NHL 15 Review

When it comes to video game hockey, there is only one game in town – EA Sports’ NHL series. I don’t even know if other companies even bother with other hockey games anymore – after 24 odd years of dominating the market, what would be the point?

Unlike most other monopoly situations, this one is actually tenable – the quality is high and the lack of competition hasn’t stopped the series creators from excelling every possible way. If you care about video games and hockey, the chances are that you think whatever the last version of the series you bought is just about the perfect NHL simulation, and you’d be right.

But how do you even try to review a game like this? Depending on the path you take, there are very different ways to views NHL 15. Do you view it as it’s own game? Do you write the review for people who’ve never played a hockey game? Should the guy who bought it last year buy it again this year? There are any number of perspectives from which the tone of the review would take on drastically different tones.

With this many options, the only one that seems workable is to just talk about the game from my own experience, and to consider who might want to buy it. Hopefully that will give you some idea of how the game will work for you, and if not, there is no shortage of other reviews of the game – though reading most of them it appears to me that they don’t seem to be written by fans of actual hockey.

On to it…..

 

Steven Stamkos
Steven Stamkos

The Basics

First of all, I think I should mention that I have been playing the game on the PS3 leading up to writing this. The game is also available on the new generation systems, but I don’t have a million dollars, and actually, it was only this year I finally upgraded to the pS3. Which, obviously should alert you to the fact that I am not a hard-core gamer. I used to be. Then I had a bunch of kids and now I know more about Thomas the (excessive expletives deleted)  Steam Engine than I do about any post 2008 video games. Not incidentally, there was an XBox 360 where I lived in 2008 and that was the last time I owned an NHL game – though between my brothers my father and myself, we owned ever single one from Sega Genesis’ NHL Hockey all the way up to ’08. Although I have not owned the games since, I have always known people who have and have still played tons of hockey vids between then and now.

So is the game any good?

 Yes, it is insanely good. NHL 15 is a mind-blowing leap from NHL 2008 and they have, in my opinion, perfected what they can do with hockey and the Playstation 3. The game play is fluid, dynamic, and wonderful. I’ll get to that a bit below, but yes, the game is awesome. If you haven’t really played hockey on a video game before, this is an amazing game. If you like hockey, you will like this game. It’s addictive and fun. It has tons of options and game modes and while hockey is easily the best two-player video game ever invented (with a possible exception for Worms Armageddon)  it’s also fun to just play the computer. The game looks good, it feels good, the music is crap, but the sound effects are awesome.  I recommend this game without reservation to anyone who happens to be a fan of both hockey and video games.

Just on a basis of graphics, fun, game play and replay ability, this is a five star game. It’s also – and I’m not a millionaire, remember, so I have’n’t played the PS4 version – easily the best hockey video game ever made.

Should I buy the game if I own NHL 14?

No you should not. You should take your $70 bucks and treat your old friend Jimmy to dinner and a trip to the record store. Owning this game if you own NHL 14 would be pointless. That’s one of the reason’s it’s so hard to review NHL 15. It is a beautiful artistic achievement every bit as good in its own genre and form as a Jackson Pollock painting or a record from REM. However, what NHL 15 is, is a refinement, not a revolution.

You can update your rosters using create a player and the internet, so there’s no need to buy it even for that reason. The gameplay is better over NHL 14, but in the way $1000 dollars is better than $999.99 – like, it’s technically better, but you aren’t going to notice it unless you are an extreme stickler. There are new animations and the game looks a little crisper, but let’s be realistic – NHL 14 was an amazing game in its’ own right.

I cannot stress enough: if you own NHL 14, find a better use for your cash. You worked hard for it. But if you don’t have NHL 14, this is worth getting. With NHL 13, I found it to play like quicksand. Maybe I couldn’t properly adjust the gameplay settings for whatever reason or I just didn’t get used to it enough, but I didn’t like it because I thought it was too slow. Maybe it was a great simulation and I’m just not a purist, but I bought a copy for ten bucks about six months ago and played it three times, maybe.  NHL 15 gives you the choice to play a super simulation (which I also find mind-numbingly slow) Arcade, or Hybrid. I played around with each and I like the Arcade style. I want speed, turbo buttons and huge hits. It’s still a great simulation this way, but it’s more fun.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs fans
Phil Kessel is one of many Leafs players on Twitter (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Game Play

What makes NHL 15 such a good game – I mean, the graphics are good, the game play options are many, and it is, after all, hockey – but what makes it such a perfect game is the game play. The controls are tight, the players do what you want them to, and it’s a fairly intuitive system, in regard to what buttons do what and how it all works.

But what really makes the game play so good is the level of detail and the learning curve. You can step right in and play because the basic controls haven’t really changed since the game first came out for 360/PS3. At the same time, however, there are tons of little details that make becoming an expert worthwhile – you can dangle with finely tuned dekes, you can block passes, execute flip passes, lift sticks, play in tight along the boards and any number of other small little abilities the game lets you do. Basically, if you can do it in real life, the game offers you a button combo to try it on your TV.

This level of detail is seamlessly integrated into what is otherwise a very basic skate-shoot-pass-check game. A beginner can pick it up and play and have fun, and a seasoned video game vet can put in the hours and learn all the little tricks. This makes for a very enjoyable experience overall.

In addition, the buttons respond perfectly and the analogue controller lets you pass/shoot as hard or soft as you want to. In my life playing video games, I don’t think I’ve ever found a game that is so perfect in it’s control. Of course, outside of other sports franchises, who gets to refine their game to the degree that the NHL series has been?

If I have one complaint about the game, it’s the face-offs. I can’t win one to save my life and it’s starting to get me pretty angry, if I’m honest.  Still, back when I played the hockey series constantly – we’re talking pages upon pages of stapled together hand written tournaments, and more than a few all-nighters – the face-offs were just a matter of pulling back on the stick or (a long time ago) just pressing X. The new system is taking me a while to get used to, so I don’t even know at this point if it’s a draw back or if I just suck!

 

Dion Phaneuf Leafs
Dion Phaneuf (Rich Kane/Icon SMI)

Game Modes

With the PS3 version at least, there are tons of game modes. But, honestly, I am never going to use them. I have no interest in playing a character and taking him through media interviews and whatever else his career might entail. Nor am I interested in just being a coach or in playing people on-line enough to warrant getting involved in all the cool tournies and leagues they have as options. Although these things are no doubt really fun, they aren’t for me.

For this review,I played a few games on-line and it was fun to play someone besides the computer. Obviously I am not up on current gaming trends because this was my first online gaming experience. Saxophone Raul (that’s me) stood no chance as the Lightning destroyed him 4-0. I was really outclassed by my opponent, but it was fun just the same. I didn’t like how slow the game was, so personally, I’ll be sticking to playing friends and the computer, and cranking up the game speed.

My hockey style is to just be the Leafs, start a season and have a fantasy draft. Through all the NHL’s, I’ve never really varied. I just play a season and try to make my stacked Leaf teams win the Cup. This year, my team picked third and took Steven Stamkos. I also ended up with OEL, Druoin, Barkov and Seguin. After the season began, I immediately traded for Phaneuf and Kessel – the AI GM is not very good, it must be noted – and I even signed Tomas Kaberle for old-times sake.  Now my team is stacked, but I can’t win!

I entered the season with some extreme hubris. Though it’d been six or seven years since I owned an NHL game that was current, and thus about that long since I’d played the computer, I still erroneously considered myself an expert. I used to win the Cup on Super-Star level difficulty back then, so of course I would still be great. I was not.

I went 0-5 to start the year before downgrading two levels to “PRO.” This included a rather embarrassing 9-2 thumping by the Penguins. Only Pete, my cat, was witness to this disaster, but nevertheless, it was a humbling blow to my ego. I down-graded to Pro and then promptly lost 6-4 despite holding a 4-3 lead in the final minute of the game.  I might be terrible at this game so far, but I do love it. And, I am glad that I wasn’t able to step in and win immediately on Super-Star – a challenging game is a fun game, after-all.  One thing I really appreciated, was that, despite getting dusted game after game, unlike in past iterations, the computer doesn’t seem to rely on random shots going in or an invisible barrier over their own net to make the game difficult – the AI is really decent.

Conclusion

Overall, NHL 15 is a masterpiece. It’s a beautiful game, that is fun to play and it has excellent controls. Of course, you need to remember it’s not a sequel as much as it is a refining, so don’t buy it if you have last year’s version. There is only one thing to complain about and that’s the music and announcers.

The music is horrible. It’s a horror show of everything that’s wrong with modern rock, but this can be easily corrected: just make a playlist on your PS3 and import it. My game now plays me the New Pornographers, Wire and A Tribe Called Quest – easily the best video game soundtrack ever concocted.  As for the announcing, it’s the guys from NBC, which is a lot like taking the Blue Jays commentators and putting them in a MLB game. Sure, they’re OK, but they aren’t Vin Scully or Tim McCarver. EA should have got Bob Cole and Harry Neal, and Don Cherry should be in there somewhere, but this is just me being a stickler – the game is not hurt at all by these guys. Although, after playing for a weekend non-stop, I have never heard the word ‘recoil’ used so much in relation to hockey before.  Plus, they do have Ray Ferarro and he is great. If he read his lines and they weren’t just used from actual broadcasts, then he should get into acting. He is very, very good here.

Just like this game.

Five Stars.