THE REBUILD BEGINS
NHL 15 is a unique game for the franchise, one that represents transition and progress while at the same time considered a disappointment. Like a high first round pick prospect that doesn’t hit his ultimate potential, NHL 15 is good but not all that it could be.
NHL 15 is visually stunning. EA truly took both the gameplay and visuals to a new level. Player models now feature 3 layers, as opposed to their previous model of just 1. The body is one, the equipment/pads are one, and the jerseys are one. This allows for more dynamic collisions and physics. When a player is skating up the ice, you now see his jersey flapping in the wind. With regards to the players, hundreds of players’ likenesses were scanned in, with remarkable results. The big downside is that the vast majority of players are not scanned – they are mixes of the other players’ faces. EA had to pick and choose its stars to place in the game.
All 30 NHL arenas have been built from scratch, enabling unique, authentic buildings true to their real life counterparts. As a lifelong hockey fan, this is particularly exciting. I have been to the Buffalo Sabres’ First Niagara Center in downtown Buffalo for countless games and it is exciting to see it true to form. From the jumbotron, to the lighting, to the layout of the different levels, EA really nailed this.
The ice will get worse as time goes on in a given period. You will begin with a perfect sheet, complete with player shadows. After, you will see chipped up ice and snow. This slightly affects the speed of the skaters as well as the puck’s ability to slide on the ice. Player collisions are more realistic this year. It is easier to be knocked off the puck (or keep it, if you have a big hulking forward). However, the collision engine needs some tweaking, something I know will be cleaned up as time goes on. For instance, sometimes the hit animations just don’t make sense, with a player looking like he skated over a grenade. There’s actually an achievement for starting a collision that rocks multiple players.
NHL 15 represents the biggest change in the way the game feels since NHL 08.
EA brought in real-life physicists to help with the new puck movements and it shows. On dump-ins, you will see the puck sometimes roll on end, bounce over players’ sticks, or even the rare change of direction off of the glass. Passing requires a bit more aim on the player’s part. Shooting is phenomenal. If you have ever been to a real life hockey game, NHL or not, you will notice that a slap shot feels like it looks – it reaches its target in the blink of an eye, gaining ever so important momentum off of the players’ stick.
Difficulty from the AI is an issue. On harder game modes, the computer can score at will, making unrealistic passes and shots that end up in the back of your nets. The game’s speed looks as if it is in fast forward mode. Goaltending is the biggest problem – your goalie can’t make saves due to the inhuman abilities of the AI, while the opposing goalie is essentially Dominik Hasek on speed. After a few games and tweaks with the sliders pertaining to goaltending and one-timers, the gameplay is manageable. In other words, don’t play with the default pre-sets.
The Achievements/Trophies found in NHL 15 are the best collection in any NHL game in years. Due to lack of modes (read below), many of these can be unlocked by playing Be A GM Mode and playing through the games. One example was scoring a hat trick. Though not the most difficult, it is a nice change of pace.
The audio fits along side the gameplay and supports it masterfully. This is another area that EA really nailed. Hockey games have a mix of minor sounds that really create an exciting atmosphere. Pucks going off of end-boards, players’ skates making cuts, and the crowd’s roar.
Presentation received a much needed rebuild this year, copying what you would see on NBC’s “Wednesday Night Rivalry.” The introduction is well done, showing the home team’s real-life arena and surrounding area from a blimp-like view. Mike Emrick and Ed Olczyk are the games play-by-play and color commentators. EA recorded hundreds of variations of this introduction that features the duo green screened in all 30 NHL arenas to help bring the authenticity to life. Mike and Ed will comment based on your team’s latest performances and trends, including spotlighting key players or top goal scorers. Despite the variation, it can get repetitive. I hope this is something that EA expands on for next year.
Note that most of this refers to the Xbox One & PS4 versions of the game.
Unfortunately, NHL 15’s lack of game modes compared to recent iterations are the game’s achilles heel. EA did not announce the lack of these modes, leaving many hardcore fans feeling slighted and cancelling pre-orders.
I’ll start with what game modes remain. Be A GM Mode is here, allowing a player to sim or play through multiple NHL seasons. You make all the decisions a typical GM would make. Playoffs Mode was patched in late, allowing a player to skip the regular season and go straight to the playoffs. NHL Moments are readily available, with updates and new moments coming throughout the whole season. Online Ranked Play is featured. EA’s clear favorite mode, Hockey Ultimate Team, is front and center. I grew up loving collecting hockey cards and trading them with my friends for countless hours, but for whatever reason, this mode never resonated with me. Be A Pro is also available, but in a largely stripped down version.
Now, for the modes that are missing. The EASHL is missing. EASHL allows you to create your own hockey player, completely customized from appearance to type of play style, and join a club with your friends to play games, tournaments, and other events against other teams. EASHL is the biggest glaring issue with the game and was certainly its most popular mode from the Xbox 360/PS3 years. Many other online modes were left out and without explanation from EA. My thought? I actually have two – 1.EA was developing for new systems for the first time and decided to devote their extremely limited development time to new gameplay mechanics (which I applaud them for. What good are game modes if your gameplay is terrible?). 2.They are setting themselves up for a comeback in NHL 16. Can’t you see it now? “EASHL MAKES ITS RETURN!”
The other big mode missing is the Winter Classic Mode, where two NHL teams hold an annual outdoors hockey game. In past versions of the game, the recreated baseball and football stadiums in which the games were played were visually outstanding, featuring snow and changing weather under the lights of nighttime hockey.
NHL 15 features extremely realistic gameplay that will make any hockey fan giddy. It’s downright fun to play. The problem is there’s not much to bring you back.
+ Phenomenal, realistic gameplay
+ Finally, a revamped broadcast presentation. Gary Thorne & Bill Clement were the best in the business, but 7 years of them got old.
+ New physics are worth the effort of creating.
– No EASHL!
– Lack of many popular online and offline game modes.
*NHL 15 was reviewed on an Xbox One. The game is also available on Playstation 4, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3.
Josiah LeRoy is Geekiverse’s Senior Editor. You can challenge him to a game of NHL 15 online through Xbox One (josiahislegend),
Photos used from crashthenet.ca, giantbomb.com, and tsn.ca,