Hockey has gone next-gen.
“NHL 15,” which was released by EA Sports on Sept. 9 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as well as the older consoles, has stepped its game up when it comes to the on-ice action.
The graphics are astounding for a sports title. The action looks almost exactly as it does on TV, especially when playing from the True Broadcast camera angle. Even the fans are far more detailed and varied, making for a fun experience to look at crowd reactions on instant replay after a goal.
The integration of NBC Sports broadcast elements and the commentary team of Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk — and analyst Ray Ferraro — really make each game feel like the real NHL product on weeknights and Sunday afternoons.
Backing up the pretty graphics are some incredible in-game physics. The puck reacts to everything now — these aren’t canned animations. The same goes for the players, who can wind up in some fun pileups.
Arenas are more accurate now, too. The Garden looks like the Garden — although unique reactions to goals and chants aren’t there yet.
But — and this is a big but — there just isn’t a ton else to do compared with past years’ editions of the long-running franchise, at least on the newer consoles.
The next-gen game released without fan-favorite modes, such as EA SPORTS Hockey League or GM Connected, which allowed for a full team of user-controlled players online. Also MIA are smaller modes Winter Classic, player editing, creating teams and more. The few included major modes (Be a Pro, Be a GM, Hockey Ultimate Team) all are stripped down compared with past iterations.
EA has said it will be patching in Online Team Play, a cooperative online mode, in a later update. So, that’s something.
Whether to buy this game for PS4 or Xbox One will come down to how much the relative lack of modes means to you. If you don’t mind the stripped-down elements outside of the actual on-ice gameplay, “NHL 15” is a must-own hockey experience. If you’ll miss EASHL and the Winter Classic, you might want to wait until next year when, presumably, much of these modes will be restored.