Every year EA Sports releases a highly anticipated new version of its FIFA, and Madden games – but it's not all about ball games. Featuring fully licensed teams, ever-improving graphics and frantic puck-action, EA has slowly improved its hockey sim since 1991, giving fans an ever-improving experience on the ice.
Thanks to perfectly honed gameplay and great graphics, NHL 15 brought armchair players closer to the ice than ever before – but there's still room for improvement. Despite being easy on the eyes, NHL 15 is on thin ice when it comes to everything from game modes to player editing, especially when compared to the publishers’ other top titles in its trophy cabinet. Here's what we'd like to see EA bring in its next offering.
Whatever the discipline, a season mode is the bread and butter of any self-respecting sports sim. Whether it’s F1, Moto GP, Madden or FIFA, a year-long mode offers the most immersive experience for gamers, and allows them to experience the ups and downs of a full campaign. EA has put a season mode into every NHL since 1991, but that all changed last year. In a move worthy of the sin-bin, EA threw out the franchise's most popular fixture – making it impossible to play a straightforward season as your favourite team. A dedicated season mode is on the top of our wish list for NHL 16.
Proper Be A Pro mode
Allowing players to make their mark on the ice and progress through the ranks, EA's Be A Pro mode was a highlight of previous NHL games. Giving gamers the chance to earn their stripes and progress from the lower leagues to the big time, Be A Pro took players on a eventful and often emotional journey. In NHL 15, EA kept the Be A Pro mode, but took away the magic. It's now too easy to make it to the big teams' starting sheets, and you don’t even receive feedback from your coach like previous NHL games. EA, bring back the grind in NHL 16 please!
Good gameplay is essential, but sports-sims need great presentation and graphics to back it up. Luckily, NHL 15 is one of the prettiest games around; players move naturally, jerseys flap realistically, and the ice looks cold enough to give you a chill. However, behind the perfectly rendered hockey action, certain members of the crowd provide a strong sense of déjà vu. EA has filled game crowds with duplicate fans, so it's often easy to spot doppelgängers in the stands. The worst bit? EA has even recycled animations, meaning it's possible to see people doing identical celebrations, too. We know from FIFA and Madden that EA can make crowds look amazing, so it needs to try harder in the next game.
Good commentary can make all the difference to a real hockey tie, and the same goes for virtual hockey. EA started off well, and for NHL the company hired Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Ray Ferraro, some of the hockey world's most renowned commentators. However, some of their performances leave a lot to be desired, and can often border on Destiny's infamous Peter Dinklage / “That wizard came from the moon!”. Emrick's insight has as much energy and enthusiasm as someone ordering a pizza, while the other commentators do little to add to what’s on screen. Worse still, EA hasn't completely ironed out the timing of the commentators either, so much of it is too early or too late. Not cool, and worth fixing this time round.
Making the edit a player better
When it comes to making yourself in a game, the more tools and options at your disposal the better. An accurate, in-game representation of yourself makes you run that bit faster, play that bit harder and tackle that bit better – because you feel like your own reputation is on the line. While some games bombard you with a wealth of skin tones, haircuts, facial features and eye colours, others like NBA 2K go one step further, and even let you map your own face to the game with some truly horrific results. In contrast, NHL 15 keeps things depressingly basic. In NHL 16, EA needs to beef up its customisation options and give players everything they need to make their own mini-me.
EA Sports Hockey League
One of the best bits about the NHL series, the EA Sports Hockey League or ESHAL allows you to create a player and take him to battle. However, rather than going it alone, ESHAL forces you to team up with five other hockey players for a thoroughly entertaining 6v6 battle. The bad news? EA made the terrible choice of axing the mode for NHL 15. The good news? EA says it should be back in NHL 16.
The NHL Winter Classic
A long-standing tradition of the NHL, the Winter Classic sees teams take part in a range of outdoor matches in January. An integral part of the season, the winter classic sees players take on their opponents outside – adding an extra element to the gameplay. EA faithfully reproduced this part of the season in earlier games, but bizarrely decided to bin it for NHL 15. Although it's not an essential part of the game, the Winter Classic mode adds an extra sense of variety and occasion to the season, and ought to feature in the new game.
Be a GM
Be a GM mode is NHL's version of Football Manager, but it's severely lacking on depth. Rather than a fully fledged manager mode, the Be a GM Mode in NHL 15 is a shallow affair and feels tacked on. Among the features dropped from the mode are pre-season games, so players can no longer get their team up to speed before the main event. We want a deep, rewarding Be a GM mode in NHL 16, and one that allows us to develop players and build our team. Thankfully, EA is already on the case; the company says gamers should be able to manage their players far more in the new game, and will even have to keep their morale up.
Live the Life mode
Sometimes sports simulations aren't all about sport – sometimes they're about what happens off the ice too. NHL 14 captured the entire hockey atmosphere perfectly, and features like Live The Life put players right in the skate tracks of their heroes. As well as doing well on the court, it forced players to take interviews off the court – resulting in a more encompassing experience. Despite being cut for NHL 15, most players still believe the Live the Life mode offered much more fun, and added weight of the rest of the game.
What's better than managing your own team and beating the CPU? Leading your team to victory against your friends, of course. That's exactly what NHL's GM Connected did. The now extinct mode let you prepare your players for the big game, and upped the stakes by pitting you against human opponents. Matches were a nail biting combination of luck, clever team management and precise tactics, and added another layer to the NHL experience. Unbelievably, EA decided to drop the mode for NHL 15. Its reasoning? Most players didn’t actually use the mode, and those that did tended not to play it much. After a huge public outcry and negative comments in reviews, it looks like EA may give in to public opinion and include it in NHL 16.