The lights are on
The NHL has surged in popularity over the past few years, repeatedly generating improved television ratings, but that same fortune has not been bestowed upon EA's eponymous series. Since its high water marks in NHL 09 and 10, the series has started to slip in comparison to the wider sports genre.
While the core gameplay still maintains some of its magic thanks to the brilliant control interface, once popular modes like Be A Pro and Be A GM no longer stand up to the benchmarks set by other series like NBA, FIFA, and Madden. It's time to turn around the franchise.
Watching the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, several GI editors have had the itch to skate onto the virtual ice with our brand new Xbox Ones and PlayStation 4s. Unfortunately, just like during the last console generation transition, NHL was left on the sidelines for the first year. The next iteration should fix that.
Getting all of our proposed improvements into NHL 15 is unrealistic, but we'd love to see these deficiencies addressed in the coming years as the series gains a foothold on the new-gen consoles. Hockey's never been the most popular sport, but if EA smartly caters to the hardcore fans of old time hockey this series should rebound given the increased interest in the sport.
New CommentaryI grew up in an era when the talented duo of Bill Clement and Gary Thorne called most of the national games on ESPN. I still think they are one of the best commentary crews in the sport's history, but their work has grown stale in the NHL series. It's time for new blood or a wholesale remodeling of the current voiceover system.
The NHL series largely lacks the improvements made by other franchise like NBA 2K, which includes updating the talking points for skill players. Clement and Thorne still talk about the New Jersey Devils drafting Zach Parise even though he's now in his ninth season and signed a 13-year, $98 million deal with the Minnesota Wild in 2012. The commentators rarely have the awareness to discuss league happenings, injuries affecting the teams, potential trades, or any of the other common topics that fill the dead space between whistles. Building off the system created for FIFA would go a long way toward making the series feel fresh again.
The most natural target for new commentators is the NBC combo of Mike "Doc" Emrick and Eddie Olczyk, since Emrick is largely considered the best commentator in the sport. EA could also go back to the premier Hockey Night in Canada crew of Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson, who served as the announcers from 1997 - 2009. If they wanted to inject some hilarity and color to the proceedings, EA could look to the dark horse pairing of Ralph Strangis and Daryl Reaugh, the Dallas Stars commentary duo that is largely considered one of the best regional teams.
Invest In Player LikenessesThe NHL series player models have been generic for too many years now, especially once you get a few years into the franchise mode and all the young prospects look the same. EA Canada should make an investment in securing player likenesses for every roster member, not just the star players, and invest in a new player model generator for the draft classes.
Incorporate Real ArenasThe game also lacks the arena differentiation found in other EA titles like FIFA, NBA, and Madden. We would love to see new arena designs for all 30 teams that capture the differences between ice quality, board quality, lighting, etc. We'd also like to see EA put more of an effort into capturing the pageantry and intensity of playoff hockey.
Add Authentic CoachesMany sports have incorporated head coaches into video games, but not the NHL. I would love to see the Q-stache patrolling behind the Blackhawks bench or Avs coach Patrick Roy aiming his stare of death toward a ref after a dicey call (or maybe at Bruce Boudreau).
Adding the coaches could be just the excuse EA needs to incorporate a wider differentiation of tactics into the game. This could help franchise mode games play out differently from game to game, and change your responsibilities when playing in the Live the Life mode depending on what team you're on.
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