For years, EA Sports' NHL series has become the go-to favorite for fans everywhere – and not just because it's the only hockey game available. The developers made the game feel just as natural as the sport it's based upon, whether you're rushing for the goal, sending someone to the ice with a well-placed check or executing a one-timer to get the last second score in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This year is no exception, as EA intends to make its best hockey sim yet with NHL 15. Not only will the puck-slapping and body-checking return to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but it'll also step up its next-gen game on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
First, the team devoted itself to making the physics of the game more realistic. With the new 12 Player NHL Collision Physics, you'll feel every bone-crunching check and pass play that happens on the ice. That means no more awkward checks that look like they were phoned in from a mile away – if you hit someone on the side, they'll go careening into the boards like a Mack truck just hit them.
In addition, the puck movement will be just as realistic as ever. In the past, hockey games had a habit of the puck flying wildly past a goalie, or worse yet, into the opposing goal with no one to stop it. With NHL 15, however, the puck physics were rebuilt so it reacts more naturally than ever. If a player sends it flying towards the net, it'll either successfully find its way in, sail past or let out a "clang" as it hits the pole. No more weird stuff going on here.
The gameplay will also go the extra mile with the debut of the Superstar Skill Stick. Combined with the right analog stick controls introduced in previous NHL games, this will enable you to control your actions as you work your way up and down the ice. You'll be able to protect your puck like a pro, even as others attempt to push their way in. Passing will also be more superior than previous versions, as you can shoot to a teammate with ease, setting up a potential one or two-timer score the goalie won't see coming.
Some new dekes will be introduced, allowing you to fake out players. When going up against championship-caliber teams, every bit of skill helps.
The AI will be as razor-sharp as ever with the introduction of Vision, a new system where players will have better recognition around the puck. We saw a bit of this in action with a recent demo of the game, and saw players hustling for the loose puck better than ever before, especially during the playoffs. In addition, the goalie is more aware this time around, making scoring around him seem like a landmark achievement, rather than just a lucky break. Pass anticipation will play a bigger role, so your teammate is ready to do something with the puck, rather than blindly shrugging his shoulders.
Most of the modes we've come to expect from the game will make a return in NHL 15, including the ability to hop online and interact with players in a league, as well as the ability to challenge for Lord Stanley's Cup right from the get-go. This time, though, EA is working closely with NHL on NBC to make it more of a TV-style presentation, with pre-game information, post-game stats and season reports that will take you deeper into the sport than ever before. Die-hard fans are sure to love that – even if they're cheering for the Islanders; go Rangers!
Throw in a new presentation that makes players and crowds look better, and a new commentary team consisting of NBC's Mike "Doc" Emrick and Eddie Olczyk (alongside TSN analyst Ray Ferraro), and you have a game that could easily be EA Sports' best on ice to date. We'll see how well NHL 15 fares when it hits center ice on September 9th, 2014.
Be sure to check back for team strategies and other tips that will make you a master of the puck!