this is one of the franchise's best efforts in years. EA Sports may never have blessed it with a storyline mode while leaving the likes of Be A Pro or EA SHL largely untouched, but gamers eager for smooth action likely won't mind at all.
NHL 20 is available now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided with an Xbox One key for this review.