Lets get the facts out of the way with first. EA’s NHL 15 is a disaster, in my review I gave it a 6.5 overall and a 9.0 for gameplay. Now for my opinion, the 6.5 overall stands since it is a decent, not good product but I refuse to stick by the 9.0 for gameplay, it just isn’t there. The gameplay is more of a 7.5-8 range, it’s very good but still has some annoying points to it such as the goaltending and collision physics.
Another thing I failed to mention is penalties, and this has become clearer as time goes on and I continue to play the game, the penalty system on this game is flawed, and it is maddening at points. The collision system and penalty system go hand and hand here because accidental collisions do not get called for penalties, which is fine, however when there is a collision and it happens at a time where the puck is going to the guy being hit, the lack of an interference penalty is infuriating at points, particularly since the computer gets away with blasting your net minder all of the time without a goalie interference call. Meanwhile if you hit their goalie it is a penalty every single time. The inconsistencies of the penalties between human and CPU is enough to drive a nun to drink, it just gets old and repetitive.
Overall as a whole EA just fails to capture the greatness that was NHL coming over from the PS3 and Xbox 360, and it really is disappointing, because EA had a good thing going for itself with this series. But with the improvements in Madden and the flop that was NHL 15 it seems like the roles have been reversed. EA has a new guinea pig on its hands. And this is bad news.
Why is it bad news? Well unless EA Canada does something drastic to NHL 16, I think the whole series will be in major league trouble. NHL 15 did so much bad for the series in terms of public perception, not just for the game but also the team building the game who had to wait to reveal that NHL 15 would be lacking so many parts of the game, that the development team at EA is no longer trusted. And personally I think that EA really dropped the ball here in terms of how they relayed the information to its customer base, as a fan and a person, I would have much preferred them being up front about the games short comings well ahead of release, at least the company could have avoided the PR disaster that followed. And I don’t think the last minute switch helped their sales any, in fact it probably lost them half of their pre-orders.
As if the release wasn’t enough of a kick to the balls, EA had the nerve to make a promotion that something big was coming to the game in December, only to find out it was a Patrick Roy HUT card, I mean seriously? For those like me that do not play Hockey Ultimate Team, this was nothing but a slap in the face, surely it was promoted in a HUT related article, but this was way over promoted considering the fact that the rest of the game could use as much help as it can get and they have the gall to do that? Did they think that this would help the PR the game is getting? I mean sure the HUT players were probably pretty happy, but for those who stick to other modes, it did nothing but infuriate us since we realize that this game could be better, and EA went out and did this in their cash making mode and stiffed the rest of the fan base? That takes a big set EA. I personally cannot even defend that, even as a former moderator on your forums, that move lost me and left a bitter taste in my mouth.
It is quite easy to figure this out, it needs to come out with a game of the year candidate for this series. That would help save what appears to be a dying series. The NHL series suffered a lot of damage in 2014. Mainly with the way EA handled everything relating to game modes. That hurt consumer confidence more than anything else, the game itself as a whole plays well, and it a great foundation to build on and I believe EA will build on it. However EA really owes us royal fans who purchased the game a top notch product, EA’s hockey game has not been a sports game of the year contender since 2K’s hockey game left the scene back in 2010 with its NHL 2k11 offering.
EA has all the power to turn NHL into an outstanding game, it proved as such during the 2008-2010 time frame where the game was continually in the sports game of the year discussion on such sites as Operation Sports and PastaPadre. But since the fold of the 2k series the game just feels like it has been a marginal improvement each year, but certainly not to a point where it felt like it was worth the full $60/$70 (in Canada) price tag.
As a writer of video games, a long time player of video games (over two decades worth of gaming), and a consumer, this needs to be pointed out to EA. EA has a history of ruining its games when the competition folds. EA for some reason thinks it is okay to put less effort into its game when the competition folds or gets bought out. For example, its Madden NFL series, once EA bought the exclusive NFL license to make video games the game took an immediate hit in terms of quality. Not only did it take a hit but the team at EA Tiburon had not really made Madden really good until this past year in terms of gameplay. However there are still things in Madden that drive me insane, but that is another story.
The point I am trying to make with Madden is that with Madden 2005 the game was excellent and it had direct competition with NFL 2k5 (which was 2k’s NFL offering at the time) before it was forced to stop with the exclusive licensing deal. Madden took the hit for a lack of competition immediately as I just stated. However this attitude has trickled into the way EA has handled its NHL franchise since it has taken that same step back, without competition EA seems to stop pouring the required resources into their hockey game and this ultimately ended up hurting the game this year.
The thing about the lack of resources or care that hurts EA is its bottom line. I bet you that if EA put as much money into the game as they do their digital revenue stream (ultimate team if you will), they would not only sell more copies of the games, but they would also generate more revenue from their ultimate team modes since more players will end up buying the games which in itself is revenue, and add the fact that half or more of them will probably pump in more into ultimate team, it is really a win/win for the company and gamers.
And this does work well, look at a game like MLB the Show, the game only comes out on two consoles and it is a great game annually and it only seems to get better each year. Last year was predictable with the release of the PS4, and I think that MLB the Show is only scratching the surface of what it will be on PS4. And the game makes plenty of money too, which is where I think EA needs to look at itself and realize there is a lot of money to be made from game sales and digital revenue by selling virtual sports cards.
I know this kind of went away from hockey for a bit, but it needed to be done to hopefully point out to EA that making a great game can lead to a lot of money, and it is costing itself by seemingly putting in half of an effort into their sports games. The biggest loser of all of this is the NHL series as it stands.
If EA can bring itself to realize that great games can make millions of dollars (Grand Theft Auto comes to mind here) in sales, and with EA’s score on its ultimate team modes, EA could make far more money if they pump more resources into their games like Madden and NHL because people will buy great games and it doesn’t need to look too far for examples of great annual releases, their California neighbor at Sony San Diego is doing just fine with just one game under its control. That or the NBA 2k series. EA has the money to make it work for them, but do they have the balls to put that money up to make a better product all around on its sports line? That is what I will be watching moving forward.
The future of the NHL series to me depends on EA pumping in more resources for help, the game is on life support, and with no real improvement soon the series could die. Which would be a tragedy all around for hockey fans.