There's something wonderful about a sports game that actually has a set of controls for fighting. Yes, it's time to hit the ice with NHL 15
I'll hold my hands up from the off, NHL is my favourite of the EA Sports franchises and NHL 98 on the N64 ranks near the top of my gaming memories. So, I approached this initial review with a certain amount of excitement.
Thrown straight in to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final with your choice of the New York Rangers or the LA Kings, the game makes you pick your skill level. A word of warning at this point, the difficulty gap between "This is my first time playing NHL" and "I've played NHL before" is vast, due to the controls. To sum up, I lost that first match badly.
The focus on the control sticks initially feels awkward, but soon it allows for some wonderfully satisfying plays. The button-based control option gives a more traditional feel, and is the easy way out, but you'll soon find you're limiting yourself. Those same buttons used for shooting are freed up and allow for plenty of tricks and team management shortcuts.
The physics and animations have been approved to the point where hits really feel like they hurt and impacts are based on real life variables. If you time a hit well, oh, there's going to be a satisfying crunch.
The game looks hugely impressive. The commentators did their part in front of a green screen and were then stitched in to the game, but for multiple matches I was staring, wondering if they were computer generated. That's the level of facial detail on the actual players and the overall level of presentation.
Players have a number of animations in place purely for realism, with the cameras occasionally catching unheard comments or a cheeky grin. Big hits are enjoyable for a number of reasons, mostly the realistic way players flop on the ice. Reactions are fleshed out the point where a stray puck to the head will cause the expected confused 'what was that?' reaction. They're small touches which don't affect gameplay, but they crank up the realism a notch.
Gameplay is straight forward when it's all down to skating and smashing in to opponents, but when it comes to scoring or effectively defending against a skilled winger, you'll soon realise there's an art to playing well. The learning curve adds depth, which is good because you'll soon find that this game has been stripped of features.
I wouldn't dare count how many hours I sunk in to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim back in the day, bringing them through the season and trading players to create a wonder story that Disney would be proud of. I'm not expecting any such joy in NHL 15.
The classic season mode is gone. Be a GM is the mode that replaces it and although it looks similar, I don't have high hopes. I'll reserve judgement for the full review. Tournaments are gone. Team creation is gone. The list of removed features is extensive.
We do get Ultimate Teams, but after playing the NFL equivalent, I'm tired with what is essentially a gimmick to get you online and to part you from your cash. I can see it appealing to the sort of die-hard fans who collect the season cards, but it's starting to annoy me as it's a mode that seems to herald the loss of too many features.
At a glance, the Be a Pro mode seems crippled compared to previous games.
I can understand the urge to get back to basics, back to quality gameplay and online match-ups telling their own story, but cutting so many features is surely a step back when it's the die-hard fans that will be hurt most.
Expect a full review in the coming days and hope that I discover enough hidden gems to make this a worthy step forward for the franchise.
First Impression: As with NFL and FIFA, the graphics and audio has been significantly improved. This game looks and sounds great. The gameplay is also better and the obvious depth offers some longevity. On the other hand, so many features are removed that I fear I'll never be able to recreate the epic Ducks season of my youth.
As an aside, who thought the new Mighty Ducks logo and jersey was a good idea?