Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Style: 1 or 2-Player Sports (2-Player Online)
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Release: September 9
The Bottom Line: 5.5
Concept: An ugly first step into new-generation consoles, complete with missing modes and unbalanced gameplay
Graphics: The authentic arenas, varied crowds, and improved lighting look great, but the player facial scans still need work
Sound: New commentators Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro inject some much-needed new blood into the broadcast
Playability: Nerfed defensive controls, poor A.I. support, and sieve goalies keep this game from Stanley Cup contention
Entertainment: Hockey fans are better served playing the old-gen versions of the game
Replay Value: Low
Game misconduct for slashing
During the transition to the PS3/360 from the prior generation, EA Sports made a gross miscalculation in stripping many long-established modes from the new versions of its games. This put off lifelong fans who expected more – or at least equal – value on their new systems. Madden took years to recover from this gaffe, and moving into the PS4/Xbox One era EA assured us it wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. NHL 15 proves that is a bald-faced lie.
Don’t let the allure of authentic arenas and improved NBC-branded commentary fool you – NHL 15 is a colossal disappointment. Missing modes like the six-on-six EASHL, GM Connected, and Live the Life, NHL 15 starts the game down a man. When you add the fact that existing modes like Be a Pro and Be A GM have been fundamentally stripped of essential features, it’s downright insulting to hockey fans everywhere.
At first glance, Be A GM looks like a fresh new experience thanks to its new menus. Spend a few hours with the mode and, like an undisciplined hockey club, it slowly starts to reveal its flaws. The RPG-style upgrade system for your GM is gone, as is the ability to play games with your AHL franchise. You can scout for prospects during the season, but EA inexplicably removed the ability to control the fate of your franchise in the draft. Why you would have one without the other is mystifying. The mode also lacks the ability to start with a fantasy draft.
Be A Pro slides into the boards headfirst as well. EA removed the rookie showcase that determined your draft position, deleted the minor leagues from the equation altogether, and doesn’t even bother to offer a critique or grade of your performance during games. You can’t even sim to the next shift, which means you get to sit and stew in the penalty box if you draw a five minute major for fighting.
EA says it plans to add some of these missing features, like five-on-five online teamplay (no human controlled goalies), the GM draft, and Be A Pro coach grades in the next few months. Even with their inclusion down the line, NHL 15 still faces an insurmountable deficit.
I wish I could say things get better when you take the ice. For the transition to the new consoles, EA touted its brand-new puck physics and multi-player collisions. These small advancements are welcome – I especially think the puck physics change the way you play around the net – but they do little to make up for the deficiencies found everywhere else on the ice. Defensive controls like stick lifts and poke checks have been severely marginalized against A.I. opponents, which means your best bet to play sound defense is patrol passing lanes in the middle of the ice instead of actively engaging puck carriers. These controls work better against human opponents online. Even if you play sound defense, though, your sieve goalies will let you down by giving up bad angle goals. I rarely had a goalie with a save percentage over .800 in offline play, even if they faced a low number of shots from low percentage areas.
The slightly modified skill stick still gives you the opportunity to dazzle crowds and breeze past defenders with a few new moves, but don’t expect much support from your A.I. linemates. Playing with these disinterested pylons is like playing with a team full of Dany Heatleys, who are more than willing to get into scoring position but offer no support along the boards, rarely recognize when it's time to break out of the defensive end, and struggle to defend the backside from cross-ice passes that lead to one-timers.
Some serious bugs also plague the on-ice experience. During my time with the game, one backhand that sailed over the net was counted as a goal, a referee blew a shootout dead while I was in mid-shot, and I witnessed a puck gravitate through the net to a defender’s stick (so much for realistic puck physics).
With the startling amount of missing content, kneecapped modes, and uneven gameplay in NHL 15, either EA Sports isn’t giving EA Canada the same level of resources as its other sports franchises or the development team is woefully incapable of negotiating a console transition. If the publisher doesn’t care to put a winning effort into its NHL series, hockey fans have no reason to jump over the boards and buy the game.
The Last-Gen Difference
Unlike the PS4 and Xbox One versions, the last-gen NHL 15 is feature-complete, and the old A.I. is better than the new-gen counterparts when it comes to supporting puck handlers around the boards and initiating breakouts. Plus, it features the new broadcast commentary and player collision physics. That said, it doesn’t all fit together. While playing in the Memorial Cup, Doc Emrick referred to it as the Stanley Cup, and talked about my team advancing to the next round while I was hoisting the cup in celebration.