Game Over Online ~ NHL 12

GameOver Game Reviews - NHL 12 (c) Electronic Arts, Reviewed by - Dan Nielson

Game & Publisher NHL 12 (c) Electronic Arts
System Requirements PlayStation 3
Overall Rating 93%
Date Published Monday, September 26th, 2011 at 10:23 AM


Divider Left By: Dan Nielson Divider Right

Hockey fans were very pleased with NHL 11 last year. It was an appropriately-paced game with plenty of features, smooth gameplay, and a nice feel to it. One year ago, I gave it a 90% rating in my review (http://www.game-over.com/reviews/xbox360/NHL_11.html). Since taking over the virtual hockey crown from 2K Sports in 2009, EA’s offerings have only gotten better. With NHL 12, EA has not taken drastic measures to change the experience.

First, the game looks very similar to last year’s. In many cases, given only the ice and skaters, the two would be indistinguishable. There certainly have been additions and tweaks to the presentation aspect of the game, such as details you would see in a TV broadcast, but overall, it’s largely unchanged. The most positive addition is a graphic that pops up during intermissions and pause menus which gives you a visual breakdown of shots, positioning, penalties, patterns, etc. It may seem like a small addition, but the ability to see, for example, that you’re firing every shot you take at the near post can remind you to mix it up a bit. It’s a very nice touch.

The most noticeable graphics upgrades come in the form of animations and player movement, which is smoother and more believable than last year. For the first time in a hockey game, this one has that “looks like a real game if you just take a quick glance” quality to it. Hockey is, in my opinion, the most difficult game in which to achieve this task, due to the nature of skating as opposed to running. But the first time you’re sprinting back on to even up a 2-on-1 break, turn and skate backwards, and poke check the puck-handler as you’re doing so, you’ll realize that EA has accomplished the look and feel of hockey movements this year. Arenas look great, and touches like life-like reflections off of the ice add to the experience.

The audio is in the same boat the only major difference you will notice is the soundtrack. Commentary is recycled to a certain degree, but it doesn’t warrant complaints. As I’ve said before, commentary should be judged on whether or not you notice it and you don’t want to notice it. It’s when the voices are in the background, and you hear what they’re saying, but don’t think consciously about it, that the commentary is sufficient. NHL 12, at the very least, accomplishes this task.

The gameplay is where this title shines, and also where it has improved the most. It’s simply a blast to play. There are certainly “fun” additions, which I’ll touch on in a moment, but first and foremost, it’s what’s under the hood that is pushing this series forward. The gameplay engine has been ramped up to provide for the realism mentioned above. The first time you start up a game, you’ll notice that movement is much more natural, and you simply feel much more in control. If you read our review of Madden 12 recently, one of my biggest praises of the game was that the experience no longer feels like an exercise in beginning and ending canned animations, hoping you chose the correct option. You could change into a new move mid-process, and it really elevated the sense of control.

The same can be said for NHL 12. More than ever before, momentum, physical qualities of players, and situational details will affect the outcome of confrontations. Patrick Kane will be at a disadvantage when he’s battling with a huskier player in the crease his opponent will normally be able to body him up and push him out. However, get this same matchup on the break, and Kane will be able to use his speed and puck-handling skills to take advantage. These kinds of situations are what make hockey great to watch, and it’s a treat to get the same dynamic successfully translated into a video game.

Situations such as scrums on the boards are exponentially more true-to-life as well, with players jostling for position, and with much strategy required in terms of poking the puck loose. The huge hits we love are here as well, but not on command. More often than not, subtle shoves and missed checks will be the result of mashing the hit stick forward. However, this only makes it more rewarding when you time your attack perfectly for a massive floor check, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

Speaking of hitting, I suppose now is as good of a time as ever to touch on the fighting in NHL 12. It’s essentially a poor man’s version of the Fight Night series in terms of controls and it is fun. You’ll be jabbing with the right stick, moving left and right with the left stick, and blocking with the left trigger. Once I got used to it, I found myself fighting 4-5 times per game (perhaps not the best strategy!). Along with fighting, there are several other pieces of flair that are added that don’t technically add to the gameplay, but add to the hockey experience, such as checking players into the bench, helmets falling off, sticks being dropped and retrieved, and goalies coming off of their lines.

In terms of content, there is more than enough here to keep you busy. The first “mode” is the one into which the game will drop you the very first time you boot it up: “Winter Classic.” For those of you who aren’t aware, the Winter Classic refers to the matchup between the Capitals and Penguins, played at Heinz Field in the falling snow. You’re dropped into the stadium with fans bundled up and going crazy, and then pulled right into the action. It’s probably the best first impression of any sports game I’ve ever played, and the ability to come back to the setting with any two teams in its own game mode is fantastic. Franchise mode is back, and largely unchanged from NHL 11. Truthfully, I could not distinguish any differences.

Clearly, a lot of effort went into the improvement of Be-a-Pro mode. This time around, the process is more realistic but less of a chore at the same time and therefore more rewarding. You can choose to start in the NHL or in the CHL, but either way, you’re going to start as a third-liner and have to work your way up. No more sitting and waiting, either. You can still watch the action from the bench, if you want to, but you can also fast-forward to your next shift with the push of a button. It is not longer a bore to play through games in this mode. Once you’ve increased your skills a bit, you’ll also be able to take your Pro online for some team action. It works very well, although you’re somewhat at the mercy of the system in terms of what position you’ll play.

A brand new mode this year is called Be-a-Legend, which allows you to step into the skates of a hall of fame player such as Wayne Gretzky, and take them through a career in today’s NHL. It’s essentially Be-a-Pro mode with a pre-designed legend inserted into the formula, but nonetheless, kudos to EA for giving us one more nostalgic piece to the puzzle. Lastly, Ultimate Team is back, allowing you to create your dream team over time and face off against other gamers’ squads. Additionally, you can play against a friend’s assembled team offline, which means there is fun to be had even when your pals aren’t online. It’s a nice touch that adds substantially to the depth of the mode, and to the incentive to build a powerhouse.

NHL 12 is, in my opinion, the best hockey game to date. It looks vivid and sharp, but the true-to-form NHL gameplay is what pushes it over the top. With a fast-paced game like hockey, it’s not easy to recreate the experience in a video game, but with this title, EA has managed to do so quite successfully, making this one easy to recommend without thinking twice.

 

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Rating
93%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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