A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What 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.
What's it about?
NHL 21 aims to deliver a deep (yet accessible) pro hockey sim that's true to the league and players, offering several solo and multiplayer modes for added replayability. One of the biggest additions is a more authentic Be A Pro career mode, which challenges you to live the life of an NHL star, off and on the ice, by trying to get into the coveted National Hockey League (from Canada or Europe) while interacting everyone from teammates and coaches to sponsors and the general public. By making decisions at each step along the way, there are thousands of different potential outcomes in this narrative single-player experience. This includes dealing with major moments, such as the NHL Draft, and Stanley Cup Playoffs. Another big change is a new -- and faster -- way to play the Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) mode. Called HUT RUSH, it's an arcade-like head-to-head mode with 3v3 or 5v5 match-ups, or timed games, with a style scoring system to reward you for not just for scoring a goal, but for how you did it (such as earning point multipliers for more difficult shots). You can even play as mascots, earn HUT rewards, and more. Other new features include new offensive and defensive moves, improved artificial intelligence (A.I.), tweaked goalie controls, a flashier presentation, and upgraded World of Chel by adding ranked seasons across each of the four modes (ONES, THREES, Drop-In, and Clubs).
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about marketing in games. Is the pursuit of realistic gameplay in sports games like NHL 21 worth the in-game commercials, ad placement, and messages that are constantly bombarding players? Is that just part of sports today?
If the developers release a free downloadable update to account for changing team rosters, do you really need to buy one every year? Can you skip a year or two, or do the new features and better graphics justify the purchase?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.