2014 marks the 23rd anniversary of EA Sports' NHL franchise. With NHL 14 missing out on the new generation of consoles, fans were eagerly anticipating the newest instalment, NHL 15. This year, EA put all of their efforts into the visual fidelity, overall presentation, look, and the authentic feel of the game. Utilizing the EA Sports Ignite Engine that was prominently used in their UFC game, NHL 15 truly is a visual knockout at times. It's a shame that the game itself isn't quite as meaty as previous entries, leaving a lot of fans wanting more.
As far as gameplay goes, this is the same game most have come back to year after year, and still EA has managed to really push the bar with EA Sports Ignite. One of the biggest additions is a revamp of their collision physics. Their new physics engine allows for secondary collisions, pileups, and scrambles on the rink. Players will feel a little slower at first, but gain momentum as they continue skating, and the resulting impacts can truly be devastating. Puck physics have also been reworked in ways you might not realize at first, but still appreciate the attention to detail. There is an added indeterminacy and unpredictability now, as pucks can have random bounces, rolls, or even goals. You'll find shots might hit players in accidental saves. Everything on the ice affects the trajectory of the puck itself, including the surface itself. The claim is that even skate trials could alter the path of a puck, and while I haven't seen this personally, it's wonderful to hear that it was at least thought of. This is a simulation game after all, and even the smallest objects like a puck matter when trying to emulate the realism and feel of an actual match. Finally, player models have been rebuilt from the ground (ice?) up, offering three layers: body, jersey, and equipment. Each layer is independent, allowing for more realistic contact. They also use Dynamic Cloth which shows a more realistic movement of clothing and reactions to speed or impact. To top it all off, every playable character model is utilizing the same groundbreaking facial technology displayed in UFC --- offering an incredible likeness to their real world counterparts.
EA certainly didn't stop there with their attention to detail. EA Canada has recreated 28 NHL arenas, and will even offer real world helicopter flybys of the arenas on game nights to really put you in there. Thanks to a new partnering deal with NBC, next generation versions of NHL 15 feature a broadcast package that resembles The NHL on NBC. Not only that, but play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne and Bill Clement have also been replaced by NBC's Mike Emrick and Ed Olczyk. They are both recorded in front of a green screen and have been directly put into a virtual studio, so we can say farewell to the awkward and robotic looking announcers with bad lip syncing. TSN analyst Ray Ferraro also offers insight at ice level and will be called midseason to update the game with new insights as the new season progresses.
The praise is sadly going to end here, as there is the elephant in the room that needs to be addressed. As I'm sure everyone is at least aware of by now, the PS4 and Xbox One versions have received a plethora of content cut out. GM Connected mode is unavailable, there is no online team play, there are no online shootouts, Be a Legend mode is out, no Winter Classic, no NHL 94 mode, and oddly enough even practice mode is limited to one skater vs an AI goalie. This list goes on and on and the perplexing thing is that most if not all of these omissions are not only present in NHL 14, but also seem to exist on the PS3 and 360 versions of NHL 15. NHL producer Sean Ramjagsingh has stated that there will be a content update at a later date, but sadly they've only hurt themselves here. This was the debut title for their highly rated NHL franchise on the net gen consoles, and PS4 and Xbox One owners unfortunately got the short end of the stick in terms of content, even if the visual fidelity is unparalleled. EA has been ridiculed in the past of having the mantra of "release first, patch later" and this sadly only aides in that mentality.
On principle, I am against the notion of releasing a game with cut content, and for seemingly no reason. Subjectively speaking, the only modes that have mattered to me are the same two I can always guarantee to see: Play Now and Play Online. So long as I can play with my friends or completely lose to someone online, I am usually content. I've ignored some of these modes in past instalments, and with NHL 15 I'm exposing myself to Be a GM, and the Hockey Ultimate Team for the first time. HUT is a fantasy card game where you can build your fantasy team from card packs you receive. Cards can be auctioned or traded for other characters, and it can actually be quite addicting. Unfortunately, there is no way to play against friends in this mode and no option to start tournaments (yet). And as for a mode where you are in the shoes of a General Manager, the feel of control is a bit nullified when the yearly draft is fully automated. I do hope EA works round the clock to address the lion's share of these stripped down modes.
In its current state NHL 15 is absolutely stunning to look at and the core gameplay mechanics have never simulated the sport as well as it does in this instalment. On the merits of its visuals and core gameplay, NHL 15 comes highly recommended. It's just a shame that there are so many features cut out of the next generation versions of the game. It unfortunately sways my opinions of the game as a product.
|The most detailed player models in any NHL game.|
|Realistic puck physics that react to player models and the ice itself.|
|Core gameplay remains as the franchise's shining component.|
|Modes missing from the PS4 and Xbox One versions.|
|Some existing modes like Be a GM or HUT are stripped down.|
|Planning to fix it later doesn't justify releasing a game unfinished, especially when the PS3 and 360 versions have most of the missing content!|