This year marks EA’s first hockey offering for the newest generation game consoles. The title is an absolute treat for the eyes and plays like a charm, though you could play through the game and wish for something more. For longtime fans that loyally purchase the game every year, the amount of missing features could be considered a pretty big slap in the face. If you aren’t an NHL franchise devotee and are choosing to pick this game up simply to play with some buddies, then I don’t think you could find a better looking, or better playing, hockey game.
I spend more time with Madden (and ESPN 2K prior to that) than I do with Hockey, but I do enjoy the sport immensely. Having reviewed the last few iterations of NHL games, I was a bit taken aback at what was left out in this installment. It’s no secret; jump onto any subreddit that has anything to do with current-gen gaming and it’s clear that hockey diehards are not happy with NHL 15.
It’s hard to review something like this. While the gameplay itself is great, what is the protocol for developers taking out major game modes by choice? Should the lack of a Season Mode make or break the decision to buy the game? What about no NHL 94 mode, something that is by no means vital to the game, but was a beloved, quirky addition? What do I do with the lack of Online Team Play and Online GM Connected? I thought that these were some major features that were missing, and that’s not even the whole list. Sure, some of these things can be added via a patch later on, but why release a clearly partial game-mode list?
So here’s what I’m going to do; I’m simply going to state what I liked and didn’t like as far as traditional gameplay is concerned. You can decide for yourselves if the missing features make or break the game; that’s not for me to decide for you. I’ll tell you what I think of the game from my personal point of view based on what was offered in the game.
Missing features aside, for the most part I had a lot of fun with the game. NHL 15 continues the tradition of EA making excellent hockey games that are fun to play. The visuals are as stunning as one would hope for in a new-gen sports game, with excellent character models, smooth animations (for the most part), and stunning arenas that look shockingly lifelike. There are a few instances that cause some glitchy crowd animations, but for the most part the atmosphere is nailed down pretty well. It’s awesome to see the players’ jerseys actually flow about as they skated around, and the spray of ice and they skate about was just a finished touch that brought the game to life. I’ll give EA this; as far as visuals go, this is heaven.
As far as accessibility, NHL 15 has a little of something for everyone. If you want a hardcore sim experience with all of the traditional rules intact and proper stick controls, go for it. If you want the control layout of NHL 94, you are also free to do so. If you don’t like certain rules and want to turn off something like offsides, you are free to do that as well. You are welcome to make this game as much as an arcade or a simulation as you want. Because of this, NHL 15 has the opportunity to appeal to a wide range of sports fans; from the diehard hockey fanatic to someone who only catches a game once every blue moon but enjoys firing up the virtual sticks every now and then. It’s not locked into “sim” or “arcade,” and because of this accessibility, NHL 15 is an extremely enjoyable game.
On the audio front, the game does an excellent job of presenting the sounds of a hockey match. The crunch of a player as he is slammed into the boards or the rough scrape of skates dragging across the ice all sounds wonderful. The crowd noise seems to be a bit toned down, but that’s probably to make way for the integration of NBC’s Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro. While the inclusion of the commentators might be seen as an attempt at more realism, the problem with this (and most other sports game commentating, if I’m honest), is that it always feels stilted, scripted, and often just flat out wrong. I noticed many situations where the commentary simply did not match what was happening on screen, or had major stats that were also wrong. It reminds me of the issue in former Madden titles when my rookie QB was called the “wily veteran.”
Perhaps the strangest incidents regarding the commentary team, and one that I’m not sure how I feel about, is the fact that live action footage of Doc and Eddie will be layered on top of the in-game engine. The whole effect ends up looking very obvious and somewhat jarring. While it’s cool to see the actual people represented in live video, it comes off looking more like a shoddy green screen effect than a leap forward in next-gen video game technology.
In the end, it comes down to how serious of an NHL fan/gamer you are currently. If you are diehard and like to pour endless hours into every game mode, then you will be shocked at how much has been removed from previous iterations. Even with the tight gameplay and beautiful visuals, the game simply takes out too much for me to give it a perfect score. No Season Mode and a pared down GM and Be a Pro Mode (amongst many others) make this feel like a rush job as opposed to a full fledged entry into current-gen hockey. On the flip-side if the missing modes don’t bother you and you are simply looking for a solid hockey game, you might want to consider NHL 15 for its core features. Chances are if you don’t play year after year, you may not even notice the missing features. If that’s the case, then NHL 15 plays wonderfully. After all, gameplay is king….right? I would say only to a degree, folks. I think EA made a very strong installment to the “playing” hockey game. Now let’s make sure the remainder of the game is up to snuff for the future.