NHL 12 Review
EA Sports has seemingly perfected the way they handle digital hockey, almost the same way that they’ve taken care of nailing down the sport of football with Madden. However, unlike the gridiron series, NHL 11 really hit its stride with its gameplay formula, letting players feel every slapshot and bone-crushing check. It was so effective than even 2K Sports got rattled, eventually getting to the point where its inferior NHL 2K series was shelved in its entirety this year.
Now we come to NHL 12, a game that’s a precursor to the upcoming hockey season – which we’re excited for, by the way. The game features a number of new ingredients, one of them being new playable legends. It looks as if EA really learned from 2K Sports asking Michael Jordan to star in NBA 2K11, as NHL 12 has a cavalcade of hockey stars. These include Wayne Gretzky, the great Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy (local hero to me), and Mario Lemieux.
However, getting these legends isn’t quite so easy. Where 2K Sports kicked right off by giving you Jordan, NHL 12 puts you to work in the Be a Pro mode in order to unlock everyone. It can be a real grind if you’re not the type of person who wants to toil away at a hockey career and merely wants to get to the legends at hand. Plus, the fact you start off low with the likes of Roenick – not even Gretzky, for cryin' out loud – just makes you wonder what EA was thinking on its progression scale. They are eventually unlocked and play as expected on the ice, but still, that was a lot more work than we needed for a game such as this.
Another big addition to NHL 12, aside from some refined puck movements (no more “floaty pucks” here – yay) is the ability to jostle around the net. For years, we were irritated over the fact that the goalie could practically walk away from any hockey encounter with a quick cover-up, letting his teammates take the damage instead. It literally pissed us off, especially when it came to his shoving. This year, EA Sports made the goalies an easier target. Granted, if you go after one, you’ll probably wind up with a penalty, but taking one off his guard for the opportunity at scoring can be worth it at times, especially if you’re down during a playoff game. They react accordingly in these situations; they aren’t wusses, so be prepared for battle. This is a great addition to the game, and bumps up the realism.
This, combined with the already outstanding shooting gameplay, really works in NHL 12’s favor. Seriously, shooting almost feels natural with the analog stick, whether you’re going for a quick shot or winding up across the ice for a slap shot at the net at lightning speed. Furthermore, checks also feel a little better this time around, especially when you get someone like Todd Bertuzzi cracked up against the boards. (He thinks we’ve forgotten about that Moore situation, huh? Ha, we think not.) You can go full-on for checks or go with a poke check, and you can even fight alongside the boards if you think you can get the puck that way. The analog stick can also be used for face-offs, letting you either pass off to a teammate or effectively hit the puck between an opponent’s legs and go for a quick goal.
If there’s one thing we’d fix, though, it’s the fighting. Once again, this is the weakest technical aspect of the game, done entirely in first-person. It’s really just a scramble of punches and blocking. Some could say that’s life-like, but the frame rate drops, and the detail doesn’t look so hot when this is happening. There should be some kind of third-person view option, so we can see what’s going on.
Other than that, the graphics are sensational. EA has managed to capture the grace (and fury) of hockey almost perfectly, with well-animated players, authentic arenas, and plenty of crowds that stand up in their seats – and not all at once even. What’s more, it has faithfully recreated the aura of the Winter Classic, complete with snow coming down, and even lets you select what teams you want to enter it. Playing in this mode in particular is a lot of fun and a great change of pace from being stuck indoors. The arena music is okay, but the commentary is still technically solid. Gary Thorne and Bill Clement provide the play-by-play, and even though it does fall behind on occasion, these guys are very good – and even provide details regarding streaks or losses with your players.
NHL 12 has modes aplenty. Along with Be a Pro and legends, the game also includes season, playoffs, and franchise modes, so you can take your team all the way to Stanley Cup victory. Granted, they’re nothing new, but they’re effective and loaded with hockey goodness. What’s more, you can play online via EA Sports’ Hockey League, taking part in a club with other players and seeing who the best of the best is. Finally, once you do register a team, you can take part in Ultimate Team, collecting cards and helping to balance them in the process. It’s a win-win all around.
Though there aren’t significant changes to the original modes and too much work needing to be done to reach the Legends, NHL 12 is about as comprehensive as you can get when it comes to video game hockey. The gameplay is the smoothest you can get on ice, and the presentation really captures most aspects of the sport. And the Winter Classic? Priceless. Sure, NHL 12 is your ONLY option when it comes to video game hockey, but thankfully, it’s one that can be made in confidence.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]