Critics Corner: NHL 15

nhl-15-headerIn America, the big EA Sports title is Madden 15. Every football fan that’s also a gamer buys Madden every year. We have a similar thing here in Canada. Since most of our sports fans are hockey fans, it’s EA’s NHL series that gets the buys. If you’re buying this year’s NHL 15 on the PS3 or 360, you played it last year. It’s just NHL 14 with a roster update as EA Sports is wont to do with its legacy-gen titles that aren’t big in America (see also: FIFA). Their focus is on developing the current/next-gen title. Well, that’s what they want you to think.

While NHL 15 is a huge step up in presentation with far better graphics and TV style presentation that looks ripped from NBC, a bunch of the features that gamers enjoyed on the PS3 and 360 aren’t here this year. Like the Madden games at the start of the last generation, fan-favourite features were left out of the next-gen launch title and will be reintroduced later so they can be heavily touted by the marketing people. The actual on-ice gameplay is supposed to still be great. Whether you’re going to want NHL 15 depends on whether you really care about all the off-ice features that are missing or trimmed this year.

Well, there’s always next year. Right, Leafs fans?

Gameplay

“Sporting the new-to-NHL Ignite engine, many large-scale improvements have been made. New animations, AI capabilities, physics and other examples of balance and atmosphere come together to create a satisfying sensation of playing the sport. Non-player AI has gotten a welcome overhaul, resulting in less computer mistakes, less predictability and much more synergy between human and AI teammates. The skating mechanics feel more organic than ever, puck physics are greatly improved and the infamous “ice tilt” effects in which momentum perilously affects everything from unfortunate puck bounces to player agility feel almost nonexistent in relation to previous years.” – GameTrailers (7.8/10)

“The action is definitely smoother, the physics are more realistic, and the puck feels livelier. The changes are most apparent when the puck is loose down low and everyone is trying to jam it into the net. With the way the puck moves now, there are quite a few more rebounds and dirty goals, which is more in keeping with the real sport. One-timers and slapshots from the crease aren’t completely dead, but they aren’t the only way to score either. Considering where NHL has been over the past few years, that’s a relief.” – US Gamer (5.0/10)

“The processing power of the PS4 and Xbox One does wonders for skating and collisions, which sometimes match what you see in real NHL games. Checking someone into the boards no longer feels like a purely one-sided affair, as both bodies involved in the scrum take some punishment. Unless you completely nail the speed and angle of a hit, the attacker will need a moment or two to collect himself as well as the poor fellow that bore the brunt of the check. Goaltenders are finally intertwined in the pileups and action in front of the net as well, even to the point of their masks flying off when things get particularly violent.” – GamesRadar (5.0/10)

“Some serious bugs also plague the on-ice experience. During my time with the game, one backhand that sailed over the net was counted as a goal, a referee blew a shootout dead while I was in mid-shot, and I witnessed a puck gravitate through the net to a defender’s stick (so much for realistic puck physics).” – Game Informer (5.5/10)

Features

“EA Sports has ripped the heart out of its long-time arcade hockey game, taking what was supposed to be a brave first step for the franchise on the new-generation PS4 and Xbox One and turning it into a pratfall. Many, many modes of play are missing in action. Even the features that have survived EA’s new-gen purge are present in much-reduced circumstances, with far fewer options than seen just last year with NHL 14 on the 360 and PS3.” – GameSpot (5.0/10)

“Most notably, and the ones that fans have been screaming about, are no GM Connected, no Online Team Play, no EA Sports Hockey League, no Be a Legend, and no Season Mode (you can only play seasons in Be a GM, which is limited to NHL teams) to name a few.  There are also some omissions to features in existing game modes including Be a GM, HUT, and Be a Pro. You’ll find that many of what is missing does effect some of the enjoyment of the game, as many have come to expect a feature laden NHL series.” – Canadian Online Gamers (8.0/10)

“The Winter Classic and custom soundtracks are gone, and numerous other features including Online Team Play and Tournament Mode have been delayed. It’s so bad that even the Three Stars of the Game summary and coach feedback are being held back for a later update.” – US Gamer (5.0/10)

“he Be a GM mode, for example, lets you take the reins of an NHL franchise for up to 25 seasons. In years past, you were able to truly control every aspect of the organization, playing as your minor league club and completely controlling your draft. NHL 15 offers none of this; you are unable to head down to the minors and, while you are able to send scouts across the world to look for players, the entire draft is controlled by AI. The intention is to streamline experience, making it more user-friendly to newcomers. The reality is that it offers little appeal to longtime NHL fans that have become used to managing their team at a deep level.”  – GamesRadar (5.0/10)

“Be A Pro mode has also taken multiple hits. You can no longer be drafted by an organization and work your way up through the ranks from lesser, ancillary leagues and into the pros. Now, you’re drafted by an organization and you immediately — and mysteriously — make the team. I created a pro that was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens. As I played, I was as confused as to why I couldn’t skip forward to my next shift automatically as I was confused by how I — a young rookie on the periphery of the roster — could just jump on the ice whenever I wanted. Be A Pro still has deep customization options, but it also felt hollow and half-baked.” – IGN (7.0/10)

“The UI design in NHL 15 is atrocious. It has a fairly similar style to other EA games, reminiscent of Microsoft’s Metro design. Except while Microsoft’s design is snappy, waiting for a menu to load up in NHL 15 is like watching a turtle run a wind sprint. It takes way too long to open anything and finding certain options can be a humungous pain. The menu design in NHL needs a serious overhaul. A game that plays as well as NHL 15 should not be laid under such an absolute garbage UI design.” – Gaming Trend (8.0/10)

Graphics and Audio

“[The players] have been rebuilt with three distinct layers. The body, equipment, and jersey all interact independently of each other; making every contact look more realistic. You can clearly see player’s jerseys flapping in the air as they gain speed or fold under hits from pucks, sticks and other players. The effect almost makes the character models photo realistic. Player likenesses have also been updated. Every player is almost immediately recognizable, stars and goons alike. Player’s faces take on emotions and different animations, like anger or just being out of breath. I noticed on more than one occasion hard skating players puffing hard trying to get their breath back at the end of a long shift.” – Canadian Online Gamers (8.0/10)

“The game is getting close to photo-realism now, right down to specific facial expressions like smiles and grimaces when reacting to incidents on the ice. Arenas and crowds have both been completely redone. Rinks have been modeled on their specific counterparts in the real world, and the stands are now crammed with what seem to be thousands of individuals with different facial features, shirts, and so forth. This is often used to great effect. A fat guy in costume wearing a retro Winnipeg Jets sweater circa 1980 was twice shown in the Air Canada Centre stands taunting my Leafs after goals during a blowout, for example.” – GameSpot (5.0/10)

“I also mostly enjoyed NHL 15’s integration with NBC’s hockey telecast. First of all, I’m a huge, huge fan of Doc Emrick. I think he’s the best in the business. So hearing him, alongside Eddie Olczyk and “Chicken Parm” Ray Ferraro is a real treat. Still, Doc’s delivery feels a bit stilted. There are none of his quintessential freak-out moments, and his famously vast vocabulary isn’t utilized well. Olczyk throws in a few memorable lines, but Ferraro’s lines seem rushed. They also collectively seem off the mark fairly often.” – IGN (7.0/10)

Overall

“NHL 2015 truly has glimpses of being a fantastic sports title on its own merit, given the improvements in the gameplay mechanics, visuals, physics and even sound. That being said, we have been spoiled to a degree by some outstanding previous versions with all the features and now I find that the series has lost a bit of its lustre given what they cut out to get this one out the door. The omission of key modes really hurts the end product, and in a way it feels like we’re stepping back somewhat. Part of me wants you to try this game to see the improvements I speak of, but I know that many will feel the pain of the modes and features they got rid of.” – Canadian Online Gamers (8.0/10)

“I truly do believe that gameplay is king, and it’s there that NHL 15 shines brightly. It plays extremely well, whether online or offline, proving why EA Sports’ long-running series has been the king of the ice for over 20 years. But there needs to be a reason to keep playing, and it’s there that NHL 15 falls short and feels somewhat vacant. The jump to new-gen hardware has left behind a host of missing features and options that we had last year, and that’s simply not acceptable… NHL 15 is a blast to play, but it doesn’t have the staying power I expect.” – IGN (7.0/10)

“NHL 15 is a shell of its former self. Despite some impressive work to bring the on-ice experience and game presentation up to a new-generation level, it is so devoid of modes and features that its appeal will be limited to fans that have been waiting for hockey on their new machines; after all, NHL skipped the launch of the latest console generation last fall. While most other sports games have made the transition to the PS4 and Xbox One quite nicely, NHL finds itself in a very different position; at the bottom of the pile, looking up.”  – GamesRadar (5.0/10)

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About Steve Murray

Steve is the founder and editor of The Lowdown Blog and et geekera. On The Lowdown Blog, he often writes about motorsports, hockey, politics and pop culture. Over on et geekera, Steve writes about geek interests and lifestyle. Steve is on Twitter at @TheSteveMurray.

Posted on September 12, 2014, in Games and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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