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All improvements makes NHL 15 look and play incredibly lifelike

I sit on the bench after coming off my opening shift on my first away game. ‘Don’t turn the puck over’ the coach’s feedback says. I keep an eye on the puck, only 1.42 minutes into the first period when ‘it’ happens. Their enforcer runs my goalie then throws a punishing hit on my top defenseman. As a power forward/enforcer I can not let this go unanswered. I push circle and over the boards I go locking onto their star forward who is coming down the wing fast carrying the puck. With a flick of the right stick I hit him, sorry crush him against the boards. He stays down injured and their enforcer rushes me. The gloves are off, both swinging wildly, but I throw an uppercut knocking him out. I get escorted to the penalty bin while the home crowd boo’s me. Five for fighting and a game misconduct for cross checking.
 
Although its gameplay is fast, realistic, addictive and accessible, NHL 15 has managed to leave myself and many others aggravated and wanting. The main reason for this is its lack of fan favourite modes like EA Sports Hockey League (6-on-6 online team play), Online Team Play (one-off games played with and against real people), Live the Life (a light-RPG flavoured career mode), and Online Shootouts. Those are just a handful of the missing modes and features that loom over the series’ first next-gen outing and will undoubtedly affect its sales. Joining them are missing pre-season games, a removed NHL 94 tribute mode and eliminated practice drills.
 
That blog post offers no mea culpa on this, mind you. At best, it sidesteps the issue by referring to NHL 15 as "the foundation to deliver next-generation hockey experiences to you for the years to come." The points on which this foundation is built? The visual upgrade afforded by the jump to new consoles, more realistic puck physics, and an improved broadcast presentation. All fine points, I guess, but none make up for either what's missing, or what's remained unchanged. Impressive graphics aside, the solid on-ice gameplay you have come to know and love from the series is intact.  On offense, you cannot simply look to sprint down ice for the solo breakaway goal each shift.  NHL 15 favors smart offensive strategy and rewards you for setting up the play.  The computer will adapt to your tactics so your attack will have to evolve.  If you caught a goal or two on a one timer from the slot, then you can expect more defenders in the slot on your next offensive possession.

 
All these improvements makes NHL 15 look, and play, incredibly life-like. That’s what I want from a sports game, and since I play the genre very little, I welcomed this one with open arms. The behaviour of the players is something I especially enjoyed, since they react as I’d expect actual people would to the on-ice action unfolding around them. For instance, there was a time I accidentally shot the puck into my own goal net, and the player I was controlling began whacking his stick against the ice in complete frustration, while his team-mates off ice looked really angry (in which case I was glad they weren’t on the ice). It’s the little touches.
 
All in all, despite some bugs and AI issues, NHL 15 can still be a fun game to play. If you’re a hockey fan and you’ve traded in your last-gen console for a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One, the on-ice experience can be good enough to come back to; in many ways, it’s a similar experience to how NHL 14 played on that console, but with added physics. But in order for the gameplay to be truly great - and live up to the expectations of fans of the franchise going back for many years now - the development team will need to spend time looking at their AI on both the opposing side and on your own team, as well as those goalies, to bring the intelligence of the game up to the level of the real-life sport. Until then, NHL 15 looks the part but doesn’t always play to the real thing.
 
Be a Pro mode is where I sunk most of my time playing NHL 15, as I liken it to a sports-based RPG. Here you create your own character - you can even select the gender! - and upgrade their skills using experience gained by playing through the 2014-15 season. In-match you’ll receive feedback from the couch based on your performance, which can help you improve your overall rating as a player, which will further your chance of becoming a star player. Maybe you’re the one, and if it works for you, then godspeed. You are accessing powers and information that I can’t think of, let along exercise, and I salute you. I can say that there’s very little that’s as thrilling as skirting around the edge of the goal and barely tapping the puck in right behind the goalie. My little hockey player skates around in front of me and I yell “yessssss” and we all have a great time together. But the rest of the time I’m tipping and tapping and not managing this system very well. I’m not good at becoming the kind of machine that NHL 15 needs me to be.
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