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NHL 15 is what EA Sports is calling Real Puck Physics

Anyone that has played a sports game has undoubtedly been hit with the passing comment of, “Oh, you are playing a game. I thought you were watching it live.” I’ve always found this commentary to be somewhat silly. I clearly remember playing NHL 2K on the Dreamcast in my grandmother’s living room on Christmas day and her being astonished that were playing the hockey game instead of watching it. As much as I’ve played the games though, I’ve never felt that if I walked into a room, I would mistake a video game for reality. That is, until NHL 15 started up.
 
The game on ice is pretty good and largely unchanged from last year. I have concerns with the game difficulty though. The CPU is a little too good at everything, this is the first year where I had to mess around with the gameplay sliders (which changes how the game plays and how good the CPU is). I had difficulty finding a sweet spot. I’ve always thought that EA should offer a percentage difficulty option instead of locking you into 5 different difficulty options. Not everyone is at the same level, and if your skill level doesn’t fall exactly into one of those 5 difficulty levels the game either becomes too frustrating or too easy depending on which difficulty level you try.
 
In terms of how the players look, NHL 15 boasts the most realistic looking players the series has ever seen. Most of the league’s players have had their faces scanned into the game, and look nearly identical to their real-life counterparts. But for how well the game plays and looks, there is a lot wrong with NHL 15, and it mostly deals with features omitted from the game. Also new in NHL 15 is something EA Sports is calling "Real Puck Physics." The company redesigned the way the puck plays on the ice, with both the puck and ice surface now being "live." This means the puck will play differently every time it's touched -- just as on actual NHL ice -- taking weird bounces, hops or even speeding up and slowing down. It's a welcome addition to the game, though it can lead to some frustrating goals that just bounce over the netminder and into the net.

 
On the other end of the ice, the CPU AI does not seem to be as deficient at coverage when you’re on the attack; perhaps too strong in this area, actually. The AI will still do strange things like bunch up four defenders in the center of the ice at the blue line when you carry the puck into the zone, but once they get that weirdness out of their system, they are quite proficient at covering your teammates in the zone and shutting down open lanes to scoring. Combined with how the new puck physics make possession a sometimes-fleeting thing, the AI defense can at times be smothering as you’re trying to establish your offense.
 
So will the donnybrook over NHL 15 translate into lower sales for EA? It seems likely, although permanent damage to the franchise seems unlikely, especially considering the game’s only serious competitor, NHL 2K, folded in 2011. A price cut, a focus on getting updates out quickly and a legitimate apology will have long-time fans of the NHL franchise forgetting EA’s current offenses by the time NHL 16 rolls around next fall. EA’s problems with NHL 15 will go down as a minor penalty, not a major infraction. The slightly modified skill stick still gives you the opportunity to dazzle crowds and breeze past defenders with a few new moves, but don't expect much support from your A.I. linemates. Playing with these disinterested pylons is like playing with a team full of Dany Heatleys, who are more than willing to get into scoring position but offer no support along the boards, rarely recognize when it's time to break out of the defensive end, and struggle to defend the backside from cross-ice passes that lead to one-timers.
 
The final strength found in the game is the large amount of customization available for the gameplay itself. Whether you want to adjust the penalties called, game difficulty, or choose from a large number of camera angles to be used in-game, NHL 15 allows you to make the game your own. If you wish to play against your friend and spend the majority of the game laying huge hits on one another, simply modify the rules and have fun. Some of the camera angles available may not be the most ideal for playing (such as the True Broadcast angle) but they are interesting choices nonetheless and it allows each person to find what they are most comfortable with. Perhaps if less time was spent making this moments look nice and more assigned to including the components we reasonably expected to see then NHL 15 would a lot more interesting. As it stands, it doesn't feel finished. The matches themselves remain largely excellent, it's just a shame that there are so few ways to enjoy and approach them.
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