NHL 15 newb impressions: Shooting for the goal

Among the numerous sports games shown at the EA Summer Showcase in New York City, I found myself drawn to NHL 15, which is unusual considering I have little knowledge, interest or skill in hockey games. Generally, my disinterest in sports isn't limited to hockey, but I still impressed enough by looking at the game to try it out. What can I say? There's something appealing about a game where the players might suddenly throw down their gloves and fist fight. The controls had to be set to a two-button newbie mode, where all I had to worry about was passing and shooting, but that was fine with me.

Realism is the key to any sports game, and NHL really pushes the current generation of hardware to create a highly detailed experience. Through a deal with NBC, hockey matches kick off with real live recorded broadcasters. This then transitioned into real-life stock footage of the TD Garden in Boston, where the game was being played. I played as the Bruins, and this was a home game. NHL 15 seamlessly transitioned from live action to game graphics, giving it the feel of watching a broadcast sport. Even the audience looks realistically diverse, with fans from both sides occupying certain sections. Some even hold up humorous signs for the camera against the penalty box plexiglass. Now I'm just waiting for a pair of guys in green morph suits to appear.

The presenter took a moment to pause the game and zoom in on one of the players. Each player is realistically detailed right down to the stitching on their uniforms and the decals on their boots. After a few minutes of playing, he paused the game again to show how the minute details like scuffs on the player's boots began to show. The developers also used an physicist to help do mathematical calculations behind the puck movements. So, puck physics are phenomenal. Furthermore, a great deal of attention was paid on cloth physics. At one point, he made a shot that bounced off the goalie's shirt, off his arm pad, and back out onto the ice. Freezing the instant replay highlighted the puck's trajectory and revealed how the puck rippled his uniform as it bounced off his shoulder. It looked so real that I almost had sympathy pains for the goalie. The same goes for the nice heavy hitting sounds and animations when players body check each other.

I couldn't help but be impressed with all the technical aspects NHL 15 had to offer, and really started getting into the game, perhaps because of the simplified controls. However, I have to give a lot of credit to the game's AI, which clearly carried the game when I could not. The computer goalie blocked shots like a pro, and my teammates expertly chased down pucks that I kept losing control of. I didn't really get a the hang of stopping to shoot, and instead sailed past the puck with my stick in the air like a total moron. There were also plenty of instances where I passed the puck out into open space with little more than an a hope that someone on my team was around to receive it. It's too bad that I didn't get into the on ice fist-fight I was looking forward to, but NHL 15 still managed to win me over without bloodshed.

NHL 15 is scheduled to release for the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, and PS4 on September 9th.