NHL 15 Review (Xbox One)
EA Sports have today (Friday the 12th of September 2014) released NHL 15 to the masses, in store and via digital download for Xbox One and PS4. This years game is the first in its franchise to utilise EAs new Ignite Engine. As a result it’s been rebuilt from the ground up, and what we’ve been left with is an unfinished product.
EA have put in place a “Post launch content plan” in order to bring features into the game. Some of these features are new, but most of them are features that were in NHL 14, and every NHL game for a good few years now. One of the busiest online game modes, Online Team Play (which sees up to 12 people playing each as a single player on the ice) is currently not in the game, and according to EAs content plan won’t be until some time in October. The post match awards for the Three Stars of the Game, and important tradition of hockey and a key part of a games presentation, isn’t in the game! It’s not exactly the biggest feature and I’m struggling to find a valid reason as to why it has been left out thus far. Also missing is the game highlights from the pause menu.
There are two new features which are going to be added in the content updates too. The first is a new Playoff mode which will allow players to create custom playoff brackets of up to 16 teams from any of the 12 league and play or simulate the competition, tracking player and team stats throughout the tournament. Secondly is the GM draft update which will put you under pressure to make your picks. You will only have three minutes to pick your prospect for each round, but you can also call timeouts to extend your time and make trades with the CPU managers. There’s also going to be various updates for the Hockey Ultimate Team game mode over the next couple of months.
What I can say about NHL 15 is that it’s a good-looking game. The new UI system is really attractive and simple to use, similar in a way to the UI from the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil game. The new presentation style of the games is fantastic. The NBC Sports broadcasting team have recorded over 35,000 lines of commentary, so you are not likely to get bored with the same old quotes as with previous games. Each arena feels alive now with 9,000 individual crowd models that react to every play on the ice, there’s even that one guy in the corner that always jumps out of his seat and bangs the glass every time the puck comes near him.
On the ice the game plays really well. No major changes to the control scheme or how the game actually plays, but all the player models are much more detailed than before. Player collision physics now affect all 12 players which results in the goalies getting a fair bashing. Front of net play will now be key. The fight system has been completely revamped. No longer showing the first person fight view of the old games you now see the fight instigated and have full control over the players. You can throw a few swings before getting into a proper grapple to push and pull your opponent about, trying to land that sweet punch that will drop him to the ice. Not only do all 12 players have physics, but the puck now has “True Puck Physics.” You can see it take realistic deflections off players and posts and drop dead to the ice if it happens to hit the glass flat on.
Be a Pro is a key game mode of NHL, and again this mode has seen a reduction in features. The Live the Life mode that was introduced in NHL 14 is rolled back to the more traditional and basic Be a Pro style. Gone are the college years and the Memorial Cup where you can nurture your player as a prospect and secure a high pick in the draft for yourself. Instead it’s a simple choice between a random draft pick, or choosing your favourite NHL team. Not franchise, team. There’s no longer an accompanying AHL for you to get sent down to when you play poorly, in fact there is no coach feedback at all, just some season long goals to aim for. In game you can no longer simulate between shifts either. Personally I like to play as the goalie where this isn’t an issue however, NHL 15 seems to be the hardest iteration yet for this play style. On top of being difficult on the ice, the new UI system does not make it very friendly in customising your equipment. I say customising, but most of the customisation has gone from the game. You can’t change any of the colours of the goalie pads as you could previously, and searching through all the goalie masks has been made extremely tedious. Also missing are the attribute boosts that you could unlock throughout your career, so XP is the only way to improve your players skills now. Goalies as a whole seem to have taken a battering in NHL 15. Every game seems to be a tightly fought match up with a relatively close scoreline, but there’s a LOT of goals. Almost every match I’ve played has seen upwards of five goals, and while hockey fans love to see this much action in a game, it just doesn’t happen every night.
There’s a lot about NHL 15 to be happy about, especially when it comes to actual game time. However, NHL 15 is not a finished product and as such this review score reflects that. If you are happy playing an unfinished product, and the only online game mode you want to play is versus, then go head and pick up NHL 15. But why do EA feel it’s acceptable to release a game that is missing key features? How about they just delay the release until the game is actually complete? I’m certainly delaying passing further judgement until I can play NHL 15 in its entirety.
3.5 GAA (Goals Against Average) out of 5