NHL 15 Review

John Robertson

Honestly, there's not much of an excuse for this. NHL 14 didn't even appear on Xbox One or PlayStation 4, meaning EA Canada has had a year longer than other sport game developers to get its NHL series up to scratch for this latest console generation. The fact that NHL 15 feels rushed and incomplete comes as a slapshot to the face.

Said developer's touting of new puck physics and improved animations is, in the face of so many missing elements, patronising. Given that this is a franchise that has been at the forefront of sports game innovation for the past five years or more, the state of NHL 15 makes me more sad than angry. I thought we had a good thing going here. Now it's over?


Woosh.

The most crushing feature is the lack thereof. Why is there no online team play, for instance? For years now it has been my go-to mode, the one with the greatest depth and most rewarding successes. It stood as a shining example to other games trying to do anything remotely similar, Alas it's gone.

Other staple modes have been culled rather than simply removed, with Be A Pro less involving and less worthwhile than it's ever been. After you've exhausted the strikingly limited options to compile the appearance, position and general information of your player, you simply get drafted straight into an NHL team. I was picked fourth overall and went to the Calgary Flames.

Why did this happen? Seriously, your guess would be well received. I hadn't played any games prior to the draft, none of the teams knew how good I was, I didn't even get to see who picked ahead of me in the draft and by which club. Nothing makes any sense. I don't feel like I'm 'being a pro'.

Online team play is supposedly going to be added in the next month or so by means of a free update. Update implies 'new'. Online team play has been around for years. The fact that the game has been released without it is borderline blasphemy and no amount of smiley-faced press releases communicating future content drops will change that. If they don't call the first update the Apology Pack, and bundle in a whole swathe of complimentary top tier Ultimate Team content, then I'm grabbing the puck and taking it home. Game ruined for everyone.


Blue steel.

While it's undoubtedly disturbing to experience this beloved franchise being presented so half-heartedly, I'm loathe to admit that it's impossible to stay angry at it entirely. Once you get onto the ice and that silky ebb and flow is back at your fingertips it's near-impossible not to crack at least a small smile. I'd never do such a thing in front of EA Canada, though, it still needs to be made to feel bad for not including essential content from game one onwards.

The way players move across the ice, the way arenas and crowds add to the drama, the variety of means available when it comes to scoring and the sheer visual quality continues to represent a near-high point in terms of realistically portraying the sport in question. Perhaps only NBA 2K does a better job of converting its chosen content to digital.

Puck physics, as aforementioned, have been updated this season. Now it slides with momentum more recognisable as that inherent to Earth, with how hard it has been impacted altering its behaviour in a positive way. This is game-changing during moments that require power, as well as those requiring finesse. If you don't get the right power and timing on a clearance then you won't send the puck far enough from the defensive end to fully snub out the danger.

Conversely, when attacking, playing intricate passes in tight areas flanked by defenders no longer devolves into a game of pinball as the puck homes in on a friendly stick. That magnetism effect seems to have been reduced, making way for a physics system that forces you think more carefully about the direction and speed of your passes.


"Quick! Get the puck out of his arse!"

Still, a few ugly quirks attempt to ruin what is otherwise an excellent experience on the rink. A few times now an AI winger has inexplicably chipped the puck into the crowd during what felt like a dangerous attack against me. Each time he was under no pressure, had definite passing options and could potentially have had a shot himself. Instead, he decides to purposely scoop it straight into the cheap seats.

Other times the opposing goalie seems to be playing on my team... doing little-to-nothing to prevent goals by positioning himself in a way that gives me plenty of angle to aim at. Little problems like this have, historically, made their way into the vast majority of sports games over the years, but their frequency seems to have raised from NHL 14 to 15.

If you pump up the difficultly the AI becomes so mercilessly efficient at picking you apart that you find yourself praying for one of these little oddities to show up and give you a fighting chance of making a competition of it. When the problem befalls you, however, its much less welcome.

This being a sports game, the achievement list is a predictable one. Scoring goals, winning games and tournaments and levelling up your Be A Pro skater combine to form the bulk of gamerscore, although there are a couple of bizarre ones included for not skipping over the cutscenes that link together pauses in play. Clearly, someone is very proud of their 'broadcast quality presentation' and are not shy about encouraging you to watch it.

Perhaps if less time was spent making this moments look nice and more assigned to including the components we reasonably expected to see then NHL 15 would a lot more interesting. As it stands, it doesn't feel finished. The matches themselves remain largely excellent, it's just a shame that there are so few ways to enjoy and approach them.
 

NHL 15

Compared to previous efforts, NHL 15 falls incredibly short on new-gen platforms. Missing a swathe of modes, you can't help but feel that the franchise's debut on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is something of a puck up. Disappointing.

Form widget
57%
Audio
75%

Wholly fine and nothing more. New commentators help to make you think you're playing something new, but they're not worth getting too excited about.

Visuals
90%

A few bugs aside, the graphically quality on offer here puts most sports games to shame. From wider shots of arenas and crowds, to close-ups on player's faces and kits, there's barely a pixel out of place.

Playability
70%

The on-rink action is largely as good as it has ever been, although some mishaps continue to befall goalies and AI movement. A lack of game modes hurts in terms of diversity, however.

Delivery
35%

In comparison to previous NHL games, NHL 15 feels thread bare. Some modes have simply been removed, while others have been scaled back significantly. We expected much more.

Achievements
65%

Predictable and straightforward, NHL 15's achievements are not of the sort that are going to win any awards for intrigue. Welcomingly, however, the bulk of them can be achieved without having to sway from 'normal' play.

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