The NHL series has been a beacon of consistency and year-on-year improvements, showing that just because the game releases every year, doesn’t mean it can’t improve. So when EA Sports announced NHL 15, we all assumed to get more of the same, but this time for the next-generation. However, as launch came closer, we were met with grim news around every corner as features have gone missing in almost every area of the game. After spending some time with NHL 15, I can tell you that the NHL games you knew in past years is gone, at least at launch.
Yes, as with any jump from a past generation to a new one, the graphics and presentation have seen a big uptick. The game presentation before the drop of the puck is extremely well done. Upon booting up a game the first time, I thought for a second I was watching a real life NHL game, as the camera showed me around Dallas, Texas and commentators set up the game with meaningful commentary. The arenas looked pretty true to their real life counterparts and fans inside look lively. It looked like a sign of great things to come but sometimes that first look can be deceiving.
Almost all the modes from NHL 14 are back, with a few noticeable exceptions that I will get into shortly. Some of the modes that did make it into NHL 15 are severely gimped. Be a Pro mode is the one that takes the biggest hit, turning a grueling uphill climb from the draft to NHL into an absolute joke. No longer are you able to take part in the pre-draft games to try and improve your draft seed; instead, you’re left with just a bare option to select draft and watch as you are randomly selected by a team, usually in the first round. Making matters even worse is the fact that once selected, you go straight to the pro team and take your place on the lower lines, never having to earn your way onto the NHL roster.
Further confounding the situation is the fact that EA Sports has removed the sim to next shift option in the game, forcing you to sit on the bench and watch all of the action until your next shift. Don’t worry too much though, your player rarely gets tired enough to come off the ice and even with being on a 4th line or 3rd d-pair, you never leave the ice. This will be good for those who aren’t hockey nuts, but for people like me, it was annoying watching my 3rd pair d-man play more minutes than the top pairing. They even took out the between shift talk from your coach, who used to offer critique while you sat the bench.
NHL 15 Review - Something is Missing (PS4) - PlayStation LifeStyle
Another mode, Be a GM, returns but again with some obvious flaws. Yes, the new menus look snazzy and all, but you are without the ability to do so many things key to running a team. You are no longer allowed to play as your AHL affiliate and there is no option to take control in the draft. Instead, you have to rely on your scouting staff to take over your draft, leaving you feeling lost in building your team. There is also no option this time around to start your Be A GM with a fantasy draft, limiting your gameplay options yet again.
Perhaps the biggest omission is that of 6v6 online team play, which is completely missing at launch. This leaves you with the only online options being versus and HUT. EA Sports has stated they are working to include these features in the future, but at that point it might be too late. Even with the update, goalie control will not be around, as EASHL will be strictly 5v5 when it gets patched in. All of these omissions make for a very stale and small game that grows boring far too quickly.
I wish I could say the on-ice improvements were more than enough to make up for the drop in features but sadly they aren’t. The highly touted new puck physics and multi-player collision system are nice but are not without issues. I often found the puck getting blocked in front of the net and magically shooting down the ice at mach speed. Battles in front of the net felt truly barbaric at times and it was hard to making fine passes through the slot, but these were let down by blind goaltenders who let in every terrible angle shot you could imagine. It really made you long for the ability to strap on the pads and play goal yourself, if that option was in the game.
The game’s AI has also taken a few too many slapshots to the head this year, often times feeling invisible. Sure, they are there near the net when a scoring chance is happening. However, when you are on the boards and need help to move the puck, you just can’t seem to find a teammate to save your life. It’s even worse in the defensive end, where your d-partner rarely moves to the right spot, leaving you to fend for yourself when moving the puck out of your zone. The game does offer a new stick skill mode that works great when you have the puck, but don’t expect to see your teammates busting out their Pavel Bure impressions too many times.
As someone who plays every NHL yearly release all year long, it is unfortunate to see just how badly this has gone. I can somewhat understand taking out 6v6 online play if it wasn’t ready, but taking out features in Be a GM or making Be a Pro completely unplayable is just ridiculous. If you are not a hockey fan at all but you want to slap around a few pucks, this might be the game for you. However, with all the lost features and left out modes, NHL fans might want to wait until everything is patched in to jump on this ship. EA Sports: it’s in the game… eventually.
NHL 15 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, read our Review Policy here.