I’m pretty lucky. I’ve seen the sports teams I follow win the World Series, the Super Bowl, and the Stanley Cup in my lifetime. I vividly remember watching the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals in ’08 (a heartbreaking loss) and ’09 (one heck of a Finals series) at a friend’s house. It was basically a party that happened every year, the Stanley Cup Finals. Many of my good friends were there, all clustered around a TV, chowing down on delicious food and watching some great hockey games.
Needless to say, I was pretty excited when NHL 15 crossed my desk. It seems like a match made in heaven, right? I like hockey, and EA’s NHL series has been pretty solid for a long time. What could go wrong?
" Like many of the other sports games EA has released recently, NHL 15 commits one of the worst sins in (next-gen) sports games and cuts out much of the modes and features that were in previous versions of the franchise. To call the game “stripped down” would be underselling it.
Quite a bit, unfortunately. Like many of the other sports games EA has released recently, NHL 15 commits one of the worst sins in (next-gen) sports games and cuts out much of the modes and features that were in previous versions of the franchise. To call the game “stripped down” would be underselling it. How bad is it? The best comparison could probably be made using EA Sports UFC or NBA Live 14. It’s certainly not as bad as the latter, because, let’s be honest, few things are, but it’s certainly one of the worst sports games to grace the new consoles so far.
It’s a shame, too, because EA Canada has clearly spent a lot of time and money here, and they have gotten quite a few things right. In fact, the on ice action feels quite good. The physics have been completely redone and are better than ever, the puck feels more alive and realistic, and the action behind everything generally feels satisfying.
And yet, odd things linger. The improvements to player and puck movement only serve to make dekes feel incredibly canned and almost out of place. And as good as the new puck physics are, the thing seems to spend a good chunk of the time either magnetically attached to your stick or never really under your control. It’s an odd dichotomy that even carries over to the AI. Most of the time, everyone is where they should be, and the AI players do their job very well, but moments later, your goalie will knock the puck into the goal himself because of his overeager thrashing, or a teammate will stop a good drive in its tracks because he’s randomly decided that he needs to be offside.
"In an attempt to add even more realism, NHL 15 also features a commentary team made up of NBC Sport’s Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro, all of whom recorded actual video for the game. It all looks and sounds good – until you realize that they have almost nothing of value to say.
This type of inconsistency affects the newer aspects of the presentation, as well. Admittedly, a lot of the changes are for the better. NHL now uses full-motion video to introduce games, and that, frankly, looks great. In an attempt to add even more realism, NHL 15 also features a commentary team made up of NBC Sport’s Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro, all of whom recorded actual video for the game. It all looks and sounds good – until you realize that they have almost nothing of value to say. Nearly everything in the game is referenced to in generic terms, as commentators will talk about “this player” or “this team,” and even then, they repeat themselves quite a bit.
It’s indicative of what NHL 15 is, really. For every advancement, there’s a step back. This is most obvious in the sheer amount of content that has been stripped out compared to previous entries in the franchise. Indeed, the game feels positively gutted. The list of loses is staggering: GM Connected, EA Sports Hockey League, Winter Classic, Be A Legend, and even season mode are completely gone, and the modes that have survived the culling have seen reductions in some way.
Be A Pro now lacks major league demotions, the ability to influence your draft positioning by playing in a prospect tournament, and even the option to simulate to the next line shift. Instead, you’ll just watch the computer play from the bench, and God help you if you take a penalty. At that point, you may as well go get yourself a sandwich.
"Admittedly, the presentation upgrades – the new player models, arenas, crowds, audio enhancements, etc – are all very impressive, but it’s really not all that great of a selling point for a game that will be obsolete when the next one rolls around in a year, especially when this “unprecedented realism” comes at the price of the actual game part of your video game.
Be A GM is still (mostly) intact, but there’s still a loss of options in a mode where the whole appeal comes down to your ability to control things. Even basic features, such as Online Team Play, playoff mode, and Tournament Mode have had to be (or will be) patched into the game later on. Of course, Ultimate Hockey Team, which allows you to create your own team with your favorite players and take it online, remains more or less as it was, probably because EA wants you to spend money on it.
All of this speaks to the nature of annualized sports franchises, and makes sense when you factor in the game’s paltry 12 month development cycle, but it doesn’t really do anything to change the fact that, at its best, this is a half-finished game. Admittedly, the presentation upgrades – the new player models, arenas, crowds, audio enhancements, etc – are all very impressive, but it’s really not all that great of a selling point for a game that will be obsolete when the next one rolls around in a year, especially when this “unprecedented realism” comes at the price of the actual game part of your video game.
That’s not to say that NHL 15 doesn’t have redeeming qualities, but good core gameplay and impressive presentation don’t make up for the fact that there’s very little for you to do. There’s a lot of potential here for future games in the franchise, but that’s really all it is: potential. Right now, the game is a lot like a player that beats everyone to the goal and has a wide open shot, only to bounce the puck off one of the posts. There’s clearly potential for future success there, and he’s obviously doing quite a few things right, but in the end, all you’re left with is a missed opportunity.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Impressive presentation and physics upgrades. Core gameplay is extremely solid.
Nearly every mode in the game has been gutted, is missing entirely, or has had to be patched in. There just isn’t a whole lot to do. Lifeless commentary.
NHL 15 may be a step forward in terms of gameplay and presentation, but it’s a step back in nearly every other way. New players and those dedicated to the franchise will probably find something to like here, but everyone else will be left with a huge sense of missed opportunity.
A copy of this game was provided by developer/publisher for review purposes. Click here
to know more about our Reviews Policy.