This week is Video Game Week at SBNation, and if you listen to my podcast Fer Sure, you likely know how much I enjoy video games. Since in the last two months, I’ve ventured outside of my typical NHL hockey games into other sports games that I typically don’t play, I thought it would make sense to compare them.
Before I get started, I’m going to focus on one game mode because if I were to compare all modes, this article would be way longer than it already is. Every year I create a player and play career mode in NHL, so I figured that was a good point of comparison. Obviously there are a lot of different pluses and minuses for each game when you factor in all the play modes a game offers. Feel free to talk about that in the comments!
Also, I can’t compare MLB and NBA2k to prior years, since I didn’t play them, so that info would be great for the comment section as well.
I’ve been playing NHL games since NHLPA 1993 (Blades of Steel before that, but I’m just counting the EA games). Over the years, I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with them. On the one hand, it’s been the only game in town many of those years (which is a major problem), so if you want to play a hockey game each year with updated rosters, it’s been your only choice for a while.
They’ve made some improvements recently in terms of adding different game modes (Threes can be very fun), but even though each year’s release brings much PR about how they’ve revolutionized this and that, it typically feels very similar to the previous year’s release. This year at least had new commentary for the first time in many years.
The career mode in NHL definitely falls into that trap. While there are parts of it that new players may find appealing, it’s pretty much the same as it’s been for a while now.
Off the bat, you go through a create a player mode that’s pretty standard. Pick your name, number, type of player (playmaker, sniper, etc), Play by Play name (which has a woeful lack of names in it), Handedness, Height/Weight, etc.
The only real differences this year are cosmetic. You can choose things like your shot style, which is new, but these little differences are pretty sad compared to the aspects that are exactly the same as the last few years.
Pre-selected heads for your player customization (which I’m pretty sure are exactly the same as last year) indicate that very little work went into making this mode better than last year.
Then you make the biggest choice of your career. You can start in the Memorial Cup and play 4 games (assuming you make the finals) to determine where you get drafted. You can choose which team drafts you. Lastly, you can play a season or two in the CHL (you choose the league and team), in which case your draft order will be determined by how you do in those games.
The problem with the first option is that it’s pretty much a crapshoot. The problem with the last option is that my experience starting in the CHL is that you become dominant pretty quickly. It’s a generic complaint of mine in that last couple EA NHL games that it’s hard to find a difficulty level in my sweet spot, but that very well could be that I’m not as good as I used to be when I was younger.
So at this point you either start with the team you pick or you play a few games up to two full seasons at the junior level, depending on which option you pick.
After each game, you receive experience for different aspects of the game that you did well, and can receive negative consequences for poor performance. This is the same for every career mode I’ve ever played, although exactly how your performance affects your progress is different in each game.
You’ll either start in the AHL or NHL, depending on your performance prior to being drafted. After that, each game is pretty much the same. The main thing I have found annoying with NHL’s career mode this year and in prior years is that it does a pretty poor job of adapting to your performance. You can stay on the fourth line for weeks, even though you’re putting up 4 goals a game.
While it’s not a new feature, having the ability to skip ahead to your next shift is nice. If you couldn’t do this, games would take much longer, and it would take forever to get through a season.
So, while EA has made some improvements in other areas of the game, the career mode still leaves a lot to be desired.
MLB The Show 2020
I hadn’t played a baseball game in years, and I’d heard good things about this game, so when I saw it was on sale, I decided to pick it up. I’d also heard some good things about their career mode game Road to the Show.
In the character creation mode you can choose where your player is from, their starting position, handedness for throwing and batting, and the number you want. After that, you get to choose your archetype, which dictates your starting skills as well as your progression possibilities. For example, if you choose “Pure Power,” then you will have a hard time increasing your contact skills, but your power hitting skills will increase quickly.
I ended up going with Mr. Utility, which de-emphasized power, but seemed to be a good all-around build for someone like me without much experience.
After that, you have several choices for your personality. The choices you make here will unlock bonuses that will help you in different ways, depending on which ones you choose. For example, I unlocked one that gave me improved hitting when playing at home.
After that is your standard selections to define the other aspects of your player: the name the announcers call you, physical appearance, etc.
Then you get your first taste of gameplay, as well as your first experience with the mode’s narrator. I’m pretty sure the conversation went like this:
“Hey, do you think we could get Sam Elliot to be the narrator?”
“Nah, he’s gotta be too expensive.”
“What about a guy who kinda sounds like him, but isn’t as good?”
“Awesome. Book it.”
If you haven’t played any of the other game modes, this can act as a tutorial. You can experiment with different controller settings. I found the different options to be a pretty good range of difficulty. The higher level options give you more control, but have a much higher learning curve.
After running through different drills, you get drafted. From there, for the sake of time, it’s pretty standard in terms of gameplay. You can thankfully sim to your next appearance, which speeds each game up tremendously. Other than your appearances at the plate, it’ll also stop for any plays your player can be involved in in the field. For this reason, a shortstop or a second baseman will be involved in the most plays other than a pitcher.
You move your way up through the minors to the majors. You can be traded, as I was just after signing my first MLB contract (as in the very next thing that happened after I signed was that I was traded). You can also be asked to change positions. I started as a shortstop, but changed to a third baseman. From what I understand, when you are asked to change positions, it’s because there’s more of a chance of you moving up to the next level at that position.
The personality aspect adds more than the NHL version, but that’s a very low bar to clear. There are some fun aspects of the mode, such as challenges that pop up throughout each game. Are you up with two out and two on? You can choose from options like “drive in a run using a contact swing / drive in a run using a power swing, etc.” Each one gives your player a progression reward, with the harder options leading to better rewards.
The interactions with your players is an interesting idea that didn’t do much for me in the way it was executed. In between some games, you can talk to different teammates and do different types of practices to improve your character. Talking to your teammates will make them like you better. You can also improve their feelings towards you in game by making regular plays, so it builds up pretty quickly. The more everyone likes you, the more bonuses you get.
Overall I liked it better than the NHL Career Mode, but that’s not saying much. The cut scenes in between games were very underwhelming, almost to the point of being comical.
I hadn’t played a basketball game in what feels like forever, and this game was on sale. Some of my friends who play sports games said good things about it, so I picked it up.
The MyPlayer mode has a lot of the same features as the games above in terms of selecting aspects of your player, so I’ll skip over that part and just focus on the differences.
You can upload an image of your face in addition to the preset faces you can choose from, which is a cool option. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work, and from what I read about it online, it seems like this is a common issue.
The biggest difference from the other two games will be obvious to anyone once you start. The first section of the game, up until you start playing for your NBA team, is an interactive movie featuring big name actors like Idris Elba, Rosario Dawson, and Thomas Middleditch. There are also some cameos by past and future NBA stars.
A couple years ago, FIFA had a similar idea, which was pretty good. This one is better, although not perfect. You have the opportunity to make a few choices, but it doesn’t feel like it affects things that much. Just like MLB, you go through a series of drills, workouts, etc to determine what teams are interested in drafting you and where you will be drafted (or if you’ll be undrafted).
The narrative throughline of the section was well done. Having great actors helped to drive home some of the emotional twists and turns, and getting to play with Stringer Bell as your head coach? As Clay Davis would say:
Once you get to the NBA, if you’re not starting, it’s a good idea to increase the length of the quarters so your player gets enough time to make plays to improve your progression. Games still go pretty quickly as long as you simulate to the next time you are in the game.
One thing that’s been hard as a new player is while many of the controls are pretty easy to pick up, I’m still finding it hard to time the jump shot, even though it feels like I’m doing what they show you in the practice mode. Also, sometimes I’ll be driving the lane for a layup or dunk and my player pulls up short. This could be largely or entirely my fault, but it is a little annoying. I picked up the MLB controls a lot quicker, and while I liked the game overall, I think it’s worth mentioning.
Overall, this was by far my favorite of the career modes I played this year.
Rating: Pretty fun
If you played FIFA or Madden this year, I’d be interested to hear what you thought of their career modes.