NHL 18 makes all kinds of improvements to the tried-and-tested gameplay that hockey fans have come to expect. However, it also brings something wholly new to the table — a hectic, arcadey mode called Threes that takes inspiration from the beloved NHL ’94.
Threes has its roots in real-world hockey; for the last couple of seasons, three-on-three play has been the norm for overtime in non-playoff games. In NHL 18, it’s an excuse to drop some of the more serious aspects of gameplay and presentation and deliver all-out action.
“Really, at the core of it is multiplayer,” said Clem Kwong, producer on the NHL team at EA Vancouver, when Game Rant made a visit to the company’s campus last month. “Making sure that it’s fast, high-scoring, big-hitting. Kind of going back to our roots, in a way.”
Threes is best described as an amped-up alternative to the more simulation-centric gameplay of the other modes in NHL 18. Kwong lists games like NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, and NBA Street as influences on the mode, which should give an impression on the feel the team was going for.
The faster pace and the heightened abilities of players on the ice mean that Threes makes it easier to accomplish some feats that might not be possible elsewhere in NHL 18. This is where the most audacious plays will take place, and the most sensational goals will be scored.
There are new mechanics in place, too. Not every puck will simply add a single to point to team’s score. Some will double up and offer two points — others will dock a point from the opponent, which can really turn the tide in a competitive match.
“MoneyPucks weren’t added by the team until later on,” explained Kwong. “We were sitting back and thinking, ‘you know what, it still feels like it’s missing a certain flair.’ We definitely knew we didn’t want to do power-ups, that felt too out-there. But a game like basketball has two-pointers and three-pointers, that’s a thing. Is there something there?”
The retro feel of the mode extends to its Circuits, ladders of different teams that players will work their way through like an arcade fighting game story mode. Beating the opposition offers all kinds of unlocks, including one of the most compelling components of the Threes experience: playable mascots.
Unleashing mascots on the ice fits right in with other elements of the mode’s presentation, like its tweaked commentary and the showy player intros that precede a match. Placing one of the costumed characters on a team adds a touch of color — fielding a team entirely composed of mascots is a sure-fire recipe for mayhem.
“Playing with mascots is a different experience,” said Kwong. It kind of gets chaotic, I have to say, if you play the Western mascots against the Eastern mascots, and they’re all wearing different jerseys. That’s chaotic, but great fun.”
Threes is great fun, whether you’re working your way through its Circuits in couch co-op, or taking on your friends via the internet. However, it’s sure to be a favorite for gamers who play competitively in the same room. In an era when local multiplayer is sometimes overlooked in favor of online modes, NHL 18 aims to offer the best of both worlds.
NHL 18 is out now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Game Rant attended a preview event for the purposes of this article, for which Electronic Arts provided travel and lodging.