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NHL 15 still faces an insurmountable deficit

After taking an extra year to prepare, EA Sports finally released its popular NHL franchise to the next-gen community in the form of NHL 15. Touting new puck and player physics as well as an overhauled presentation system, EA Sports claimed that NHL 15 was going to be the NHL video game that fans have wanted. Unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case.
 
The option to run a connected franchise with friends via Be a GM is completely gone and players cannot choose more than one team to run during the course of a season. So, if you had plans of running a season with your friends (or, in my case, son), toss that thought completely out the window because you can’t do it. Additionally, the ability to draft your own players )you know one of the primary functions of being a GM) is absent from NHL 15 as the game instead auto-drafts for you. And on the same coin, Be a Pro has been inherently gimped from last gen iterations with the in-depth RPG-like Live the Life mode absent from the game, as is the ability to simulate between shifts you aren’t on the ice. Instead, you get a pretty standard, albeit fun, individual career mode and the ability to create a female skater. So I guess there is that.
 
From the get go, the game looks gorgeous and is what you’d want a current generation hockey game to look like. Cutscenes get a little framey, and the cloth physics on the jersey don’t look perfect, but otherwise the presentation is great. The crowds are among the best put together that I’ve seen in a sports game. They’ve also brought in the NBC commentary and presentation. The presentation is an upgrade, although I do think Doc Emmerick sounds a little sleepy– some commentators do have a harder time bringing across the emotion in their voice when they are recording lines in a studio and it shows here.

 
The decision has EA eating crow. In a blog post on August 19th, the company perhaps foresaw how the gaping hole in one of its best known games might sit with its longtime fans. “Decisions like this are never easy, nor do we take them lightly,” said Producer Sean Ramjagsingh.”We know that there is a passionate group of fans that loves these modes and is no doubt disappointed with this news; but we also know that this same group of fans expects a high quality gameplay experience above anything else. We’re a franchise built on quality, so launching these modes without confidence in their quality wasn’t something that we were willing to do.”
 
Finally, “Vision AI” is on the list of enhancements to NHL 15 but it’s proven to be a mixed bag so far in time with the full game. It should be noted, for this review, that I’m playing the game on All-Star difficulty with Hardcore style and no slider tweaks from the default settings. As mentioned in my demo impressions, the AI was simultaneously overly brilliant and deficient at times over the course of a game. This is largely the case in the retail version as well, although the CPU AI seems to have fewer problems negotiating the neutral zone on attack; they’re more willing to dump the puck in and chase it if there are no clear options to skate into the zone.
 
The production values have gotten a boost, too. EA Sports has partnered with NBC Sports, the NHL's predominant US television partner, bringing along its commentating crew of Mike "Doc" Emrick and Eddie Olczyk along with TSN analyst Ray Ferraro, while also incorporating the graphics and sounds that accompany an NBC broadcast. Fans of the series will also appreciate the attention to detail offered to the arenas, many of which now feature their actual names, including Madison Square Garden in New York, and is tuned to their specific lighting styles. Never has a hockey video game looked or sounded so good, but it would be nice to have goal songs included -- and the post-game naming of three stars of the game. Some serious bugs also plague the on-ice experience. During my time with the game, one backhand that sailed over the net was counted as a goal, a referee blew a shootout dead while I was in mid-shot, and I witnessed a puck gravitate through the net to a defender's stick (so much for realistic puck physics).