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Starting with those upgraded visuals, certainly NHL 15 on current-gen consoles is the best looking hockey game made to date

I love hockey more than any other sport, so the arrival of EA’s annual NHL franchise, which has consistently been praised as among the best sports titles for the year, is a great time of year for me. NHL 15 marks the series’ debut on the newest generation of consoles, so there’s a lot riding on this one. Does NHL 15 score on the breakaway, or did the leap to the Xbox One and PS4 send the series to the penalty box? Read on to find out.
 
Right away, NHL 15 gives us a new look with the addition of NHL on NBC elements, including announcers Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk, as well as literally everything they could fit in to make it feel like a true broadcast. Heck, the developers even added Achievements/Trophies for things like playing a game in the “True Broadcast” camera angle or watching everything, from the opening video featuring the announce team to every cutscene that plays in between faceoffs.
 
The upgrades to player faces and models are readily apparent the moment you boot up the game. Arenas look excellent, and the ice scrapes and deforms with terrific realism. Yet there are problems, too. Despite the uptick in model fidelity, animations often look stilted and awkward as players transition from move to move. It’s not that much worse than what you’ve seen in previous NHL games, but it’s more noticeable given how clear and hyper-realistic the on-ice action looks now. 

 
An exquisitely detailed goalie flipping up in an awkward spin maneuver to get back to his feet isn’t made less weird by how good the model itself looks. If anything, it makes it weirder. You’ll see a lot of generic, not-great-looking player faces too, especially once you start looking beyond the top players in the league. And for some reason, jerseys have been given an added coat of physics that makes them swish around in ways that make no sense. It’s one thing to see a jersey flap as a player goes full-bore down the ice. It’s quite another to have that flapping take place while a player slowly bends down in anticipation of a face-off. Players will have the ability to react based on the puck’s positioning, and it’s projected positioning. The players on the ice will always look to be in the right position in all three zones of the ice, depending on what their specific role is on the team.
 
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 AI line-mates. 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. 
 
Back then, it seemed like NHL 15 was going to be a content-filled home run, which would take advantage of new technology’s ability to create more realistic puck physics and more human-like hockey players. It wasn’t until two months later that shit hit the fan and word came out about the game’s significantly reduced amount of modes and options. And, while all of the talk and hatred certainly got me worried, I knew deep down that I’d still enjoy the game because its E3 demo was so fantastic. That’s something which ended up being true, because now that I’ve put a good amount of time into the final product, I can confidently say that I’ve had fun with it and that I’ll go back to it for more digitized NHL action. However, I’d be lying if I said that it ended up being everything I’d dreamed about, even with its missing modes taken out of the equation.