EA Sports continues its 2015 line-up with NHL 15. This year’s ice hockey extravaganza is a somewhat muted affair, even though it does mark the series debut on the new-gen consoles.
The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions are just roster updates of last year’s game. NHL 15 on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, however, has had a polish-up in the graphics and physics department courtesy of EA’s new-gen Ignite engine.
From the moment the game loads, NHL 15 seems rather pedestrian compared to the usual nosebleed inducing, head-stomping sensory overload that traditionally accompanies EA Sports titles.
As soon as you get into an actual match the graphical overhaul becomes obvious. It’s not quite as crisp as Madden 15, but is still looks amazing.
We are, however, still trying to climb out of uncanny valley, with the almost photo-real hockey players occasionally looking a bit unnatural. But on the whole, though, the body and facial animations are very well done.
The crowd seem to have had bit of an overhaul as well, giving them a little more character and making them look less generic than before. As I’m finding with EA’s new-gen sports titles, the extra processing power may add very little to the actual game-play, but works wonders on immersing you into the game.
On the ice I struggled at first with the players not feeling quite so responsive this year. As I progressed I did notice that the AI did seem to be a little more intelligent than last year. It may just have been me, but it wasn’t long before I got straight back into it.
Widely reported in the media before the game was launched, the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game was shipped without some of the franchise’s most popular features. Update 1, which installed during my review play-through, added the Playoff tournament mode, a coach who grades your Be a Pro player’s performance and the identification of three star players at the end of each game.
The patch also seems to have made some cosmetic changes to the Hockey Ultimate Team menu presentation. The planned October patch adds more omitted features back in the game such as Online Team Play and a proper amateur draft in the Be a GM mode.
Whilst launching an incomplete game is a pretty poor show, at least EA are being up front about it. Still, it is pretty inexcusable especially if you do not have an internet connection. Although it’s easy to think the worst, it may be that the developers just run out of time and were contractually obliged to release it on that day.
Still, there's plenty to do in the game whilst EA sort out their patches. The NHL version of EA’s Ultimate Team, alone, has enough meat in it to pretty much such up all your free time as you buy, sell and trade players and take your fantasy on to victory.
If you need a quick fix you can almost immediately get into an offline game, or take on a real opponent online. NHL Moments Live places you into a challenge scenario where you get to relive decisive situations from the 2013-2014 season, with 2014-2015 moments getting added as they happen.
For a little more depth, Be a Pro allows you to control a player directly, giving a unique perspective of the in-game action. This includes observing the action behind the glass, in the sin bin, after a fight.
Be a GM give you total control of a team as they progress through the season. This includes managing the player roster and arranging talent scouts, as well as controlling the team during matches. After HUT, I found this mode the most enjoyable giving me a decent season of hockey.
The game's TV-style presentation incorporates the NBC logo and live action footage of the network’s hockey pundits, Mike 'Doc' Emrick and Eddie Olczyk. Whilst quite possible better than the dead-eyed CG commentators seen in recent Madden games, the duo are quite obviously green-screened over the in-engine graphics- complete with ugly matte lines. There’s also bit of repetition in the commentary, but overall it’s a pretty slick show.
NHL 15 is missing some of the series hallmark game modes and features, which will upset some fans of the series. It does, however, still give us fantastic and frantic game of hockey whilst being very easy on the eye.