We Got Bergy on the Cover of THIS?
I do not have a long history with the NHL on XBox (or any other game console). It’s been in the last month that I’ve dedicated any time from other pursuits to knuckle down and get into the play of the game. I blame off-season withdrawal.
So I’ve been playing a good deal of NHL14 on XBox360. Okay, I’ve been playing more than a good deal of NHL14. Once I got the hang of the controls, and neutered the computer AI, I got into it. Playing last season as the Bruins was a trip down memory lane. A season where Loui Eriksson isn’t concussed for half the season. A season where Shawn Thornton doesn’t sucker punch Brooks Orpik (don’t worry in my season Seidenberg laid Orpik out). A season Dennis Seidenberg stays healthy into the playoffs. Sending Orpik to the box was just desserts.
I also explored building my own team (The San Francisco Jackals in case you’re interested) and amazed by the level of customization available in game. The AI at the rookie level did get a bit predictable, and the physics of play were more than a bit segregated from reality. I mean, how many times can Chara bury one in the net from the face-off? In NHL14, quite a few times.
So I was excited to get my grubby little mitts on a copy of NHL15 this week. I even had to go get a new XBox ONE just to play it. Boston fans flooded the twitterverse earlier in the year to vote for Patrice Bergeron on the cover. Those fans got their wish, and Bergy adorns the cover in all his glory.
NHL15 however, isn’t proving up to the image gracing its cover. Gone is the mode letting you play through a season. Gone is the mode letting you make your own custom team (my poor SF Jackals…). There has been a good deal of righteous fury on the internets about these slights. EA Sports has promised they’ll be adding these modes back with content updates. This should be easier to do on the next gen consoles than with the previous generation. This isn’t a deal breaker for me. It’s unfortunate. The improvements in the physics, the computer AI, and the graphics are enough to keep me playing while I wait for EA to get its act together.
EA dumped the pervious commentary duo for green-screened scenes with the NBCSN crew. Everything gets the NBCSN branding, a distinct change from the EA Sports branding of earlier versions. I wonder if the NHL pushed for this so the transition to a different developer might be easier. I enjoy the new NBCSN intros, and the commentary is as good as NHL14. EA has promised some commentary will change over the course of the season, which should be interesting.
The on-ice physics are what I’ve noticed in the switch from NHL14 to NHL15. The days of Chara rocketing a slap shot off the draw are all but gone. Putting bodies in front of the net is an effective tactic. The puck will get caught in traffic just as it does in TD Garden. The other big change for me has been the ease of stealing the puck. In NHL14 I could pretty much take things right up the center without worrying too much about turnovers. Those days are gone, unless Bergy is carrying the puck up-ice.
I do notice the updates EA has made to the player models in the way player’s sweaters move now. They are more independent of the player model. They don’t have the weight you’d expect though. They look like sweaters made of silk instead of heavy fabric. EA also took time to model the different arenas in more detail and added detail to the audience.
EA hasn’t gotten any better at modeling players that aren’t super stars. It’s easy to pick out Chara, Bergeron, Marchand, pretty much most of the Bruins top lines. EA’s even got a big marketing still with Jerome Iginla in his new Avalanche sweater that still throws me. When it comes to down-roster players like Dougie Hamilton though, EA falls short. I suppose this is to be expected. Who other than die hard hockey fans are going to notice Dougie’s curly red locks aren’t curly or red enough? You’d think they’d be able to get Tuukka Rask right though. They don’t in the least.
So is NHL15 worth buying? It is for me. I’m not a big on-line player. I didn’t get into the omitted modes. If you were, this isn’t for you. If you’re new to the game, I’d suggest starting with NHL14. Even tuned to pee-wee league AI NHL15 is a challenge for me. I enjoy the challenge, but NHL14 will be a gentler introduction to the series for people who are coming into the game cold.