Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the bottom of the 9th and we have a barnburner here at the ballpark! In a tie game, with a runner on 2nd, EA Sports is up to bat. He digs into the box… the pitch…! And it’s a weak ground ball to short and he’s out at first.
In fairness… It wasn’t a strikeout. They at least made contact.
Let’s begin by me asking for forgiveness from my obviously bored readers for a sports analogy from a different game than the topic of the review. I truly have no excuse for my actions.
I’m going to open my discussion on the game with how the game opens to the user. An oddly structured, casserole of a menu is presented that ends up having the same (basic) options that many sports-sims do. Your franchise mode is there, creating a prospective player and, of course, quick play to just play once with a friend and call each other turd-gobblers.
EA did something with this game, at the beginning of the experience, which many of these types of games have failed to do in the past – an actual tutorial walk through of the controls in an in-game fashion. Sure, 2k and other developers have thrown in a warm-up game for you to munch on while the game itself installs but, if we’re honest with each other, how advantageous is that? You’re playing as an entire team is these warm ups. With no real guidance or direction, a mass trial-and-error process ensues. Many of the controls aren’t even going to be messed with in those types of introductions. Ultimately, you know you’re not posting up as Steph Curry, or King James – why even try the shoulder buttons – just pull up for a jumper and kill some time.
What EA does is going to be an underappreciated piece of this game. The first time a user logs into the game (take advantage, it won’t come back) in any mode, you are thrown into a one-man crash course of game mechanics. The nice gentleman comes onto the empty-arena speakers, “Now we’re going to see if you can perform a Slap-shot!” Condescending? Sure. But what do you care?! It’s teaching you how to truly play the game successfully and maximize your experience. It even delves into details that I had forgotten were possible with NHL style games. Shot and even pass placement are major focuses along with developing a feel for how a player moves on the ice. It teaches everything about the game’s wacky controls – which we can talk about later. It may be therapeutic.
Like many people that play sports games with an odd combination of “devoted” and “casually” as I do, the main mode of EA Sports’ new project, NHL 15 is the “Live the Life” mode. Sure, this game (nor any other sports game) will not and likely never will live up to the single player mode of the now legendary MLB The Show.
It does however make a fairly solid attempt at The Show’s model and player creation. A start-as-an-amateur timeline is put into place for your place where you initially choose your junior hockey path of WHL or some other garbage Canadian league. The process is appealing and challenging to build a career and, to some degree, dictate how well you’ll do in the draft.
A situation presents itself to give you no attachment to this team at all. With The Show, success came from the fact that you could be placed at the AA level as a baseball player, and actually care how that team does during the season. Because, hey, who knows how long you’re going to be there? In this bizarre, wildly impersonal situation, you’re put onto a team with 3 games to play in the regular season. Yet, seemingly, the ENTIRE season is based on those 3 games. You decide the fate of the Regina Camel-Toes or whatever the hell team you decide to hitch your wagon to. If (god forbid) you win two or even three of those games, you’ll likely be put into the playoffs for the league you chose – which I guarantee has a playoff trophy named after a Canadian with a goofy name.
That’s neither here nor there. Once you’ve made your way through the handful of games you have for the team you don’t care about, you start the draft process. You’ll do a mock couple of questions for teams where you’re slated and there will be only one good answer of the four choices. Fuck up if you don’t want to play for that team, ultimately.
We can spend some time talking about actual game play as I know most reading have probably been yelling about. If I were asked to sum it up in a word, it would be “eh”. Mostly because of the gameplay itself, but partially as a respectful vernacular not to our Canadian brothers.
Ultimately, the main complaint I have is the lack of control with the user’s skater. Skating is this odd amorphous blob of tough-to-change velocity and direction. In our Live the Life mode, the CPU (at least on the low setting I’m playing on) assists with ice position. An arrow pops up under the user to guide them. If I were to guess.. I’ve been in good position about 4% of the time. So, most of the time I’m skating to wherever the hell I’m supposed to be and over-shoot it due to the lack of control you seem to have.
The basic controls also have a few flaws. Namely, and not to rant, but WHY THE FUCK ISN’T THE A OR X BUTTON DEVOTED TO PASSING!!! This is how sports games have existed since the damn pilgrims landed and Normandy or whatever. Instead, it’s a right shoulder button and doesn’t (initially) mold well with the game. In fairness, I’ve put 10 to 12 hours into the game on an overall level thus far, and I have gotten used to it. When I go back to NBA 2k, I will likely throw a fit. Article forthcoming.
I digress. Back to our “Live the Life” Mode. The menu itself in the mode is somewhat of a confusing hodge-podge. There’s a calendar centered at the top, but only for the coming week. Surrounding it is some stats and reactions to previous performances of your player. The bottom right panel of the menu is the one I want to focus on. This is where you are able to see Fan, Management, Team and Family reaction to recent performances and public interactions made by your player. Sport-sims have done this, or a version of it, forever. You answer a question correctly in an interview, fans and management like you. Perform well on the ice, team likes you. But why is family one of these categories? I haven’t yet reached the sub-game mode where I return home from the arena at night to a house with 3 screaming toddlers and a wife claiming “YOU DON’T DO ANYTHING TO HELP ME WITH THIS!!” But again, I’m only 10 to 12 hours in.
One of the other modes is an interesting idea of playing as a “legend”. This, on the surface, is a decent idea. Let’s allow users to go back and play as players they remember watching or, even, learn about players they have heard other generations talking about. However, there are three… THREE.. players available to play as. Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemeux and Cammi Granato. Three. Not thirty. Three. A wise woman once told me, “Hey! Go wake up your grandfather, we’re going to Perkins.” EA Sports should have had someone give them this advice. Not because they necessarily needed delicious pancakes, but because they needed something else to do instead of putting a half-assed effort into what could have been a GREAT game mode.
The final mode I’ll cover briefly is what is traditionally known as franchise mode in other sports-sims. It’s labeled as “Be a GM Mode” in NHL 15. An interesting take on the franchise cookie cutter and more for the veteran players and hard-core hockey fans. It caters to the NHL guru’s who know all 30 rosters and how to build an empire with those pieces. The one (and fairly substantial) problem is the fact that you don’t have the ability to play, or sim, a full NHL length 82 game season. You are able to select 25 games as a maximum length and decrease by incriments of 5 if necessary. This leads me to believe one thing – The game mode wasn’t meant for gameplay at all. It was truly meant to build and sim. Draft and wait. Trade and cross-your-fingers. When you read “Be a GM Mode” on the menu, take the advisement (not good, bad or otherwise) that that’s EXACTLY what you’ll get.
The gameplay along pregame and postgame scenes obviously look stunning. No game that doesn’t even makes it to the shelves these days. But don’t buy it thinking you’re walking into a flawless hockey sim. The game, across most chains and smaller sellers, has lowered from the opening $60 to $50. However, as fun as it is at some points, I’m not putting a stamp of approval down for that price. I, as it should be noted, am a much, MUCH bigger basketball fan than a hockey fan. So, NHL 15 and its intricacies are subject to be lost. But for the common man, wait for one more price drop. Like I said, EA Sports didn’t strike out, but they didn’t knock it out of the park.