This week the NHL 15 demo dropped, and for the first time gamers could play a game of hockey on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 (don't worry last-gen users; you're not left in the dust). The demo is by no means the complete game, and as we learned earlier because of this transition, new-gen versions will not include EASHL and GM Connected modes. Even so, we wanted to see how the game is shaping up, so we hit the ice and played numerous matches on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The demo offers just a match between the Rangers and Kings, but ee spotted some familiar problems and also some promising implementations.

Note: These impressions are entirely based on the demo and may not reflect the final release.

The Promising

Better Goalie Awareness In Some Places

Goalies are more active than in previous iterations. They're smart with their poke checks and are much better at tracking the puck. For instance, they won't fall for really obvious left, right, left deke (A.K.A. the triple deke) like before. This doesn't mean they're impervious to tricks, though, as a well-timed toe drag might be all you need to tuck the puck under the crossbar. That doesn't mean it's all for the better. [See Same Scoring Tricks below]. At the very least, they're not making a lot of lateral movements for no reason like in the past. 

The Ice

A lot of fans thought NHL 14 got close to making you feel like you were actually skating, but NHL 15 improves even more. Your players slip and slide and there's a lack of maneuverability when you don't have any momentum. Sharp turns can't be made with ease, and this plays into defense. You can't just jump back into the play after a botched hit, so be careful not to lose the defensive edge.

Commentary That Reflects The Situation At Hand

Fans have been begging for new announcers for years, and this was our first chance to see Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Ray "Chicken Parm" Ferraro in action. Some commentary can come off a bit awkward (especially Doc missing his trademark fire in some situations), but they're spot on at describing the play at hand. Take a two-goal lead, and they'll often comment about that goal being a safety net. Miss a promising shot and Olczyk will joke that he should be on the ice. They even have lines depending on how aggressive a fight gets. So far we're impressed, but we're also hoping that the three provide enough variety where all their lines don't get old too quickly.

The NBC Sports Presentation

The presentation has gone through an overhaul, and it's a great improvement. Seeing actual footage of Doc and Eddie before a game followed by a panoramic view of the arena is a great touch and reminds me that I'd like to be right back on Madison Avenue in Chicago come opening night. It feels just like you're watching a game on TV before it begins with Doc and Eddie assessing each team and how they'll matchup against one another. As when you see these broadcasts on TV, it's just the jolt you need before you're about to enter the actual game.

Crowds, Players, And Arenas Brought To Life

The push to new-gen has allowed EA to give a good boost to the visuals. Players look the most realistic they ever have. The little details, such as how their jerseys drape like actual fabric and not being stiff are noticeable. The fans in the arena have also undergone a huge overhaul; no longer are they legions of soulless doppelgangers, but unique faces and personalities are interspersed throughout. Even the arenas look like their real-life counterparts, adding some much-needed variety and realism.  We'll have to see how all arenas match up, but so far it's promising. This captures the spirit of hockey well, and I hope in coming entries they improve on player reactions on the ice.

Improved Puck Physics

Puck physics is a small detail, but it's important to accurately portray a hockey match. Pucks now bounce out of the net with momentum after a big shot and aren't simply attached to players anymore. You'll notice it most in how it bounces off the goal and posts. This is a lot more realistic, as when you hit the post, pucks fly fast and far. The changes aren't huge, but they're significant enough that longtime players will notice the difference.  

Up next: Our concerns...