NHL 19 Review: Legend & Lore

It was during the NHL’s magical 1992-93 season (captured beautifully in Todd Denault’s A Season in Time) that I was first exposed to EA’s hockey video game, by a hockey fanatic named Marc Brunengraber. Their second edition, NHLPA ’93, was the first to have a license with the players’ association, and the ability to control the likes of Pat LaFontaine and Brett Hull – insomuch as their “likenesses” amounted to little more than a pixellated name alongside their avatar – was intoxicating. The game was for a brief moment even more popular and successful than the Madden franchise (remember Tecmo and Joe Montana Football?), and it’s retained its hooks on me… 26 years later, here I am reviewing the latest edition of the franchise, NHL 19.

It’s the new bells and whistles that you’ll hear about in the commercials and advertisements…

And yes, it’s definitely a ton of fun to play on the frozen pond…

But it’s that last sentence – as relates to the core gameplay – where NHL 19 shines the brightest. Control of the players has gotten meaningfully more precise since the prior iteration (NHL 18), and the result is a truly magical game that makes playing solid positional defense every bit as exciting as scoring a picturesque cross-ice one-timer goal. The graphics are fantastic – both crisp and smooth – and NHL 19 is a truly immersive playing experience across the board.

Here’s a look at a goal scored in the final seconds of a game between the Canadiens and Senators (I’m controlling the Habs)…

And here’s a look at a play in a game between the Rangers and the Bruins (I’m controlling the Blueshirts)…

Those are the second and third games I’ve played, respectively, on the “Pro” setting. I won the Rangers-Bruins game 4-0, so a higher difficulty level is probably needed, but all three games I played were consistently competitive. Most importantly, the game was super fun to play. I’m looking forward to stepping up to All-Star, but I’m guessing Superstar will be more work to play than I’m seeking.

If I have a beef (at all), it’s with the commentary. By the third game, I felt like I was hearing the same phrases over and over, and it became clear that the play-by-play’s entertainment value was going to be short-lived. Luckily, my PS4 makes it easy for me to incorporate Spotify into my NHL 19 experience, substituting music for the announcers. And incorporate I did. Here, for your listening (and playing?) enjoyment, is my NHL 19 playlist on Spotify (subject to change)…

Overall, NHL 19 is as worthy a sequel as EA has released in many years, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that NHL 19 is the best sports game currently on the market. It is leaps and bounds better than the glitchy Madden 19, and the solid-but-unspectacular MLB The Show has plateaued a bit in recent years. If NHL 19 has any competition for “best sports title,” it comes from the FIFA series, but in this reviewer’s opinion, the high-octane flow of video game hockey gives it the decided edge.

Rating: 5 Pucks (out of 5)