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NHL 15 features graphical overlays for visual elements like the scoreboard, and they do a great job of making the game look like an NHL on NBC broadcast

NHL 15 benefits greatly from a complete overhaul in presentation, which the series has sorely needed for years. EA Canada brings the full weight of a partnership with NBC Sports to bear in both the visual and audio departments, to impressive effect.
 
I support EA Canada's choice to record Emrick and Olczyk's pregame introductions on video; it's a better solution than Madden's uncanny-valley-tastic virtual models of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. The downside of that decision is that you can only record so many different segments — more often, I saw generic introductions about rivalries and "passion for the game" than matchup-specific comments.
 
The single-player career mode Be A Pro is similarly stripped. Instead of proving yourself in the minors, getting feedback from coaches on how to improve, and fighting your way up the depth chart, you’re simply placed right on the top line, and play major minutes from Day 1 as a rookie with ordinary attributes. It’s utterly implausible. What’s worse, for some reason the ability to simulate the action between your shifts has been removed. When not on the ice, you’re forced to watch all the action from a lousy viewpoint on the bench. This nearly doubles the amount of time it takes to play a game, and it’s extremely boring.

 
Really, the one thing that may go the furthest toward tying together NHL 15's illusion of "this is real hockey" is the presentation. Featuring a commentary team of NBC Sports' Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro, fans would be hard-pressed to ask for a better line-up calling the game (except for you, everyone in Canada). The beginning of each match-up starts with a "live broadcast" that genuinely makes each game seem more important than it really is.
 
In theory the idea is fantastic, but it can lead to some awkward situations. Players sometimes crash into each other so violently it's improbable for them to be able to shoot back to their feet so quickly without some strain. The puck sometimes fires into weird directions after making contact with elements on ice, and it often picks up speed without the proper amount of required momentum. This can be frustrating in games against the computer, which is often better at predicting puck movement. This can sometimes feel like a cheat, but the AI is so bad at defensive positioning that it almost balances itself out. Sweaters also sway in strange ways, flopping in the wind even while players remain perfectly still. While the new physics system can take some time to get used to, and it has a few quirks, I liked how it replicated the unpredictability of real hockey games.
 
Possibly the best way to jump up in skill is by hopping online, a sort of trial by fire experience. If you are a bit inexperienced with the game, you will no doubt get rocked early on; take for example my painful 11-0 loss. The talent level online is predictably very high as folks know exactly what they are doing and how to tear apart every little thing you try. Luckily, playing the game is fun enough that a crushing defeat does not discourage you but only makes you want to continue playing more in order to get better and eventually be as good as the big boys/girls that are destroying you.
 
As much as it pains me to say it as a longtime fan of the series, NHL 15 is a disappointment. It lays a good foundation for the future with enhanced physics and an improved presentation, but it's still mostly potential, and there's still a lot of work to be done in terms of how players interact with the puck and each other. Beyond that, the modes feel like a major step back, with Be a Pro being cut down to pre-2011 levels and pillars like EASHL missing the cut entirely. I had really high hopes for this year's version, but those hopes have been largely dashed. I guess NHL's coronation will have to wait another year. 
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