Of all the major American sports, ice hockey is perhaps the most dramatic and entertaining. The nature of the sport allows for surprise comebacks, high intensity goals, and emotional plays much like football, whereas the likes of baseball or NFL struggle to gain the same intensity thanks to the constant stoppages. So it amazes me that, with all its similarities to our national sport, ice hockey has not become popular in the UK. With the first release on the new consoles, however, NHL 15 is sure to bring in a lot of new fans.
The core of any sports title is the act of playing the sport itself, and this is where NHL 15 excels. The action is an almost perfect simulation with the correct settings. The pace of the game feels great, the puck moves unbelievably realistically, and the players traverse the ice as expected. If a simulation style isn’t what you are after, you can easily change to a more arcade style, which makes for a much simpler and easier to play option for newcomers. The settings can be extensively customized, so if you want a realistic sim but think icing is a ridiculous rule you can turn it off.
Regardless of your chosen settings, the gameplay of NHL 15 is fun. Trying to worm your way though the defence to get an open shot is hugely satisfying. Perhaps even more surprising, is the fact that defence can actually be fun to play. Making a big hit feels great; players smash into the ice, their bodies contort in violently realistic ways and the vibration feedback helps convey the force of the collision. Occasionally it feels like an opponent has managed to hold onto the puck unfairly, which means trying to intercept a pass is usually a safer option than chasing down a player to poke away the puck.
Your AI team-mates could use a bit of work, though. On defence they fail to pick up players, and seem to take an age to transition from one end of the ice to the other. They also fail to offer any assistance when against the boards, which happens quite a lot thanks to board animations kicking in whenever you are in the vicinity. That being said, they do occasionally create a brilliant bit of space, which often results in a goal.
While the actual gameplay is superb, it is severely let down by the missing game modes and features. While it may seem harsh to complain about something that isn’t there, the lack of options really do limit how much you can play the game. Simple “play now” games obviously aren’t enough to hold your attention for long, and online head to heads offer a nice change to playing against the AI, but can become repetitive, and the NHL Moments Live is currently lacking in content – although more will be added during the season.
Hockey Ultimate Team is very similar to that of the FIFA mode. You build a fantasy team of players and compete against the AI and real-world opponents. This is the mode many will play for hours, but it’s easy to burn out on. I had only played for a few days but was already tired of my squad. HUT is perhaps NHL 15’s biggest mode, and the best bet for extended hours of play.
Elsewhere, Be A Pro mode is disappointingly bare. You still control one player on the ice, which can be great, but the mode is missing basic features. The draft is effectively random; the minor leagues have gone, and working your way up the rankings is non-existent, as you instantly become a starter upon signing. Here the questionable AI becomes even more obvious, and the ability to skip time when not playing is nowhere to be seen, so expect to watch a lot from the bench.
Finally we have Be A GM mode, which is now the only way to take a whole team throughout a complete NHL season. Fortunately the mode remains largely unchanged, which isn’t a bad thing. Online functionality is nowhere to be seen, though, so if you want a deep online mode HUT is the only way to go.
As you’d expect, NHL 15 is very impressive, visually. Players look great and, apart from the odd mistimed animation, move realistically. The ice itself changes throughout the game, and small particle effects add that extra bit of quality. The crowd isn’t perfect (people will often be doing the same animation) but it’s a lot better than other sports titles.
On the commentary front Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick and Eddie Olczyk provide the voiceover. The variation in the lines is surprisingly good and the delivery is great – the only issue is the occasional misplaced comment. The NBC hockey broadcast style is one that is sure to please people, and it looks great, but does little for those in non-USA territories.
VERDICT: On the ice, NHL 15 is great. Gameplay is smooth and fun to play, and the plethora of customization options means everyone should be able to find an enjoyable setting. The visuals and commentary round out the package that is only let down by the occasionally questionable AI. Where NHL 15 falls down is with its replayability and game modes. Not only are fan favorite modes missing, but the ones we do get are not feature complete. If you can deal with only having a few modes, then NHL 15 is well worth buying, but the lack of variation is sure to become an issue over time.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review code provided by publisher.