NHL 15 rumours and gameplay videos already have me worried

nhl15-iginla-colEven if GM Connected and EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL) weren’t rumoured to be absent from NHL 15, I’d still be concerned.

Last year’s marketing lead-up to NHL 14 saw the promotion of GM Connected and NHL 94 Anniversary Mode months before the game’s release. Here we stand in 2014, three weeks away from NHL 15’s release without so much of a peep about whether or not two of the most popular game modes will be making a return. Following confirmation of a downloadable demo for NHL 15 earlier this week (it’ll drop on August 26 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4), some bleak news on the topic surfaced.

According to images from the back of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game boxes on Costco’s US website, online play is restricted to two players, as opposed to the 12 players found on the Xbox 360 version of the game. Both EASHL and GM Connected have offered spots for 12 players to compete simultaneously over Xbox Live or PlayStation Network in the past, so not labeling that capability on the next-gen packaging makes it seem likely that neither of those modes are in the game.

EA says those two game modes don’t have a player base the size of Hockey Ultimate Team (a hockey trading card mode, complete with an economy of spending real money on card packs in hopes of getting a rare card), but in my experience they’re the modes that foster the greatest sense of community. You can’t help but form bonds when you have six people controlling their own created-player in EASHL, and doing the same thing in GM Connected with real-world teams, divisional rivalries on the line and four rounds of playoffs to look forward to is incredibly rewarding as well.

Without those two game modes, I might second guess purchasing a shiny new NHL 15 with new features and a polished presentation, but come September 9, that might not even be what’s on sale.

Right at the 3:14 mark of one of the two gameplay trailers that EA Sports released this week, you can hear Ray Ferraro say something along the lines of “Nieto — good air-time on this pass. Flat when it lands, and the shooter has a walk-in.” Broken calls like this aren’t uncommon — though they are rare to hear from the mouth of someone of Ferraro’s caliber — and there’s a big difference between broken calls in real life and the call in this trailer. The difference has been around long before we knew that EA Sports  revamping its play-by-play commentary team for NHL 15.

When a colour commentator delivers a broken call, it’s usually because they were in the middle of providing a little bit of background about a player’s history or tendencies when something more interesting happened on the ice and they reacted accordingly, switching thoughts mid-sentence. In this clip, it’s supposed to be commentary over replay footage where Ferraro’s already had a few seconds to analyze the goal before walking the viewer through Nieto’s thought process as he scores. Yet Ferraro stumbles over his words and starts talking about a saucer pass that Nieto never made.

It’s nonsensical calls like this from Greg Simpson and Gary Thorn that drove fans of the NHL games up the wall for the last six years, and if EA Sports is willing to feature sloppiness like this in a gameplay trailer mere days before the retail disc is likely to go gold, I’ve little confidence that NHL 15′s much-hyped presentation revamp will be anything but a let-down.

In the developer’s meager defence, overhauling the entire commentary system must have been enormously difficult to execute under the condensed development cycle that annualized sport simulators face. That’s also a likely excuse for why we won’t be seeing two of the most network intensive game modes make the jump to the next generation consoles, especially considering the rough edges they’ve displayed on the older consoles, where EA Sports has had a few years to try and polish things up. But short dev cycle or not, next-gen debut or not, what my eyes and ears are picking up from the NHL 15 marketing has me the least excited for the franchise in years.

An EA Community Manager posted to the EA Forums assuring players that a game modes reveal is forthcoming next week, but until then, and until I get my hands on the demo at the end of the month, I’ll be drastically checking my expectations.



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