STAFF REVIEW of NHL 15 (Xbox One)


Thursday, October 2, 2014.
by Scott Fowler

NHL 15 Box art Time for the puck to drop on another essential EA Sports Franchise, NHL 15.

Right out of the gate, I want to say how excited I am to finally get to the 2015 sports titles. For the first time, we finally get to see what sports titles can and will be on the new consoles, independent of their previous generation platforms.

What better way to showcase it than with the NHL title, right? Given the amazing 2014 version of the game, with anniversary modes, features galore and a great send off on the 360, I'm sure many of you out there were also eager to lace 'em up and get on the ice.

First things first. It's awful to this Ducks fan that this game features the defending Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings for the opening game play situation. Reliving the Stanley Cup winning game versus the Rangers was a little too raw.


My initial impression, though, was a quick study: This game looks great, and plays pretty great, minus any requisite tuning or tweaks. The Hockey experience is world class, so let's talk about that experience. EA definitely wanted to re-brand the game, and decided to go with an NBC Sports game presentation tie-in. I feel like they really focused on making this experience as close to a broadcast hockey game as possible, with camera angles and cut scenes pretty close to the real thing.

EA also went with an all new announcing crew, which was a welcome change to the previous iterations which, while great, had definitely gone a little stale. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro round out the trio, and even include pregame video cut-ins and intros that help really sell that broadcast experience. There are some nice touches with this, and I love Olczyk in there giving his two-cents worth.

Graphically, the hockey itself is stunning. The details of each rink, each arena, are spot-on, and include the nuances that make some of the stand out locations in the league as unique in the game as they are in real life. Goal sounders, horns, and fans really make this immersive. For once, too, it seems as though EA really took the fan reactions and tried to make them the extra player on the ice. There's definitely a palpable home-ice advantage when you're playing a big game in your own barn, and it makes for some fun moments. The fans are still somewhat robotic, but it feels better dispersed and managed. Jerseys and skates, players endurance, player interactions, and the like are all substantial improvements this year.

The players themselves are also pretty astounding in their accuracy. I'm sure there are the usual outliers who look nothing like their real life counterparts, but it's easy to identify players even if you can't see the back of their jerseys or their numbers. There's a player sucking for air after a break away gone empty. There's a player yelling for a pass as he opens up a shooting lane. There's a fan yelling a crystal clear chant to his boys on the ice. I really can't say how close this is to watching a game on TV. It's a joy to behold.


Game play itself also feels pretty good right out of the gate. Full disclosure: I didn't have enough time reviewing this to get into my personal tweaks on mechanics and settings. The time I did get, however, really highlighted the new and improved engine and physics at play in the title. In particular, I feel that the updates EA has branded "True Hockey Physics" really make things like scrums in the corner, hits, and any contact on the ice much more realistic and less predetermined. Kudos on this, because it just continues to make the it feel more natural, and flow quite nicely.

Next is feature set and navigation. Navigation seems improved, but a little laggy, and that might solve itself via updates in the future. The overall menu layout and navigation is clean and simple and makes jumping right into the action fairly quick and straightforward.

Then comes the hidden underbelly of the game. The missing features.

Items that have seemed almost native to a console based hockey game: Online Team Play, Connected GM Modes, Be a Legend, and the standard version of Season Mode are all MIA.

My reading and online perusing of various forums and the like leads me to the conclusion that there's definitely a rising opinion of this not being "as complete" as many fans of the franchise had expected from EA. Time will tell how this all goes.

There is the Hockey Ultimate Team mode, and the card collecting fanatics among you will probably continue to love this mode. Judging by the videos online and Twitching, there are some avid card collectors out there. I'm not one, but that's me. For those of you that like this, you'll probably continue to like it.


Creation Mode seems more limited than, say, the Madden line, but Hockey and Football are different animals. You can create new players as before and manipulate rosters, but you really don't get the customized "expansion city" sort of abilities I was sort of quietly hoping would transcend the football world. Maybe like the rest of the limited feature set, this will come in future releases as I find it made for some fun things in the other titles.

It's sort of a tale of two games: One, a great hockey simulator with graphics and sound and gameplay that are second to none. The other, a half-baked, feature-poor shadow of it's former NHL 14 glory.

To wrap this up personally, I feel somewhat challenged on this review. The missing features aren't ones that I normally focus on, as I tend to run franchise mode and work the nuance of running a team as best as possible through multiple season. The gameplay and graphics improvements, coupled with the overall presentation make this a GREAT Hockey game, just not one with features we've all grown accustomed to in some degree of personal preference.

NHL 15 is definitely a "your mileage may vary" game in that regard, but there's enough here to think that, while not a massive win in the history of NHL games, it feels more like a step in the right direction if not the final destination. The light of NHL 2014 just shines so much brighter in the depth of feature set that this gets washed out a bit more than I think EA wanted.


Suggestions:
I think EA should look to pull all the specifics and nuances of their other Franchise Sports titles (Madden, FIFA, etc.) and incorporate all the similar tie ins (real time real world scores, social media tie-ins, larger sporting fanbases, international play, etc) and make those part of all their core offerings.

Bring back the pieces we've all grown so accustomed to, and we'd have a pretty ground breaking title here.


Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.7 / 10
Sound: 8.8 / 10

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