“It’s in the game” has been the motto that EA Sports has lived by since the early ‘90s, but with the release of NHL 15, the motto no longer applies. Compared to last year’s offering, which did not release on the current consoles, NHL 15 feels painfully bare bones, with many missing features, a sluggish menu system. EA Sports has done a complete disservice to the long standing hockey series that has survived going up against the 2K series without resorting to buying the exclusive rights to the sport. While not everything from last year ended up on the cutting room floor, the remaining modes lack many of the details that made them enjoyable. I won’t even get into the fact that EA has once again shunned the PC audience.
Although the game includes all of the minor league and professional teams from around the globe, Be A GM mode strictly limits you to the NHL (say goodbye to your AHL affiliation). Drafts have been automated, preseason games have been nixed, and the All-Star game is nothing more than a date on the calendar. You’ll be able to scout players throughout the season, but without being in control of the draft, what is the point?
Practice mode has been gimped to the point of being utterly useless. You’re thrown into a nondescript empty arena with the star of your favorite team against a goalie. There aren’t any options, limiting you to what boils down to a breakaway challenge. Be A Pro is the most disappointing aspect of the game, as the promise of living the life of a rookie is nonexistent. Instead of working your way through the fourth line in the minors to stardom, you are immediately transplanted to your NHL team of choice. You aren’t able to sim to your next shift, meaning you’ll be watching most of the game from the bench (or penalty box). Although EA promises coach tips are on the roadmap for a later update. The point still remains why were they removed in the first place?
The arenas have been completely overhauled, closely resembling the real-life counterparts. The crowds are more lifelike with a ton of new animation and character models to give the illusion of thousands of individuals watching the game. When I scored a goal at the Nassau Coliseum, the home of the New York Islanders, fans in the front row reached down and pulled up letters to spell out I-S-L-A-N-D-E-R-S. Not that I have seen that ever happen at an actual game, but it’s a small touch to make the “Old Barn” feel unique and alive.
As the action on-screen plays out, the crowd follows the action by cheering or booing accordingly. Everything from the anticipation of a breakaway goal to a bone crunching hit charges up the crowd. Get pinned up against the boards and you will hear and see fans pounding on the glass. What you won’t hear however are any kind of chants, whether it be for the home team, the goalie that made a big save or the enforcer that just cleaned someone’s clock. The admission is highly noticeable, especially after mounting a 3rd period comeback late in a game.
On the ice, the game is solid, but requires the difficulty increased, and all of the sliders to be adjusted to make it enjoyable. The default sliders are somewhat comical, even for someone who has never played an NHL game before. Without breaking a sweat, you’ll be able to skate around your own zone with the puck for the length of an entire period with relative ease, and still manage to score 10+ goals a game. As you increase the difficulty, the improved AI will play a much tighter game, putting their sticks in the passing lane, and knock you off the puck at any opportunity.
The NBC presentation style is well done, with Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk in the booth with Ray Ferraro adding insight in the game from between the benches. Instead of following suite with Madden, NHL 15 forgoes character models, instead using prerecorded green screen footage to give the illusion of them being in each arena. The play-by-play has been improved, but that isn’t saying much, as phrases are often repeated. I’m sure someone can write something other than “he caddy cornered that one” every time the puck is dumped into a corner.
The commentary isn’t the only thing that can be a bit buggy, as I’ve encountered a handful of bugs while playing. One moment I scored a hat trick as the away team and Doc and Eddie mentioned how the hats were going to start falling on the ice. Whether you are the home or away team, the crowd never tosses hats on the ice (in-game that is). The new puck physics can cause some wonkiness, as I’ve seen a defender put the puck clearly into his own net, after clipping right through the side of it yet no goal was called on the ice. Another time players were chasing a puck behind the net, but weren’t able to interact with it, instead the puck bounced off their skates until the puck became playable once again. Goal celebrations are limited to two skaters, as once a second player interacts with the goal scorer, the rest of the team will immediately head to the bench. No group hugging here. The same limitation occurs after the whistle is blown, as shoving between players is limited to one-on-one.
Missing from NHL 15 is any mention of the three stars of the game, something that is synonymous to hockey as throwing an octopus on the ice in Detroit. EA has already promised that it will be coming soon, but after the promise that the transition to PS4/Xbox One would be smooth, I have my doubts about how it will be implemented.
If you must play a new hockey game this year, the last-gen versions of the game on PS3 and Xbox 360 fares better, as all of the modes excluded from the PS4/Xbox One versions of the game are included. Although you won’t have the impressive presentation package, the fact the new physics system, and all of the missing modes have been included make it a better choice. With only marginal improvements since NHL 14, you’d be better of dusting it off your shelf or finding a cheaper copy online.
NHL 15 proves how little EA Sports respects the intelligence of gamers, charging full retail price for a game that can’t compare to last years offering. Even if this is the only hockey game for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, it is not worth your time or money.
Note: The NHL 15 review was written based on a digital Xbox One version of the game.