Continuing EA's Ignite Engine powered line of this year's EA Sports titles is NHL 15.
After NHL 14 gained much love and success from critics as well as fans of the series, there is quite some pressure put on NHL 15. Being the first major outing of the franchise on eighth generation consoles and utilizing a new engine, fans hope for even more modes and updates to enhance their ice hockey immersion.
Can NHL 15 up the ante on next-gen or is it an ice cold disappointment?
Updated Core Mechanics - "Don't Fix What Ain't Broken"
Taking a first look at NHL 15's controls, it becomes apparent that expectedly the Ignite Engine does a wonderful job of blending NHL's existing tight controls together with improved life-like animation in NHL 15 as it previously did with Madden and UFC. In that sense, sliding on the ice during a match does very much feel like you have to control your movements and weight dynamic accordingly, meaning that zig-zaggy maneuvers are realistically hard to pull off.
Puck physics are equally well designed with the puck not being glued onto the ice during a game but can also be shot over the ice directly in a goalee's face.
Except for more life-like physics and animation though, there's only little that NHL 15 offers in terms of core gameplay updates. But in this case the term "don't fix what ain't broken" applies fairly well to NHL 15.
What's still a nagging mechanic though is the flawed "brawl" or "fighting " in NHL 15 against another player. Being a sports simulator, it's of course nice to see that NHL tries to include off-match fights between two players into its game. Yet, seeing how the entire match eventually stops because two players face off each other in a redundant looking button-mashing fight, always seems to hamper the fun.
|During fights the entire match annoyingly comes to a complete halt.|
NHL 15's mechanics are both very accessible to newcomers as well as nicely engaging for longtime fans of the series. While newcomers therefore can easily hop into a random match and quickly get the gist of the game, more experienced players will have fun poking around with more complex maneuvers, playing techniques and stats of players.
In addition to this, NHL 15's customizable gameplay mechanics offer a lot of options to further fine tune how players want to experience the game.
Players can choose whether they want a more arcadey feel to the matches or a full-on simulation on top of the already existing ability to adjust the game's difficulty settings. What's more interesting however is that matches in NHL 15 can be adjusted to such a point that you can also decide the likeliness of fights happening on the ice or the likeliness that of a player breaking his stick. Though those details are nothing truely essential or undeniably important to a good NHL game, it's nice to have the option to shut off match-interrupting mechanics like fights that undeniably not every player will like.
Lastly, another notable option for players is the nice variety of camera angles to choose from.
|Players can heavily influence how they want to experience their match.|
Modes - "Where My Modes At?"
Whereas NHL 15's gameplay mechanics serve as almost flawless tools to experience the game, it unfortunately will become apparent rather quickly to players that NHL 15 vastly lacks the variety of modes that made its predecessor such a beloved hit for fans.
Especially compared to NHL 14, which boasted fan favorite modes that evoked great feelings of nostalgia like "Winter Classic" or most notably the "NHL 94 Anniversary Mode", NHL 15 often feels unfinished when looking at its very small selection of modes. More jarring however is that NHL 15 lacks essential and important core modes.
Looking at what the singleplayer component of NHL 15 has to offer, this is where NHL 15's lack of modes is the most obvious. Without even a standard Season Mode that was originally introduced to the series during the SNES/Sega Genesis era (!), NHL 15 only offers standard quick matchmaking against A.I. controlled teams or the "Be A Pro" mode, which is the best option for offline players.
"Be A Pro" has the player create his own individual player for a team of his preference (with very limited customization options though) and play as this specific player during matches, complete with earning XP and ranking up your stats in the process.
"Be A Pro" is an already well known mode and its presence in NHL 15 is surely enough welcome, yet even this mode has taken multiple cuts in NHL 15. With that said, when playing "Be A Pro", you can no longer be drafted by an organization in order to work your way up the ranks and leagues, but instead are immediately drafted and completely shifted to the full-on high league team. It's those weird design decisions and remarkable cuts in "Be A Pro" (and some other modes) that make NHL 15 feel like a half-hearted and shallow game that very often destroys the "simulation" aspect a sports game should aim for.
However, in order to "play" an actual Season in NHL 15, players' only option is to play the game's "GM Mode / General Manager Mode", which is the game's version of a team managing simulator. Getting into the nooks and crannies of the GM Mode can be quite fun for more invested players, yet even the GM Mode isn't safe from receiving some major cuts like the lack of a basic online functionality. Once again there's nothing truely wrong with the GM Mode itself but looking at the fact that you absolutely have to enter the GM Mode to simply play a Season as the team of your choice only again comes down to some very weird and misguided design choices by the developers.
|The mechanics are there, but where are the modes?|
NHL 15's multiplayer suite is also guilty of cutting major essential modes from the game like Online Team Play and EA Sports Hockey League, which are all gone now. Instead the game's entire online based focus is put on Ultimate Team, which basically functions just like its according counterparts in other EA Sports titles.
There, you can play single ranked or unranked matches against other teams (even with your Ultimate Team). Another particular positive is the option to create squads with players from different teams, leagues and skill levels to make matches more interesting. Despite being still too thin to fully support the entirety of NHL 15's online multiplayer suite, Ultimate Team, just like in other EA Sports titles, is a fun mode and probably the single best part about NHL 15.
|Talk about looking stiff.|
The Ignite Engine is a very impressive instrument that helped EA create some truely realistic looking games to a point from which it has now become fairly hard to distinguish whether somebody is actually playing a next-gen sports game or simply watching a real-life match.
While all EA titles up to this point feature the same amount of visual splendor and realism from afar, things vary when going up close.
NHL 15 is one of those cases. NHL 15's presentation from the menus to its match intros pretty much ligns up with the other EA Sports titles released this year. With that said, arenas, crowds, and movements by the players look incredibly real. Yet, the immersion starts to crumble a bit when the camera directly zooms in on the character models, whose faces in particular leave a bit to be desired especially when compared to the much more detailed models in Madden or UFC.
Another remarkable thing that tends to pull players out of the immersion is the fact that you too often encounter player models during replays that tend to move in the same movement cycle side by side.
Sound design is fairly basic and nothing too special in NHL 15. The Commentators once again definitely steal the show with dynamic comments about goals, maneuvers, tackles and fights on the ice. Although many fans also are likely to appreciate that commentators Mike Emrick and Eddie Olczyk are also present and shown via edited-in real-life footage, the decision to blend this footage showing real life commentators together with replay footage of video game characters is extremely jarring and feels weird and unfitting. Without any disrespect to their commenting work, NHL 15's presentation would've been improved quite a bit if the real-life commentator videos were simply left on the cutting room floor.
|Thanks, but the voices alone really would've been enough.|
Summed up, especially considering that this is the first outing for the NHL franchise on eighth generation consoles, NHL 15 sadly turns out to be a big disappointment primarily due to its major lack of gameplay modes that utilize its otherwise very fun and very accessible core mechanics.
Especially after its predecessor's success, which heavy appealed to fans' nostalgia with its big variety of modes, NHL 15 has only extremely little to offer aside from its "Be A Pro", "GM"- and "Ultimate Team" modes. Quint-essential modes like Season Mode, Online Team Play, and others are either trimmed down in features or completely left out alltogether, making NHL 15 actually feel like an unfinished game.
It has often been emphasized during development that NHL 15 had to be built pretty much from scratch by the developers in order to work on next-gen consoles with the new Ignite Engine. Yet, however lifelike the animations and however fun the gameplay mechanics in NHL 15 are, they don't help much when the game doesn't give you enough fun things (or in this case: modes) to use them in. Additionally, seeing that the PS3 and Xbox360 versions of the game are actually direct ports of NHL 14, only further emphasize the troubled development of the game's next-gen versions.
Overall, although mode updates for the game have already been promised, NHL 15 is a very lackluster start for the franchise on the eighth generation of consoles. Fans of the NHL franchise can therefore easily pass on NHL 15 and rather pick up its predecessor NHL 14 instead, which, despite admittedly weaker visuals, offers way more bang for your buck.
Final Verdict: 4 out of 10
Big thanks goes out to EA for providing us with a review copy of the game.
Big thanks goes out to EA for providing us with a review copy of the game.