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EA Sports made a gross miscalculation in stripping many long-established modes from the new versions of NHL 15

NHL 15 simply does not reward good hockey strategy like it should. As a goalie, you're better off passing the puck through a crowd of bodies or sliding it down into the corner boards instead of freezing the play and taking a defensive zone face-off. As a defenseman, you'll notice that it's easier to hog the puck and skate end-to-end to gain the offensive zone instead of setting up a proper breakout or trying to dump and chase. As a forward, you'll have more success shooting from the side of the net or from just inside the blue line instead of passing to teammates who are waiting to hammer home a one-timer. Even as a coach, you'll open up more scoring opportunities by playing right-handed skaters on the left side of the ice and left-handed skaters on the right side of the ice, so that you can trigger the game's most powerful one-timer animations more easily.
 
Your own AI linemates struggle to provide forwards, backwards and lateral support whenever you have the NHL 15 puck. On the rare occasions where the AI does find a good spot to settle down for a one-timer, they'll often neglect to square their shoulders to the pass, which prevents them from getting any power behind their shots. EA's NHL series has had the worst AI in sports video game throughout the Xbox 360's lifespan, and NHL 15 has done nothing to reverse that reputation.
 
Such cuts speak to the tyranny of the annual sports game development cycle. If NHL 15 had been practically any other game, it would have been pushed back into 2015. But after what happened with NBA Live back in 2010, any kind of delay is basically a death sentence, and EA Canada knows it. Unfortunately, the alternative in this case is a half-finished game. I can't fault NHL 15's developers for focusing on getting the gameplay up to speed, but neither can I ignore the sheer amount of content that has been cut from this version. EA has announced extensive post-launch support for NHL 15, including the restoration of Online Team Play and the addition of a draft mode for Be a GM, which is a nice gesture. However, I can only really evaluate what's in the box, and what's currently in NHL 15's box feels almost more like an early access release on Steam than a finished $60 product. 

 
"Utilizing Vision A.I., skaters respond to the puck's current and projected position as they anticipate plays before they happen," a post on EA's site explains. "With over 2,500 points on the ice, players will always look to be in the correct position in all three zones based on their player specific roles. "In the offensive zone, players will react dynamically to their teammates' position, looking to open up potential passing and shooting lanes. Goal scoring forwards will look for soft spots in the defense and get to open shooting lanes."
 
In the past, the NHL franchise has been so full-featured that many players were buying the game for completely different reasons, leaving many modes unplayed each year. It deserves to be noted that; after stripping out a majority of last year’s game modes, there is still enough game left that is worth paying for. If you’ve never played an NHL game before, or haven’t played in a couple years, there is no better time to pick up and play. Seasoned veterans will be put off by the many missing and simplified game modes, and while the disappointment is understandable, taking a good look at NHL’s first stride on a new console serves as a stern retrospective on how much game we got for our money at the end of last gen. The choice to rebuild from square one on a new engine has resulted in a game that doesn’t necessarily stand up to last year’s on paper, but shows promise when taking into account the track record of EA Sports NHL. In the game of hockey, sometimes you have to make the counter-intuitive decision to take a big penalty to prevent a season-ending goal.
 
Unlike the PS4 and Xbox One versions, the last-gen NHL 15 is feature-complete, and the old A.I. is better than the new-gen counterparts when it comes to supporting puck handlers around the boards and initiating breakouts. Plus, it features the new broadcast commentary and player collision physics. That said, it doesn’t all fit together. While playing in the Memorial Cup, Doc Emrick referred to it as the Stanley Cup, and talked about my team advancing to the next round while I was hoisting the cup in celebration. Look for a full review in the coming week.
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