In recent years there has been an increase in sport games that let you step into the shoes of pro athletes. Some of these games can bring up nostalgic memories of childhood times of street hockey with friends and the glorious imaginary Stanley Cup winning goals. Sadly, EA Sports’ NHL 19 fails to tap into these nostalgic memories. The potential is there, but because of the lack of immersion outside of the rink, the game falls short. Be a Pro mode is an underdeveloped game mode in a series that got its first game 28 years ago.
You can start your career by playing a full year of the CHL, jump to the Memorial Cup, or straight to the NHL draft. The NHL draft is the first thing that shows how shallow the game mode is: When you get drafted the game basically just tells you “You got drafted by…”. I wasn’t expecting major cutscenes, but every young hockey player dreams of getting drafted into NHL. It is strange that this event is so bland.
The game offers three different playstyles, from arcade to simulation. I am more of a simulation style player, so I picked the latter, even though it means completing one full season without simulating can take 200 hours. You can then modify your player, and here comes the first of the baffling shortcomings: You cannot choose between left or right defender. For some that might not be a huge thing, but for me it is, because I am much better playing left side, be it hockey rink or soccer field, in real life or in game.
Customization options for your pro are extensive, but they are the same for every player. From beard length to stick tape and the brand of your skates, there are lots of options. As for playing actual hockey, well, it is like any other mode but with a locked position; however, there is one difference: if you do not provide offense, your team will rarely score either. For me hockey is doing the little things right and play a well-rounded match, but it is hard to enjoy big hits or great penalty kills if your teammates’ response is to let in four goals when you are on the bench. From design perspective this is a hard thing to solve, because like in every team game, you are just one of the players and not the whole team.
There are three different types of experience for your player: XP, TP and SP. XP raises your stats and TP and SP are used to develop your player in a skill tree. Sadly, there is no on-ice training and I still do not have definite understanding how you get TP and SP, the game certainly isn’t telling you. The skill tree is the only off-ice thing that is interesting. Off-ice immersion is just non-existent. I am not after amazing cutscenes, but the only thing you get from scoring your first goal or playing your first NHL game is nothing. NBA 2K15 myCareer mode had some interactions with teammates and press interviews for your player. NHL 19 has nothing, and for that reason I have to say it feels pointless to grind through the season to get the opportunity to score that Stanley Cup winning goal.
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Vancouver
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release date: September 14, 2018