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August 2022

NHL 15

Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: Sept. 9, 2014 (US), Sept. 11, 2014 (EU)

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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Xbox One Review - 'NHL 15'

by Brian Dumlao on Sept. 25, 2014 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Built to harness the power of next generation consoles NHL 15 allows you to experience the sights, sounds and feel of real hockey action like never before.

When the Xbox One launched last year, it did so without a hockey game in tow. The popularity of FIFA and Madden ensured that those titles would launch alongside the console despite the fact that their seasons had started months earlier. NBA Live was supposed to be a rebirth of the franchise that was tailor-made for the new platforms. NHL, on the other hand, doesn't have large enough of a fan base to merit a new hockey title at the console launch, so EA choose to launch it a year later. Hockey fans who remember the launch of the Xbox 360 would be familiar with this strategy, since EA did the same thing. The wait for NHL 07 was worth it; the heavy use of the right analog stick for stick control was such a big change that it became a standard in the series. The wait for NHL 15, however, hasn't met with such enthusiasm.

The first time you boot up the game, after you get past the legalese and the title screen, you're greeted with a video montage that hypes up the 2014 Stanley Cup tournament. From there, you're taken to the first game of the finals between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings. Those who've played Madden NFL 15 might think this is another method to introduce new players to the game basics, but no such thing exists. The game doesn't stop to point out any mechanics, and you don't get any tutorial beyond the controller layouts in the loading screens. This is more of a trial-by-fire scenario for newcomers or a means for players to do something while the game installs to the hard drive.

The opening game highlights three things: graphics, audio and gameplay. The visuals have been touted as a major feature of the title. Most matches start off like a broadcast, with actual video of the arena via either ground or aerial shots. Then you see video of announcers Mike Emrick and Eddie Olczyk, who give you a pre-match report. The use of video in these two situations is interesting since the bigger names try to render all of this stuff, but the change is refreshing and very welcome.

On the ice, the player faces and clothes are rendered very well (despite some inaccuracies). Cloth physics are visible, as their jerseys have some natural flex, and the stitching can be clearly seen if you zoom in. The ice shows some great reflections and displays a nice progression of being scratched up during the match. The plexi-glass has a good number of scuffs and scratches, and if you put the camera behind it, it'll also show off some distortion. The crowd exhibits all the right actions at the right times, even if the crowd isn't as diverse as the press releases would lead you to believe. You can see numerous fans performing the same motions only a few seats away.

Animations are also done very well, with the plexi-glass bending as players are slammed into it. About the only time this fails is when the players get up too quickly from a fall, with the animations looking sped up. Other than that, NHL 15 really looks like a step up from the last generation.

The audio is another thing that stands out, although it isn't nearly as polished as the graphics. The crowd is probably the best thing in this department, as it gives the proper highs and lows depending on the action. The cheers get loud when you score or make a good play, and things get eerily quiet after you've been scored on. Hits on players have some good bass, and the shots on stick sound nice and crisp, especially when the puck hits the goalpost. However, some things are missing, like getting slammed on the boards or hitting the glass, so the audio sometimes falls a bit short. The commentary team is fine, though phrases don't have the obvious stitching that some other sports games have. One of the reasons for this is because names are rarely used in the commentary. More generic terms are used to describe the players on each team, and it makes the commentary less involving. Despite the claims that thousands of new lines of audio were recorded for the game, you'll hear some repetition of phrases after only a few games.

The third thing highlighted is the gameplay, which feels like it does in the previous games but with some minor tweaks. The heavy use of the right analog stick for hits and stick control is still prevalent, and there are still button controls for those who want things to be more traditional. The redone physics system means harder hits and more chances for players to fall from a big hit, though getting off your skates isn't a very common occurrence. Stats play a much more important role in the game in this regard, so heartier players can take a hit and be fine while lighter players move much faster. Fighting is optional. You can choose whether you want to instigate or accept a fight. This still remains a game with offense clearly in mind, as the defense doesn't really step it up until you increase the difficulty level.

In the first two difficulty levels, the game favors high scores, and goalies are more likely to not cover up as well if you take close shots or one-timers. Even if you get ahead by a wide margin, the game tries to find a way for goals to go through in order to keep the game close. We noticed a few instances where the puck defied the laws of collision and went through a well-covered goalie on to the net. That sort of thing certainly needs to be addressed in future patches.

Interestingly, NHL 15 is missing a few things when playing a match. Pull off a miraculous hat trick, for example, and you get no hats flying in from the crowd. This also includes home wins in Detroit, where no cephalopods get hurled. The naming of the three stars at the end of each game is also omitted, something that seems odd considering how easy it would be to implement. It is coming in a patch, though.

The theme of loss is made much more pronounced when you check out the game's other modes. Compared to other sports games, it feels a bit empty. Basic modes, like a simple Season mode and a Playoff mode, are completely absent. The latter is planned for an upcoming patch, and the former is not in the cards at all. When you compare this to previous NHL titles or even the version of NHL 15 for the Xbox 360 and PS3, this version feels gutted. Missing the NHL 94 Anniversary mode might not be that big of a deal since the newer consoles emphasize their power, but when the bonus game is as iconic as that, its omission for early console adopters stings. GM Connected mode is also missing, so there's no chance for you to compete against others in a managerial level. The Winter Classic, which is so hyped by the league since it takes the game outdoors and makes players subject to the elements, is also missing. The biggest mode that longtime fans will miss is the EA Sports Hockey League, which let large groups of players team up and take on other teams for championships. It was such a huge and important part of the game since NHL 09 that seeing it gone is almost enough to make longtime fans skip this series until it makes a return.

There are a few modes that have survived the transition from one console generation to another, but they still feel rather incomplete. Practice mode is a very good example of this, as it only features the ability to pit one skater against a goalie. It's fine if you want to play around with right analog stick functionality or prepare yourself for shootouts, but you can't practice your moves against another skater or practice team moves — even though you could do this in the last-generation version of the title.

Online play has also been pared down to a versus mode, with one person controlling a whole team just as in other sports games. That would have been fine if it weren't for the fact that previous NHL games let you play as every position, including the goalie. EA promises that online team play is coming, but it will be limited to five-on-five play, with the goalie being the only position that will always be controlled by the AI.

Be a Pro is another mode that has some missing stuff. Gone is the ability to play through the minor leagues or even European leagues in the hope of improving your stock to get drafted into the NHL. Instead, you create a character, pick a position, and immediately get drafted. On the ice, you'll play normally and are given a few arrows to show where you're supposed to be during certain plays. You can either set things up for a great shot or do some defense before the goalie takes over. If you do badly, you'll get sent to the bench or put on a lower-tier line, but you'll always have an ample amount of ice time, especially since you can't do bad enough to be sent down to the minors. Whenever you're on the bench, you'll be forced to sit and watch the game, and you'll have no option to skip ahead. You'll also get no advice from the coaches on what you're doing right or wrong, even though you're presented with a list of goals to meet every year to please the higher-ups. This will be rectified in an upcoming patch.

Likewise, Be a GM has been pared down in this iteration. You can still play all of your games for up to 25 seasons and send players to the minor leagues, but you can't play any of the minor league games like you could before. You also can't have players accrue stats there, so it feels like a dumping ground more than an opportunity to improve weaker players without affecting your own pro team. The XP system for the GM is also gone, as is the ability to start with a fantasy draft. You only get to start off with the default rosters for the 2014-2015 season, and that's it. You can also try to scout for players in other leagues, but that ends up being a little pointless since the drafts that happen between seasons are automatic affairs. The drafts, along with their associated three-minute timer, are all scheduled to be patched in soon.

Even Hockey Ultimate Team, the one mode that seem like it wouldn't be touched, was hit with a cut. Players can only play against others via matchmaking instead of playing directly with friends. Everything else still stands, from the ability to form your team with trading cards to grinding things out with the team (either online or offline). It hasn't changed from previous versions, and the microtransaction system is still intact.

With almost every mode missing at least one thing or another, there's only one that has remained intact through the console transition: NHL Moments Live. Here, you can step into some of the more famous scenarios from the 2013-2014 season and try to re-create those pivotal moments. You also have the chance to play around with history and alter a few of those moments for a completely different outcome. For NHL fans, this is a nice bonus mode, and the promise of more moments from the upcoming 2014-2015 season ensures that the game will have new content for some time.

In the end, NHL 15 feels like the skeleton of a better hockey game. Even with the missteps, the core game mechanics are solid and provide players with some fun hockey experiences. Those who don't care much for anything beyond this will be pleased with what's on tap. For those looking for the more involved modes the series has traditionally offered, they are either missing or watered down to the point that they feel like inaugural attempts rather than classic modes that have been tweaked for the better. The game will be patched to address some of these issues, but as far as what's on the disc or initial digital download, it seems like a step backward. With the groundwork already laid out, the hope is that NHL 16 will be a more complete hockey package. For the time being, NHL 15 just isn't what fans are looking for.

Score: 6.0/10

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