NHL 15 review: a little less slap behind the puck

The core gameplay and presentation are solid, but this year's hockey game is missing... a lot.

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When EA Sports announced NHL 15 for the new generation of consoles, I couldn't have been more thrilled. I'm an avid hockey fan, backing my local Avalanche any chance I can get and even cheering on the Bruins every once in a while. And the idea of the game stepping up to the next level with everything we've come to expect from the NHL franchise was really something to look forward to.

Which makes it all the more awkward when I played the final game. When it comes to core mechanics, NHL 15 truly delivers, with all the excitement of a one-timer going into the net and a last-second goalie save still being completely intact. But when it comes to delivering the crucial content that fans were expecting from this series' debut on new consoles, NHL 15 can't quite finish the power play.

Less content, but more gameplay

For some reason, EA Sports has left a lot of content out of the game this time around. While you can still take on players in ranked and unranked match-ups both locally and online, the majority of modes that really bring out the best in hockey fans are nowhere in sight. Playoff mode is nowhere to be found, leaving us imagining a Stanley Cup match-up instead; Online Team Play is missing, taking away any opportunity to see how ideal squads match up (even though Ultimate Team is still somewhat intact). And the fact that Career Mode is so painfully short without the ability to draft players and work your way up the leagues just takes away from the NHL experience entirely. After all, hardly anyone magically joins a team anymore. Everyone knows you have to work for it.

Again, that's not selling the core game short, as this is easily the best that the NHL series has played in some time. The hustle on the ice still feels as realistic as ever, whether you're sizing up someone for a check as they're coming down the ice, or looking for that crucial opening on a goalie as you attempt to set up a one-timer from the side. Better still, shots can be executed with either the right analog stick or with the tap of a button, with both options handily available in case a certain play style isn't working for you.

Defensively, the game shows some hustle as well, with some great-looking checks, a solidified fighting system that works way better than it has in the past (due to the removal of the completely annoying first-person camera system) and plenty of plays you can make for the puck. Sometimes the puck movement can be a little bit weird, like going out of bounds even when it was nowhere near the glass, but overall it feels realistic to the experience.

It looks and sounds like hockey, despite some flaws

The game has stepped up a notch in presentation, even though there are some takeaways that are hard to ignore. Player models look better than ever, and the arenas look the best they ever have in the series, with hometown fans going nuts for their teams and plenty of cheering on the last-second goal to tie the game. The video cutaways are also good, tying in with the NHL on NBC network to create a TV-style experience.

Still, it's not quite perfect. Some cutaways are a bit crude when it comes to watching replays, awkwardly going back to the action on the ice just when things are getting good. Also, player celebrations are rather generic, with less pile-ups on the ice themselves and more of just skating along the sideline and fist-bumping everyone. Almost every single time.

Eddie Olczyk and Ray Ferraro provide in-game commentary for the game, and also appear in video vignettes to size up the competition before each round. They provide an interesting take on game commentary, though while it runs into its fair share of repetition. Hearing the same comment after three consecutive goals about how it came back out of the net is a little ridiculous. Still, it is an improvement over most of the stale running commentary we've heard in other games. Here's hoping EA Sports keeps them for future iterations.

A step backwards, but at least there's Ultimate Team

So NHL 15 looks and sounds great, and plays very well. But is that enough? Well, that depends on how much you wanted to get out of the extra content. Again, the online action, while smooth, feels bare bones without the extra modes to choose from, and Be a GM feels emptied out without the ability to create games through an AHL franchise and the impeccable upgrade system. EA Sports has promised that some of these features will be added via a patch over the next couple of months, but it baffles me why they wouldn't have been included in the first place.

That said, Ultimate Team continues to be a saving grace. The inclusion of this mode is a nice one for hockey fans, as you can use unlocked cards to create your own squad and put them to the test against others. It'll see improvements over the next few months as well, but, for now, it's bound to be the "one stop shop" for those who can't hold back from buying this edition of the game.

Not a revolution nor an evolution

What you get out of NHL 15 depends on your expectations. If you're expecting a completely stacked, feature-laden game as you've gotten in the past, you're bound to be disappointed and on the phone with EA's customer service department, wondering where the majority of your game content has gone. However, if you're an avid hockey fan, you probably won't mind hitting the ice and taking part in a well-rounded contest of hockey, and seeing what the new visuals and audio have to deliver.

RATING: 6 (out of 10)

This review is based on a PlayStation 4 review copy provided by the publisher. NHL 15 is available now for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, as well as Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 for $59.99. The game is rated E10.

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