As 3GEM’s resident expert when it comes to EA Sports annual NHL franchises, September is a special time for me. Fall is right around the corner, it’s getting cooler, football is back, and real NHL training camps are about to start up. But above all of that, it means the newest NHL game is due to come out, and my friends and I can get our EASHL clubs together and hit the ice for some virtual puck. Not this year, however. Things over at EA Sports Vancouver have been very messy the last few weeks, and I fear things are only going to get harder.
If you aren’t familiar with the situation, NHL 15 is set to release on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, marking the first time we see the virtual ice on a new set of consoles. Everything was looking awesome, with the first look trailers at this past E3 pumping the hype level to all new highs. The game looked incredible, with a brand new engine built from the ground up using EA IGNITE. Almost all of the real world NHL arenas were recreated from the ground up, and they introduced player models that brought real world NHL superstars to life in a whole new way. Things were looking fantastic, but information started to get really quiet, and fans started asking important questions and not getting any answers from the guys at EA Sports.
Things started to really heat up when a rumour hit the internet at the beginning of last month that vastly popular game modes EASHL or EA Sports Hockey League and GM Connected would be left out of NHL 15 on the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 versions of the game. Many dismissed this as outrageous, but an increased silence from the development team led to a community uproar. EA finally broke the silence and confirmed the rumour to be true. Due to time constraints or issues with the new 12 man collision physics engine, EASHL would not make the cut into NHL 15, and GM connected was getting the boot as well, for unknown reasons. The heat from the community was intense, and people were not happy at all. EASHL is a huge game mode that has been a cornerstone of the NHL franchise for years. On top of that, online team play (which allows you to play 6 vs 6 in random drop in games) had been taken out as well, meaning the only option for multiplayer in NHL 15 is 1 vs 1 Versus, a far cry from the options available in last year’s game, which you can check out my review for here.
Things went from bad to worse when Xbox One users were able to try out the full version of the game thanks to EA Access. What players found was a lot more missing from the entry than EA had previously led us to believe. The game comes shipped with only a handful of game modes, such as Play Now, Hockey Ultimate Team, Be a Pro and Be a GM, but all have been stripped down from the previous year’s version in more ways than one. Hockey Ultimate team is the mode that was left the most untouched. Gamers are able to collect and trade hockey cards of their favourite players, then take the team online to play 1v1 against a random player in an attempt to move up divisions. However, the single player entity of the mode is essentially gone, which is a big loss for me personally since it’s the way I enjoy to play the game mode. Be a Pro has been sliced down to its core. No longer “live the life mode” as it was last year, in which you could play the media and live in the shoes as an NHL player, this year’s iteration is as bare bones as it gets. You don’t get a shot to play in the Memorial Cup to earn a proper draft spot, and you can’t start your career in the CHL or play for your AHL counterpart. You either get randomly drafted to a team with a random amount of XP to start out with (anywhere between 1200-3000 XP), or you can choose which team to play for and get 2000 XP. It’s really lame, and during the game itself, you are unable to sim when your character is sitting on the bench. It’s simple little things that are left out for no reason that make the least amount of sense.
The real kicker of all of these missing game modes is the fact that the gameplay itself is actually really solid. The new twelve-player collision physics engine makes every skater on the ice live, making for some really crazy scrums in front of the net and hits that can take out three or four players at a time. It’s chaotic and fun, and something only made possible thanks to the new, more powerful hardware. A brand new puck physics engine has the frozen disc bounce around and be as unpredictable as the one you see on TV. This allows the puck to hit off players, die out on used ice and deflect off the boards, creating all new realistic ways to play the game. A brand new skill stick helps to simplify the controls, giving you smoother and more refined movements when trying to dangle around defenders. Although they took away a lot of the old dekes you could pull off in NHL 14, this forces you to play a more realistic style of play — dump and chase and cycle the puck instead of being a one man show and being able to deke through the entire team.
The biggest addition to the new game is the all-new NBC presentation and commentary team headed by the famed duo of Mike “Doc” Emrick, Eddie Olcyzk and Ray Ferraro. Couple that with total recreation of most of the NHL arenas you see every day, the visuals in the game are outstanding, and the new commentary team, while a bit sluggish at times, shows real brilliance in what we could see in the years to come. Still, there is almost no substance to the great gameplay and presentation, and the laundry list of missing game modes and features is unacceptable for a next-gen offering.
A few more missing game modes include:
- Online shootout mode
- Be a legend
- Winter Classic
- NHL 94 mode
- Tournament/battle for the cup mode
- Season mode (CHL/AHL)
With those missing on top of the EASHL, Online Team Play and GM connected, you are really buying what feels like a half finished game along with a promise from EA sports to update the game throughout the year to hopefully add in some of these missing features. The problem is the game is still going to cost you $60-$70 at retail. Full price for half a game and a promise doesn’t fly with me, even more so when it happens to be my favourite gaming franchise. So, as it stands right now, I can’t recommend buying NHL 15 on Xbox One/PlayStation 4 in its current state. My hopes are that EA lives up to its word and hopefully by Christmas the game is much more complete, but again, we aren’t reviewing what it COULD be, we have to look at what it is, and right now it’s not worth your money.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of NHL 15. The game is also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Xbox 360.