While EA Sports’ other series like Madden and FIFA saw their debut on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One last November, the NHL series was left out. As a result, the anticipation for the first eighth generation iteration of the series was very high with NHL 15. Quite often, the first outing on each generation of consoles for EA Sports titles have been pretty are bones, but with a year of prep time and focus, EA Sports had a great opportunity to go against that terrible tradition with NHL 15.
After last year’s very well received NHL 14 on last-gen consoles, hockey fans were hoping to see even further improvement in the series this time around with the jump to eight gen consoles. Pretty much right after you fire up the game, you will pretty quickly jump right into a rematch of the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals between the New York Rangers and Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. You can choose to exit out of this game if you wish, but it’s worth at least trying out a little bit to experience the game’s excellent presentation and improved graphics.
The graphical leap from last-gen is quite impressive and you can tell they spent a lot of time on making this the most realistic looking hockey game to date, from the players, to the arena and crowd as well. The crowd was obviously focused on greatly as EA Canada has said that 9,000 individual crowd models are featured in the game, which is a new high for a sports game. This is a trend that I really hope to see all sports games follow, as the crowd plays a major part in most any sport.
Alongside the graphical leap, one of the major all-stars in NHL 15 is the presentation. Unlike most sports games that have a commentary crew created with in-game models, including the recent Madden NFL 15 with Jim Nance and Phil Simms, NHL 15 actually chose to record the new NBC Sports commentary team of Mike ‘Dock” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk themselves. This does look a little bit awkward at first as the real life commentators are put in front of the in-game background, but getting them like this is well worth that transition period.
In addition, they have some of the most dynamic and non-repetitive commentary you will find in a sports game, which is very welcome in a genre where it can get incredibly redundant very quickly. The presentation also extends to the graphics used throughout feeling like you are watching a real hockey game, including real life clips from the home city of each game being played.
NHL 15 also boasts a completely new physics system that came as a result of the game being built completely from the ground up. This has helped to make the hockey experience itself the most realistic it has ever been, including real life puck physics and some of the most smooth gameplay the series has ever seen.
Playing this opening Stanley Cup Finals rematch really had my hopes high, but sadly those hopes fell rather quickly. I knew it was a bad sign when the already small main menu had a huge part where you could watch the trailer for NHL 15, which seems utterly useless. By scrolling to the right, you see the minimal amount of game modes at your disposal.
The first mode I opened up at this point was Practice Mode to see what kind of training system the game had, as that is vital in most every sports game with the learning curse being quite high for newcomers. However, NHL 15 may have the absolute worst training mode that I’ve ever seen in my life of playing sports games. It literally puts you in a rink with the puck and all you can go do is try to score against a goalie. There are no drills, no instructions, no anything. You cannot even get a chance to sharpen your defensive skills, as there are no offensive players to play against on the ice. Making matters worse, if you pause the game, there is not even a way to view the control scheme if you want to see what the buttons do. It says you can press the touchpad for help, but when you do all it says is go to the EA Sports website for a manual, which is ridiculous in a Practice Mode.
the game feels almost like a hollow shell of what it used to be
At this point, I decided to give Be A GM a try, which is your basic franchise mode. This one is pretty simple, where you pick a team and run them through up to 25 seasons. You have the opportunity to do a few GM tasks, but for the most part all you will be doing is playing the games that make up each season, with minimal action inbetween.
After that, I tried out Be A Pro, which allows you to create your own player and take them through their career. This is usually one of my favorite modes, but just like Be A GM, it seems incredibly unfinished and basic as possible. There is almost zero customization outside of choosing the face of your player from 179 options as a male or two as a female, white or black. At this point, you are randomly drafted onto a team with no rhyme or reason, as there is no sort of tryout game to show your skills. This is something that should always be in this type of game mode as it allows the game to access your skills and place you on an appropriate team rather than be completely random.
NHL Moments Live is basically what you would expect, by offering the best moments from the real life hockey season. It features a number of key situations from last season, but the mode will be even better once the moments from the 2014-2015 season start to be added. This is one of the modes that could easily keep bringing people back to experience the biggest moments of the upcoming season after that happen.
While just nitpicks, there were simple mistakes I found in the game that could have easily been fixed, but instead make the game itself look bad. The first came in the form of messages in GM mode with the same error more than once. A message was sent a few different times that said “I am done that trip to the SHL you asked me to do.” This is completely missing the word “with” more than likely and should have been been caught by some sort of editor in the process.
Also, in Be A Pro mode, when listing your hometown in the game, the city and state portion do not correspond together, so while I had South Carolina as my home state, there were no cities from the state to choose from,, so I ended up being from the nonexistent Atlanta, South Carolina. This could have easily been solved by allowing you to manually input the city or just let it be left blank. To me, these were small signs that this game could have used more polishing prior to release, especially with features having to be patched in later.
NHL 15 sadly befell the same trap that most of their new generation games have had over the last two generations by underwhelming greatly. While the graphical leap is very impressive and the game plays very well, NHL 15 is a massive disappointment. The game is incredibly bare bones and while features like Online Team Play will be patched in later, the initial release is missing way too much and seems like we are back to square one this generation.
Major favorites like EASHL and online team play are completely gone, at least for now, so the game feels almost like a hollow shell of what it used to be. The graphics and presentation may be worth it for you if you only care about playing online or against friends in person, but otherwise you may want to wait until more features may be patched in or just hope that this is corrected next year as we saw with Madden’s second try at the eighth generation.
- Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
- Published By: Electronic Arts
- Developed By: EA Canada
- Genre: Sports, Hockey
- US Release Date: September 9th, 2014
- Reviewed On: PS4
- Quote: "NHL 15 looks impressive on the surface with graphics and gameplay, but way too many features have been cut or neutered this time around."