There’s a certain stigma that surrounds annual sport games. The biggest publisher behind this trend is EA Sports and its menagerie of licensed titles such as Madden and FIFA. Traditionally, developers add a handful of new features each year to make investing in the latest iteration a viable option, but this year’s NHL entry has implemented some more significant changes thanks to the extra power of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Fans get ready, because NHL 15 is set to deliver the best experience the franchise has seen to-date.
NHL 15 will be the franchise installment that EA Sports is releasing onto the next (now current) generation platforms, and with it comes some substantial changes. The game was present during E3 2014 this year, where I was given some hands-on time with the forthcoming product, as well as a brief presentation highlighting what’s new. For those wondering, there’s quite a bit of change under the hood that’s taken the studio quite sometime to develop and implement.
As the demo kicked off and the main menu popped up on-screen, my opponent selected the Montreal Canadiens, I chose the New York Rangers. As the match-up began to load, the NBC logo appeared and the new broadcast team (consisting of Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick and Eddie Olczyk) introduced both teams. The commentary team actually appeared on the television with an image of the in-game arena appearing behind them, courtesy of green screen technology. It was at this point that the two began informing players about the unique history behind each organization and detailed what kind of relationship the Habs and Blue Shirts have had in the past.
After the initial introduction and preview to the impending game, Emrick and Olczyk introduced the goalies that would be starting in net that night. Both Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price were suited up, and after watching the goalies get prepped the athletes took to center ice. As the referee presented a puck, the players got prepared for the black disc to drop. The developers watched on, and pressure began to mount as the realization hit me that I had to live up to my Canadian lineage. The tension was palpable… and then the puck dropped.
As it did so, it was immediately apparent that EA Sports had moved mountains to upgrade its dated physics system. Hiring on a scientist that actually worked with particle accelerators, the studio received the final layout for the puck’s new physics system 8 months after contracting the man to do it. The formulas and algorithms were then implemented into NHL 15 and the end result is a puck that reacts exactly how it should in real life.
After the puck bounced off the ice during the initial face-off, I began to cycle for it and won the draw. It was during this time that I realized just how great this game looks. The PlayStation 4 build we demo’ed has been crafted beautifully. The ice gained divots as skates glided over its surface and the jerseys of each player fluttered while they picked up speed during an offensive rush. There’s no question that this is the best looking entry the series has seen thus far, but it was more than just that.
The crowd, arenas, and the music leading up to puck drop made for a very convincing atmosphere. There are 9,000 uniquely designed fans that can be found within every rink, and they all perform unique actions. Away teams now have fans in attendance, the crowd will hold up signs featuring the name of beloved players, and some are decked out from head-to-toe in merchandise specific to their favorite team.
As I broke up the wing, the fans in Madison Square Garden began to cheer. The offensive rush didn’t look too dangerous, but I crashed the net with Martin St. Louis as hard as I could, placing the puck right on the line behind Montreal’s Carey Price. As P.K. Subban rushed to make a defensive play and get the puck out of the danger zone, New York’s Carl Hagelin beat him to it and tapped it in. They were going wild in New York, as Subban slammed his stick on the ice in a fit of rage.
I’d taken the lead with very little time left in the third period, securing victory in the process, and in that moment I let out a cheer and fist pump that turned the heads of other journalists at the booth. It was only after doing so that I realized that I was just as enamored with NHL 15 as I was when watching an actual hockey game on TV. EA Sports has gone all out with this year’s iteration of its annual NHL franchise, and those that adore the sport seem to be in for quite the treat.
NHL 15 will be arriving on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, and PS4 on September 9, 2014 in North America and September 12, 2014 in Europe.
Follow Riley on Twitter @TheRileyLittle.