NHL 15, as a game and a concept, is something that most gamers will understand. NHL 15 is basically a collection of modes that lets gamers play virtual hockey in virtual arenas, and hockey as a sport is not that hard to understand either. That said, the reason gamers will quickly and easily understand the plight of NHL 15 is because it’s very similar to that of Destiny from Activision and Bungie.
For the uninitiated, NHL 15 is the next game in a long line of hockey themed videogames that EA Sports has been releasing since 1991. It’s also the first attempt by the NHL development team to make a game on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. I interviewed the game’s Producer, Sean Ramjagsingh, recently about the game and you can read that full interview on the CGM website; however, I would like to quote something he said; “The new consoles had a lot of unexpected technical hurdles that we had to overcome. The great thing is that when you overcome them they open up a lot of new things that you can do, but sometimes the hurdles take a lot of time and a lot of resources.”
As a result of these “technical hurdles” the game has launched with a number of modes and presentation elements missing. Like Destiny, this year’s virtual hockey experience comes off feeling like a much smaller experience when compared to contemporary games and even other games in the NHL franchise.
While some people will lament the lack of three stars being awarded, the missing Online Team Play, and no EASHL; that the real issue with NHL 15 is that specific modes that made it into the game also feel stripped down when compared to other contemporary titles. For example, inside the GM mode (not the GM Connected mode which was not in the game when this review was published) I didn’t go to some big, and frankly common, NHL events like the league’s all-star game or the NHL draft. On top of that, when you want to practice you are now limited to practicing against one NPC goalie while you control one player. The list goes on, but personally, I feel like the biggest issue with NHL 15 is the fact that you can’t simulate shifts in the Be A Pro mode, so I quickly lost interest when I was not playing.
This may also sound like a weird complaint, but I’m not a big fan of the new dynamic cloth technology that EA Canada has been talking about since E3. The idea is that every player’s jersey is supposed to flow naturally as the player moves around the ice, but I feel like the cloth has too much freedom. Every jersey on the ice flaps around like the nation’s flag raised high on a windy day, and it can be distracting.
That said, the reason I feel like my Destiny comparison fits so perfectly is because the core game-play of both NHL 15 and Destiny is very solid, but the lack of expected content is very noticeable. In the case of NHL 15 I actually feel like the core game-play is relatively better than the previous year. I would not say that the game-play is drastically different when compared to NHL 14, but the game-play somehow feels much more lifelike. One example is the new puck physics that was programmed, according to the NHL development team, by a software engineer who also worked on the Large Hadron Collider made by CERN. What I found so impressive is that for the first time in all the years I’ve played the NHL games, the puck actually rolled on its side. The collision physics were touched up as well and this has resulted in interactions between players that appear to be more organic. The AI that runs the players you’re not controlling is excellent as well, and as a result the players themselves react to the flow of the game in far more natural way. Once there was even a player who appeared to stick out his tongue in disgust of himself and an off-side mistake he made; however, I am not sure if that’s a result of physics upgrades or some extension of the new graphical capabilities caused by the new hardware.
If it was not the physics, than I can at least tell you that the visuals are solid as well. Especially when it puts full motion video of the hockey broadcast team from NBC Sports in the game. This might be an old trick, but it does make the game feel like a broadcast of NHL hockey. It also helps that most of the arenas and players are modeled to look exactly like their real world counterparts; unfortunately, things are missing here as well. In terms of the arenas, the virtual ice palaces of Chicago and Carolina are not carbon copies of the buildings that house the Blackhawks or the Hurricanes. The same issue appears to involve the players. I always play as the Toronto Maple Leafs and I found that Phil Kessel looked like Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk looked like James van Riemsdyk; however, for some reason James Reimer did not look like James Reimer to me.
At the end of this review you’re going to see that CGM has given NHL 15 the score of 6/10. It’s a score that I award to the entire team, and it is easy to forget that these development teams include HR personnel, studio managers, accountants, marketing staff members, and the business men who hold the budgetary purse strings. While I found the core game-play mechanics of this year’s addition are the same or better than last year’s NHL 14, the game feels stripped down in terms of content. Most gamers will agree that this is an unwelcomed outcome in and of itself, but it’s one that’s harder to accept when this new console generation has also brought higher retail costs for consumers. While I am not absolving the programmers, engineers, artists, or producer Sean Ramjagsingh of their roles in this game’s development, I feel like most of the issues with NHL 15 could have been solved by having one more year of development time. The release date of a game is usually decided by people in business suits holding the purse strings, and I just wish to make sure that they’re acknowledged for their part in this as well.