Sports games are a really fickle beast to review sometimes. Some years there’s little to no change to the game aside from a few new modes, little graphic tweaks here and there, and maybe some new lines of commentary. Some years, there’s a noticeable difference and this year would be one of them…for Madden 15 at least. For NHL 15 however, there’s a bit of a different story to be told here.
I’ve been awaiting the first NHL entry on the current-gen platforms for over a year now since NHL 14 wasn’t released on the next generation consoles, alongside other EA Sports titles like FIFA 14 and Madden 25. I was pretty hyped up about it and now that I’ve got my hands on it and I’m reviewing it, my feelings about the game are all over the place.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first as I’m sure many of you have heard already that NHL 15 lacks in features. Upon starting up the game for myself, I initially had a head scratching moment as well. When looking at the menu screen for the first time, there’s only three tabs which right away signaled that there was stuff missing from NHL 15. Upon surfing through the menus, I spent a few minutes just searching for the Season Mode as that’s where I normally start with sports games to review them. Well, there isn’t one in NHL 15, not exactly, but we’ll get to that in a second. Other modes like Winter Classic, Online Team Player, GM Connected and more features are gone. Why? Well, only EA knows that.
Going back to the Season Mode, there is one, and to find it you’ll have to play the ‘Be a GM’ mode where the General Management and Season Modes have essentially been combine, only with less features than what you’d expect from both modes. Getting the trend here?
Even Be A Pro, a mode that’s actually featured in NHL 15, has been heavily stripped down. Customization is pretty much non-existent and the AHL has been stripped from the game. So basically, you create a player to play in the NHL and that’s it. It’s inexcusable, really, to cut down a game to the bare minimum of features and content and not provide an explanation of why, or if and when these features will return to the game.
NHL 15 has essentially been stripped of a multitude of content that we’ve come to expect from past iterations of the franchise. I’m sure fans have been e-mailing EA all week about what happened to their favorite modes, but as far as I’m aware we have yet to receive an actual answer. One can hope that these features are going to make it back into the game via patches. Luckily, that may be the case as Online Team Play will be reintroduced via a patch soon.
Thankfully, the lack of features is really the worst thing about NHL 15. The gameplay has seen some noticeable improvements over the last few iterations due to the increasing usage of real-time physics and updated AI. NHL 15 continues that trend by adding player physics to all players on the ice, including the goalies. In addition, the puck also utilizes a new physics system making it more realistic than ever. Now, while this is a good thing, it can also cause some serious frustration in gameplay due to the puck being unpredictable, which of course is realistic so that frustration is warranted. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed a puck in the game thinking it’ll just snap to my stick like past games, it’s something that you’ll really have to get used to, and while it’ll endlessly piss you off, you’ll appreciate the realism when you really think about it.
The AI has also seen some improvement with players moving to set up positions on their own and creating their own passing lanes. They’re also prone to make mistakes, missing passes, causing penalties on their own accord and so on. The AI isn’t perfect by any means, but from what I’ve played, it’s a step ahead of NHL 14 in many ways as I certainly recall being a heck of a lot more frustrated with the AI in NHL 14 than I have been in 15.
The presentation in NHL 15 has also seen a significant boost. Player models finally look more like human beings than plastic, and player equipment and the jerseys in particular look honestly stunning in action. The jerseys move realistically with player movements which significantly adds to the immersion and makes NHL 15 look like a real “next-gen” upgrade.
The stadiums also look better than ever in NHL 15, especially the crowds. According to our fact sheet for NHL 15, the crowds feature over “9000 individual crowd models”. Obviously I haven’t taken the time to try and count every single crowd model in the game, but compared to what we saw in Madden 15, there’s a definite improvement to variety in both look and feel of the crowds. Members of the crowd will hold up signs saying all different kinds of things for their respective teams, taunt players in the penalty boxes and even other members of the crowd if you’re the away team.
The overall presentation has also seen some significant changes with NBC graphics and branding handling that ‘TV’ like presentation you’d expect to see on a live broadcast. The commentary team has also received the NBC tune up putting Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk in the booth. Their inclusion is a welcome change to the stagnate commentary that was recycled year after year for the NHL games, but there’s still some work to be done on the commentary side of things. As you’d expect, some lines of dialogue are used just a bit too often, and at other times the dialogue just doesn’t match what happened with the play. A goalie making a save after blocking three shots in a row was not an “easy” save, Mr. Emrick!
NHL 15 is a mixed bag in many ways. The game looks better than ever and plays very well, but the amount of content that was stripped from the game almost outweighs the improvements that have been made. In terms of value, EA shot itself in the foot here. Unless you’re really dying to play an NHL game this year on next-gen consoles, I can’t see why you should spend $60 on a product that’s missing more than half of the features previous iterations included. For those buyers that don’t read reviews, I can already feel your pain.
NHL 15 is far from a bad game. I personally think it’s the best NHL in terms of gameplay and visuals thus far. If you can deal with the lack of features then I say go for it.
Xbox One review copy provided by EA for review