Last year when most sports video games were putting out versions for the current generation and the last generation of consoles, EA Sports’ NHL franchise was staying put on the older consoles. Instead of putting NHL 14 on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the team at EA decided to make a hockey experience built exclusively for the current generation of consoles and wait until the release of NHL 15 to make its debut on the PS4 and Xbox One. Did the long wait pay off? Let’s find out in VGU’s review of NHL 15.
EA’s ice hockey franchise has been the only game in town for a while now but that hasn’t stopped the quality of the series from continuing to move upward. New innovations to how you play the game have shaped previous entries in the series but this year’s installment sees its biggest innovation in the presentation department.
EA has truly made a “next gen” hockey experience that oozes authenticity and looks amazing for the most part. The ice looks almost photo realistic, the rinks are authentic, the commentary is great, the NBC Sports Network graphics and logos all look like they were ripped from an actual broadcast and the entire package is a lot of fun to watch and play.
This year’s version of NHL features commentary from the team at the NBC Sports Network including Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk. These commentators were pretty prevalent in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs so hearing their voices on NHL 15 definitely added a lot of authenticity to the game. The game also features some video of Mike and Eddie before each game, green screened in front of the video game version of each arena. It is a nice addition to get some face time for the commentators and it looks pretty cool.
While this game does get the presentation right in so many ways, there are a few hiccups along the way that are worth mentioning. The scoreboard will freeze on the “goal” graphic occasionally and that blocks the play clock so it can be slightly annoying. There are also minor clipping errors and while big name players look exactly like their real life counterparts, other players look nothing like they do in real life (this has been a problem with NHL games for years).
The largest presentation issue is that when a center ice faceoff is taking place the game will slow up the framerate slightly and it will look digitized. It only happens briefly but it can take you out the experience and it happens consistently enough that it is noticeable.
While the presentation has some minor hiccups, it is easily the best part of this game. The authenticity of the stadiums, the teams, the players, the commentators and everything else is fantastic and really goes to show what can be done with these powerful new consoles.
If you have been playing the NHL series then the controls will feel identical here to what was achieved in the past with the skating, deking, passing and other fundamentals of hockey. Faster players can absolutely have an impact in a dump and chase scheme and good defensemen can stop a play cold. Jumping into a game and playing alone or with friends is a lot of fun.
The passing can still be a bit hit and miss but the mechanic for one timers has been improved and it is easier to pull off complex passing plays with precision than in previous NHL games. The physics in the game have made the hits impressive with some completely leveling an opponent and others simply knocking them off balance or just to one knee.
The only major gripe that I have with the gameplay is that it is too easy for an open ice hit to knock a player off his feet and result in the play being stopped dead. While this can happen in real hockey, it is very rare that the puck carrier is leveled once he crosses the blue line in the middle of the ice and this leads to some very frustrating online gameplay with people who are very good at checking.
The staples of current EA Sports games are present in NHL 15 including regular exhibition games, ranked online matches, NHL Moments, Be a Pro mode, Be a GM mode and Ultimate Team mode. There was some slight controversy with the features that had been pulled from these modes (like the ability to draft your own players in Be a GM mode) but EA has plans to patch the game and roll out new features down the line so it feels like the modes are being taken care of pretty well.
I played a good amount of Be a Pro mode as a goalie and while it was a lot of fun to see the game from a completely new perspective, it was very difficult to get a handle on the goalie’s controls. It wasn’t just that they were new; they were also slightly sluggish on the advanced save mechanics. Trying to sprawl across the crease to stop a one timer is difficult enough without the control being slightly delayed. There also was no “sim to next start” option and since I was the third string goalie right off the bat, it took a while to get to a game I actually played in.
The other game mode that I spent a considerable amount of time playing was the Hockey Ultimate Team mode and while the mode itself isn’t new, it is a lot of fun for a first time player (like myself). I had never gotten into the Ultimate Team modes on any of the previous NHL games or any of the other sports games that I frequently play however, this time I got hooked. The mix of team management, online games, solo games, buying and trading cards and other features make this mode a standout for me and a definite powerhouse mode for NHL 15.
The only issue I had with the Ultimate Team mode was when I would lose my connection to the EA servers. This would happen when I didn’t take the game out of the console after playing it (I simply turned the console off) and I would need to insert a different disc and then put NHL 15 back in just to get it to work (this was on the Xbox One I should note).
NHL 15 brings the best of what the last generation offerings had to the table and improves the presentation and graphics considerably. There aren’t too many groundbreaking offerings for the gameplay or the game modes themselves but there really didn’t need to be. This year brought the NHL franchise to the current gen and knocked it out of the park (or, to use a hockey analogy, lit the lamp). Some minor issues with the game are easily trumped by the fantastically fun and authentic experience that is delivered. If you are a hockey fan, this game is a must own.