I thought I was so close to scoring the perfect one-timer from the point, especially as the LA Kings managed to dart into the zone and seemingly set up for rebounds galore. But I think the overhead camera angle gave me a little too much confidence and winding up left Kopitar to slide right by the puck. As much as I love to watch the game of hockey, controls in virtual representations like NHL 15 will never amount to the finesse of an accomplished skater ready to board an opponent at the drop.
Still, EA manages to secure its place as the best source for virtual hockey, especially given its exclusive use of the license, by presenting the game in a way that actually makes sense of line-changes, zone-control, defensive positioning, and even goal-tending. Less accomplished skaters don’t have to worry about the buttery smooth transitions and puck-handling driven by NHL 15’s artificial intelligence too. As disappointed as I was by odd glitches and a few errant score runs on lower difficulties, NHL 15 still manages to impress this great one.
Late last year, I reviewed Sony’s MLB 14 The Show and found that the experience of watching the game translated well to PlayStation 4. I’d say the same for NHL 15 if it didn’t give the player so many options to tweak and own the way they play. You can still view the action from a broadcast perspective and you can even dumb the controls down to NHL 94’s one-button layout. You can even alter the opposing difficulty or set specific lines for your favorite team.
In that way, EA’s game practically leaps out of the TV to draw the player back in and drive home a sense of success that almost transcends what a goalie might feel if his team is having a hot night at the other end of the rink. Successful hockey fans will discover lines that open up shooting lanes like no other and it’ll be easy to exploit those openings if the computer isn’t set to a proper difficulty level. If you’re about to start a new career as a GM or a Pro, make sure to put some practice in exhibition and then tackle the challenge as if it were real.
I started a season as last year’s Stanley Cup champions and got put away, though a few more games had me poke-checking, out-skating, and generally locking up every face-off. NHL 15 lends itself to new players in this way, encouraging steady growth in opposition to hail-mary offensives I always felt I had to default to in game’s like Madden. But rather than stressing over the clock, NHL 15’s defensive mechanics reward steady hands and almost always result in a smooth turnover and a scoring opportunity if you learn to pass.
This next-generation console release (I reviewed the game on Xbox One) has a few issues under the hood perhaps most notably in rubber-banding physics that can send a puck flying as if you were playing foosball with the world’s most enthusiastic number-one-foam-hand-waver. Skaters can occasionally pull off awkward dance moves, though the animation system remains dedicated to the simulation and hits look better than ever.
Checking someone at center ice gets a huge reaction from the crowd and throwing down the gloves offers boosts of energy to anyone left on the rink, rather than the box. Taken at face value, NHL 15 offers more of the same. I doubt anyone with last year’s game will feel like they'll miss something if they choose to skip this one, though online competition will certainly heat up as more PlayStation 4 and Xbox One units sell through this holiday season.
I wish NHL 15 offered a more straightforward season mode, though the options to run your own team or play as a specific pro will give every fan what they’re looking for. Whether or not the horn sounds on home ice, every goal will give the fan in you the same satisfaction as if the game were live right in front of you.
Copy provided by publisher. Review based on Xbox One version. Also available for PS4, X360, and PS3.