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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
NHL 21 is a hockey simulation based on the National Hockey League. It lets gamers play on their favorite teams, virtually, as well as be a general manager in one mode. It's mostly positive, but there are fist fights in the game -- just like the real sport.
Positive Role Models
Because the video game mirrors the real NHL and its teams and players, if they're good role models in real life, then by association, they're good role models in the video game. Not all players are, of course -- like any sport -- but most show what hard work, determination and professionalism can bring you.
Ease of Play
NHL 21 enjoys similar skill stick controls to last year's game but feels even more intuitive and responsive. Plus, there are various tutorials to sharpen skills. Seasoned players will pick it up easily, while beginners should also find skating, passing, and shooting a breeze.
Violence & Scariness
The game has some mild violence -- not just in the body checks against the boards, but like the real NHL, it also has fistfights on the ice between players. When a fight breaks out, the perspective shifts to the two players exchanging punches and grabbing each other's jersey until the fight is ended.
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Unmoderated multiplayer could expose players to inappropriate content.
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Products & Purchases
This is the latest installment in the long-running NHL franchise. The game doesn't have downloadable content (DLC), but there are special editions to buy, such as the Deluxe Edition or Great Eight Edition, each with its own amounts of bonus content. There are also logos of several brands featured -- on the boards, in the stadium, and on the players -- including hockey names (CCM, Bauer) and other lifestyle brands, like Reebok, Adidas, Gatorade, and others. The game also supports optional pay elements, like the card collecting in Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) mode.
Parents Need to Know
Parents needs to know NHL 21 is a sports game for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This is the latest installement in the long-running sports franchise, which tries to recreate the experience of the professional sports league. There's some mild violence -- just as there is in the real sport of professional hockey. This includes fistfights between players, which shifts the view to the two players (punches, jersey pulling). The fighting is optional, and kept within the game and the real NHL rules, but parents should know about this virtual brawl. Online matches between players are unmoderated, which could expose players to inappropriate content. There's also a fair amount of logos for different products in the arenas, on players, and scattered around the game for Bauer, Gatorade, and more. There are also three different versions of the game, each offering varying amounts of bonus content based on the one you've selected, and players have the option to spend money to buy packs of content for the Ultimate Team mode.
Is It Any Good?
This year's hockey game is well worth the wait -- and the money. NHL 21 is an incredibly detailed, deep and gratifying hockey game for fans of the sport. It's easy to pick up, difficult to put down, and the developers have improved almost every aspect over previous games -- from mode selection and artificial intelligence to presentation and control. Longtime NHL players will no doubt appreciate the improved and expanded Be A Pro mode, which has a more polished and cinematic approach. You'll create a player from scratch and work your way up to become a pro athlete, but must make several decisions to keep your career going (with repercussions for many of the choices you make), based on making a "Star" or "Team" response, and you'll have to see how it works for fans, your career, and so on. Often there's no easy choice: for example, do you do more for charity that looks good to the media and your fan base, but means less money for you and your future? What you do on the ice also matters here, with a coaching system that gives you real-time feedback on your performance and how to improve (including stats to analyze your skill). NHL 21 offers some noticeable improvements to its skill moves, responsive player and puck handling, and more capable A.I. teammates, especially in the defense department, including better goaltending, too (though there are still a few eye-rolling cheap goals, as in past games). The new HUT RUSH is also a welcome addition to the Hockey Ultimate Team mode, as it introduces a faster and more arcade-like option for when you're not in the mood for a serious simulation. You complete and chain skill moves together for multiplier points, but doing the same moves reduces your score, which is added to a leaderboard for extra incentive.
The sleek graphics, animation and smooth frame rates all add to the overall visual package -- even with the promise of what's possible with next-generation consoles. NHL 21 players on PS4 and Xbox One won't be disappointed. On the audio front, the music, sound effects and of course competent commentary are all top-notch, too. With all these new additions, it's hard to complain about the Franchise mode, which is almost unchanged from NHL 20, with the exception of a couple of small trade-related updates. Overall, the ambitious NHL 21 shoots and scores. Hockey fans shouldn't wait to pick up this stellar sim.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.