NHL 15 is a huge year for EA Sports' beloved hockey franchise. After eschewing a release on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One consoles last year to give the development team extra time to acclimate to the software, EA has made an all-out marketing push for its first next-gen release.
NHL 15 features a complete overhaul of gameplay physics, a revamped NBC-style production and numerous other aesthetic changes. The move also coincides with an overall de-emphasis on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles, which will be slowly phased into the video gaming ether.
For EA Sports, its NHL series moving to next gen is a huge step. In the previous console generation, NHL became a yearly staple known as much for its quality as its pervasiveness. Using Metacritic ratings as a barometer, each of the releases on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 received generally positive reviews.
As any longtime sports gamer knows, that's harder than it sounds. The first iteration of releases on new consoles are often ridden with bugs and errors—often to the point of unplayability. Post-release patches and minor alterations often help, but all it takes is bad word of mouth to sink a game's sales. With sales steadily rising throughout the past generation, it's safe to say pressure is palpable.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at the gameplay trailer released at Gamescom and highlight some of the noteworthy features.
If you come into a next-gen console expecting to see vast changes in aesthetics, NHL 15 should do more than enough to satiate your desires. EA Sports went to each of the league's 30 arenas to get re-renderings for the PS4 and Xbox 360 that should finally allow fans to feel like they're playing in their home.
Fan animations have also undergone a massive change. Game Informer reported there will be 9,000 different crowd models. That won't do much to help make the puck cross the ice more smoothly, but for those of us who have gotten used to wooden crowds filled with the same mix of six people, this is a nice change.
On the gameplay side, everything should take on a heightened sense of realism. Collision mechanics have been smoothed over thanks to vast changes in the physics engine. Players will now have the ability to experience secondary collisions, and each player is governed by the physics engine. The previous generation consoles did not have enough power for that to be possible.
Also changing is the way the puck reacts to the playing surface. In an interview with Mitch Dyer of IGN, EA producer Sean Ramjagsingh said the company hired a software engineer who worked on the Hadron Collider—a particle collider renowned for its power and scope. This person sounds much smarter than me.
"The puck physics is something we wanted to do for a long time," Ramjagsingh said. "Properly modeling the puck and having it behave appropriately…it can’t just bounce in any direction.”
No other major changes were announced for the gameplay, which might assuage some concerns. NHL 14 was an excellent game that made the most out of the previous consoles. A souped-up version of that made prettier by improved physics and better aesthetic surroundings sounds pretty awesome.
No EASHL, Maybe No Connected GM in Next-Gen Games?
While it's yet to be confirmed by EA Sports, the tea leaves are looking ominous for two of the most beloved features from the previous generation. Pastapadre took a screenshot of the back of the box for NHL 15 on next-gen consoles at the Costco website, which showed only up to two players can participate in an online game.
That would essentially confirm the death (for now) of EA Sports Hockey League, an online game mode in which players can form full squads and go head-to-head against teams with similar numbers. It was an online extension of My Player mode taken to the online world. The EASHL allowed players to create real teams with people they may or may not know and test themselves against the world.
Two-player online would indicate that EASHL was put on the cutting board for the next generation. (It will return for Xbox 360 and PS3.)
Pastapadre's article also notes that GM Connected may be on the outs as well. There is less circumstantial evidence for the excellent offline mode's departure, but speculation will continue to rise as EA fails to issue an official statement.
Superstar Skill Stick
The skill stick concept is nothing new to fans of the series. It's been hanging in the ether since NHL 07—also known as the first year EA Sports released a game on the Xbox 360 console.
Well, with a new generation comes a new skill stick. NHL 15 will introduce the superstar skill stick, which sounds a heck of a lot like a better version of what already existed.
"Use the Superstar Skill Stick with the right analog stick and True Performance Skating with the left to combine dekes and skating movement together," EA Sports wrote on its blog. "The left and right stick now act independently, allowing for more moves to embarrass the opposition."
Of course, the skill stick is fun because it allows you to fundamentally embarrass an opponent. Sometimes, when I was bored, I would go into the settings, take all the sliders down and then perform weird dekes just to see players fall flat. It was the And1 Mixtapes of hockey. I'm apologizing to no one for my lack of maturity geeking out over those moments.
Let's hope the increased realism doesn't kill our fun.
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