The latest installment in EA's NHL franchise makes a number of improvements, but loses so many features that it's hard to understand.
NHL 15 does features gameplay improvements. Realistic physics apply to everything on the rink, making movement more natural and successful hits more satisfying. The improved physics also apply to the puck, allowing for more control from a skilled player.
All of the gameplay improvements are geared towards a more immersive gaming experience. There are enough nuances there to reward skillful players and the 'Superstar Skill Stick' controls are far superior to the optional button controls, when mastered.
This depth in gameplay is sadly not mirrored in the game's features. Spartans would have more features than NHL 15. A similar approach was taken with Madden NFL 15, but the cuts in NHL 15 are even deeper.
There's a manager mode which fails to replace the many different tournaments, leagues and cup modes of the previous game. Playing through a season, I really failed to connect with my team. I couldn't put my finger on it before the user experience put me off., but salary cap complications could have had something to do with it
The 'Be a Pro' mode is lacking. Create your character and get drafted in to a team without playing any matches. Presumably there's some logic behind the draft picks, but I failed to see it. Then you play for your team, trying to reach a certain amount of targets per season. My main character was a centre, so I had to achieve a certain amount of goal assists.
Two prime examples of a rushed game are found in the 'Be a Pro' mode. First, you spend points on improving your player and the game will warn you when there are points still to be spent, but it won't tell you what area they're in, forcing the user to go through each of the skills, looking for the available perks. Basic. The second example is the time your player spends off the ice. In previous games you were able to skip ahead to the point where you come back on the ice. In NHL 15, you have to sit and wait.
There was no sense of working my way up from the minors or earning my place in the team, I was just dumped in to a game in which I failed to perform in my position. I realised I needed either a few practice sessions or a tutorial. Amazingly, I failed to find a tutorial and the practice mode was one player against a goalie. The NFL 15 tutorials were long and in-depth, yet NHL 15 had nothing, something I found hard to believe when the new control modes are taken in to account.
Ultimate Teams is an addition, but as with the other EA games this year, I feel it's little more than a gimmick to create some freemium style revenue.
So far, so bad, but while NHL 15 is a disappointing game, it's not a bad game.
The graphics are incredible and truly worthy of the title 'next-gen'. It's something EA seem to have really focused on across all their new titles and it shows.
Stadiums are realistic, with audiences customised to each team that react in-game events. The commentary feels authentic and natural. Combined with presentation that would feel at home on a premium sports channel, the game manages to create a believable atmosphere.
Players look extremely life like and new animations add realism. Occasionally when the camera cuts to the bench you'll see a player grinning at a nice play or chatting away to a teammate. Combined with the new physics, there's a definite sense of life to the players.
As I mentioned above, the gameplay is greatly improved. Yes, it's tricky to do certain things, but that only adds to the sense of satisfaction when you manage to pull a move off. It's hard not to smile when a perfectly timed charge leaves an opponent sprawled on the ice.
There are rumours that a number of game modes will be included in future updates, but you have to ask why they weren't included in the first place.
It's hard to understand many of the decisions made with this game. The improved controls would suit fans of the series, but removing the more diverse features is a move to disadvantage all but the most casual of players. I'm not sure who benefits, other than the marketing companies who can say "all new features" when the game modes are added back in next year. It seems to be an approach taken across the new EA titles, so it's definitely something to ponder.
The potential was there for NHL 15 to be great, but such sparse features are far below the expectations of gamers these days.
It's a game I'll drop in to play again, but it's not going to take up all my time like previous NHL games.