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[Review] NHL 12

Greetings sports fans!! You know, I have been contributing my writings and opinions for almost a year now, and I’ve noticed one thing…I can’t remember seeing a review done on a sports game, let alone a hockey game. So here we go, here it is, lets drop the puck and get into some hockey action. Here is my review on NHL 12, EA’s latest addition to one of the most successful sports franchises that stretches the span of 20 years… Yes, you read that right, EA’s first game in the ‘NHL’ series was NHL Hockey back in 1991; boy that takes me back. Most people, however, most recognize the series for its 1994 masterpiece, as it defined the genre and set the bar for future hockey games to come. Even still to this day, EA hockey games still have the option to use the ’94 control scheme’.

It takes a special breed of gamer to purchase sports games like the NHL series, or the NFL series, simply because there are few, if any, changes made from year to year aside from roster updates, uniforms, and gameplay fixes. This year, however, EA took into account all the feedback from last years game, good and bad, and really tried to present us with a polished, fresh, and invigorated game. Did they accomplish this task? Did EA create another NHL ’94? Do we have hockey gold? Or did they drop the ball and completely miss the mark? Well, read on and find out!

EA claims that there are over 300 changes that were made to the game for the 2012 installment; some minor and not worth mentioning outside of the hardcore sports gamer communities, but there were plenty of additions that even the casual sports gamer can appreciate if they have played the last few installments in the series. As for the gamers that may not play many sports games, or hockey games for that matter, this is the perfect game to get into.

So, we will start out small on the new features and move our way up, and where we will start is with one of the most glaring additions to the game, its also a pretty contested feature among diehard EA sports NHL fans, and that feature is the new legends features. In the Be a Legend mode you can play as one of 9 legendary game changing names, such as Patrick Roy, Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Borje Salming, Steve Yzerman, Ray Bourque, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, and hockey megastar Wayne Gretzky. In this mode, it is similar to the Be a Pro mode, but in Be a Legend you play your choice of hockey greats and set them loose in the current NHL and see how the stars from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s stack up against the players of today. I mentioned that this mode was contested a bit simply because some players felt that it was a waste of game space and a waste of development time, where that spent time could have been used to enhance already established and popular game modes such as the EASHL, the Be a Pro mode, or hockey ultimate team. Personally, I loved the idea. How can you complain about a new game mode? But I can also understand why some people would not want this in the game; I find it fresh.

The Be a Legend mode, as I said, is basically a copy of the Be a Pro mode, but your stats are pretty much maxed out and you are just playing against current players in the NHL. I tried it out and chose Patrick Roy, my idol as a kid, who played goalie in hockey; he was a god to me. He pioneered the ‘Butterfly’ stance for goalies, which ended high scoring games and paved the way for what we now call ‘Hybrid’ goalies. They called him “The Wall” for a reason. During my few games to test out this mode, it was clear that EA really captured the essence of his play style and abilities… I was unstoppable; it brought back a lot of fond memories of watching highlights of his over the top saves and incredible skill. Definitely a treat.

On that note on goalies, EA FINALLY decided to add a feature I have been clamoring for since……well, since 1994, when the NHL series really took off and got good, and that feature is goalie interaction. Finally, we have a more authentic hockey experience because now players can interact with the goalie. He can be knocked over, pushed out of position, and can even get into fights. This is a huge plus for the gameplay, as it creates a more authentic experience, but be careful. Too much contact with the net minder can net you some time in the “sin bin”. With this, EA really scored massive points in the sports gaming communities and is just one of the added features that have earned NHL 12 the title of “Hockey Simulator” as some people are calling it. Another feature related to the goalie interactions is that the net can now be knocked off its moorings, which, once again, just adds to the pot of gold that are the new features.

Other notable changes made are ones that some people may consider minor, but, for hockey fans, are just another feather in EA’s hat. The team at EA Vancouver spent a lot of time revamping the physics engine for the game, and in doing so brought back some classic features and some newish ones. With the revamp, we now have more dynamic hits, hitting a player the right way, or hard enough will cause him to loose his stick, or even his helmet. Ever been so mad you wanted to take a guy clean off the ice? Of course! Just line him up along your bench or his bench and deliver a hit so sinister he tumbles over the boards and lay defeated among the feet of his teammates, or your teammates. Either way, it is highly satisfying.

Also with the physics revamp, it is harder to knock a player off stride, causing him to loose possession of the puck. Last year, this was a big problem, where the slightest tap caused the puck carrier to stumble and loose the puck. Now the deciding factor on whether the puck carrier looses the puck or not is dependent on his stats, and how the player reacts to the hit. He may fall to one knee and get up ant retain the puck, he may use his arm for balance and not miss a stride, or he may altogether “blow a tire” and trip over his own feet, falling flat on his face. This revamp once again adds to the realism in the gameplay and to the overall experience. I could go on about the improvements that were gained by the physics rework, and talk in great detail about being able to shatter glass, improved puck movement, oddball shot paths, and others, but there are other features outside of this that deserve a mention, so lets move on.

Lets talk about the Be a Pro mode a little bit. Not much was changed outside of the physics improvements that I touched on in the last paragraph, so this will be a bit shorter, as there is not much to talk about that hasn’t already been said. For people unfamiliar with the NHL series, Be a Pro mode allows you to create a player in your likeness, choose his position, a team to get a start on and claw your way into the big leagues and aim for a much coveted NHL contract. In previous years, you would choose a WHL team, play 5 games, and if your team played well enough, they would make it to the Memorial Cup. After that, you would enter the draft and an NHL team would pick you up there. This year, you can now choose a CHL team and you may only play 1 season before being drafted to the NHL, or you may play 4 seasons before seeing the draft; a pretty cool addition, as I am a big BAP fan and this just adds to your player’s total career and allows for more play time and more player development in the way of earning experience points to boost your stats.

Another notable new feature to the BAP mode is the change to how playing a game works. In the past, you would play your shift, and once tired, or the bench calls for a line change, you head back and sit down. At any time, you could call for a line change to get back on the ice whenever you like; this is no longer possible. Once your shift is over and you make your way back to the bench, you are there until your line is sent back out onto the ice. This at first sounded questionable, because in NHL 12 BAP mode, game time is locked at 20 minute periods, whereas in the past, you could set any period length, but, once again, EA thought ahead. You can either watch the play from the bench and soak up the hockey experience and watch the excitement, or you can one button push to simulate the game to your next shift, cutting idle time no nil; another win for EA.

Another new addition that was highly requested was the NHL Winter Classic, which takes place in an open air, outdoor arena and features American teams, which, to some hockey fans, is modeled after the Canadian version called the Heritage Classic, which only features Canadian teams. Now there is no major significance to the Winter Classic; it has only been played since 2008, but since it is now a part of hockey, the community asked for it and EA finally answered and granted this event. There is no real difference from a normal game other than the arena is outdoors, the players wear special uniforms, and the fans are clan in cold protective clothing. Nothing special, but still another feather in that hat; man that hat has a lot of feathers in it now.

One last major addition to the game is the EA Action Tracker. In between periods, you can view vital stats in a highly detailed way ,breaking the period down into sections such as shots, goals, hits, penalties; things of that nature. You can view clips and highlights for some of these events, allowing you to view whats working for your team and what is not working, allowing you to make adjustments to your gameplay, or just to view replays of your sweet goals and hits.

Those are the major additions. Some of the more minor changes, or improvements that are worth mentioning, are things like an entire overhaul of the GUI throughout the entire game. EA cleaned it up and made it look fresher and more updated, as well as improving its flow. In the Be a GM mode, trading has been improved, making it more difficult for you to rip off the computer of top teir players during trade interactions. Here is a new feature that is somewhat minor and somewhat big: players now have the ability to create female players, which, if you ever spend any time over at the EA sports NHL forums, girl gamers have been crying for this feature for quite a while, so there’s a big victory for the girl gaming community. Congrats ladies, welcome to the NHL.

As I said at the beginning EA claims to have made over 300 changes to the game, and I have only touched on the major/most notable ones that really set NHL 12 apart and make it a real treat to play. As a diehard hockey fan, and a diehard EA Sports NHL game fan since 1991, I have seen some phenomenal NHL games from EA, and of course a few that have dropped the ball, but this year is definitely a huge year for the NHL series and will set the tone for hockey games to come. NHL 12 is a real treat to play, it feels much more vibrant than any other version in the past 10 years, the gameplay flows like silk over the curves of a beautiful woman’s body, it’s polished, and, for me, trouble free. The only bad things I can say about it is that, like most games, there are some bad seeds in the online community, but as I said, that is something that’s inevitable in any online game and is a part of the online gaming life. EA hit the ball out of the park and all I have to say is look out 2k Sports, your horrible hockey game is about to be buried by the vastly superior simulation-type experience that EA has been moving us to for the past few years now. There is a reason why EA Sports NHL wins so many rewards in gaming excellence, and NHL 12 is the crown jewel that cements these reasons.

All in all I love this game and it has gotten rave reviews for good reasons. If you like hockey, or simulation experiences in sports games, or just a well made sports game, this is a must have. Don’t wait for a price reduction because EA NHL games rarely come down in price after their release, and usually only get reduced closer to the release of the next years game. This is a must-have and is a gem for any gamers’ collection. I have all the EA NHL games for the PS3 and a fair amount for the PS2, as well as other systems, and I will continue to buy these games as long as EA will keep making them for us. We can only go up from here and I can’t wait till we see NHL 2013.

[review pros=”Polished gameplay
EA finally listened to the gaming community and gave us what we asked for
Physics rework creates a more authentic experience
EA seems to be moving to a Simulation type experience adding to the realism
Best installment in the series, with care taken in regards to detail and providing us with a game worth our hard earned cash” cons=”Typical bad seeds in the online community
Too many great things to talk about for a standard review” score=98]

This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of NHL 12 provided by EA Sports.