NHL 12 Review

NHL 11

When you’re placed in a position that requires you to release a new title in your series every year, it’s difficult to consistently improve on the same premise in terms of both quality and enjoyment. This is especially true when it comes to annual sports titles, where it becomes a trend for a franchise simulating a certain sport to hit a high point, then fail to meet that bar the following year or years. It’s something that has hindered EA Sports’ Madden franchise for quite a while, which critics seem to emphasize once again with this year’s installment.

NHL 11, developed by EA Canada, is a surprisingly realistic and diverse recreation of not just the league, but the sport of professional ice hockey as a whole. It’s hard to imagine that NHL 12 could match it. It surpasses its predecessor. Though it has a few minor flaws, there is no reason not to believe that this season’s offering from the British Columbia-based developer under the Electronic Arts banner may well be the best hockey game of this console generation.

Everything that made NHL 11 great has returned. From the Hockey Ultimate Team to Be a Pro, Be a GM, and more – it’s all there. A fair share of them have come with improvements. HUT now allows players to acquire both healing and transitioning cards, giving them the opportunity to get injured players back on the ice faster and make certain skaters switch positions. This adds even more depth to the already addictive mixture between video and card game and helps players keep the studs of their roster even if they have an abundance of right-wings or defensemen.

GM Mode is just as complex and deep as last year, but the trading system has received an upgrade. Though completely fair trades may be hard to negotiate, the AI-controlled GMs will no longer demand that you gut your team or future for that one star player who could complete it. Meanwhile in Be a Pro Mode, gamers are given the option to begin their careers even further back than the NHL Entry Draft by playing in the Canadian juniors. You’ll play with the team for anywhere from one to four full seasons in an attempt to build your stats, get noticed, and earn yourself the privilege of being called the number one overall draft pick. The stadiums also reflect size and crowds of what level you’re playing on, showing just how far you’ve come when you finally hear those NHL hometown cheers.

The inclusion of all the junior leagues once again brings in the extreme variety of teams and leagues available for play and acquisition. From the AHL and OHL to European and National leagues and more, there’s no shortage of players or teams in this game. It shows EA Canada’s complete appreciation and love for the sport and the depths they’ll go to provide their deep knowledge to all fans who pick up the title.

While on the subject of the diversity of players, one of the biggest new additions in NHL 12 is the NHL legends. For the first time in years (some ever) players like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Gordie Howe can take the ice against the best players of today. The legends can either be played together as an incredibly high-rated Legends team, or gamers can take the role of the legends themselves in the new Be a Legend mode.

As nifty as it sounds at first, Be a Legend is essentially Be a Pro with a couple of exceptions. The legend will start off right in the NHL on a team of the player’s choosing. The player will be expected to meet expectations identical to feats or records they performed or set during their illustrious careers. It’s a solid addition, but it would have been nice to see a mode where players, as the legends, were thrust into the defining moments of their careers (a la Madden Moments).

Another new mode that has been a few years overdue is the Winter Classic. Hockey’s newest primetime pastime has finally gotten its representation in the NHL series, and it looks like EA Canada spared no expense to bring it to life. The replication of Hines Field converted into a massive outdoor ice rink is perfect, right down to the fans waving their Terrible Towels in a crazed frenzy. Even more impressive is the addition of snow to the game’s presentation and how it manages to pull off the effect of constant snowfall without obscuring the player’s view or slowing down the frame rate. It’s a true traditional hockey fan’s dream to see this outdoor event captured so wonderfully.

Even with all of these additions, no modes from NHL 11 have been dropped. Players still have the option of taking part in a season without the added pressures of being a GM or jumping right into the Stanley Cup Playoffs or an exhibition game. It’s a great display of diversity that will cater to both the hardcore and casual hockey fans alike.

The biggest addition to the series brought on by NHL 12 is its all-new collision system. This is a godsend, not because the glass can once again be shattered and helmets will now fly off skaters if hit hard enough, but because  goalies can now be knocked down upon contact. For too long in hockey games have goalies been untouchable, an unrealistic representation of the sport that I always personally despised. Now, however, going to the net too hard or being pushed into the crease by a defender will cause an actual collision with the goaltender, sending him off-balance and often setting the puck loose. For anyone who may be afraid that this could cause an overabundance of penalties or cheap ways to score goals Рfear not; in nearly every collision I encountered the game accurately and efficiently determined what was incidental contact and what was a deliberate or direct knockdown.

This new collision system brings another new game mechanic to the ice as well: battles in the slot. Now if a defender and attacker meet one another in front of the net while the forecheck is being established, they will tie up with one another, pushing and shoving to maintain dominant positioning over the other. As a winger who spent much of his ice time fighting these contests, it felt incredibly satisfying and authentic. Until now I had never truly felt like I was fighting with the defense for a good screen, deflection, or open passing lane in order to score and vice versa. Combined with the return of last year’s passing and stick breaking systems it’s one of the most realistic on-ice experiences a hockey game can offer.

Taking the exhibitions online hasn’t changed much since NHL 11. Players can now upload their HUT teams to compete as AI against other players and do the same the other way around, the latter earning you EA Pucks for more cards. Playing against others in HUT is identical to that of its predecessor, though I personally experienced some lag issues while in this mode and this mode alone. Whenever I took part in an EA Sports Hockey League contest, I found the connection to be smooth and seamless, suggesting that the lag may simply depend on the host. As for the EASHL itself, it has also stayed pretty much the same as last season. You can create or join a team to compete in seasons against teams from the entire community, or just drop into a quick match with up to 11 other players.

The soundtrack is another collection of catchy rock tunes. It will get you bobbing your head and tapping your feet through the menus and the game. The commentary is pretty much the exact same as the year before, which is actually not a bad thing, and the arena sounds are just as awesome. Another thing that hasn’t seen much of an upgrade is the graphics. The game looks exactly like NHL 11, which is only a negative as many player faces, while they vaguely resemble their real-life counterparts, could be improved.

In addition to the same look, the HUT lag, and some shortcomings with the legends, the game’s camera angle during Be a Pro can be a bit disorienting as it will focus on your perspective as you come off the bench for a while before swinging back up to the main view. Aside from that, I really couldn’t find any other real problems with the game, and none of these are too big an issue to detract from the overall experience.

Sitting back and taking a look at the season that is NHL 12, I believe that players will find themselves with the most complete, authentic, and flat-out enjoyable hockey game in long time. The sheer depth and variety of modes can keep you coming back whether it’s for a game, season, or entire career. HUT is just as addicting as the year before, and though the introduction of the legends did seem to fall a bit short, it was still a solid inclusion to the franchise. Wrap it up with a new collision system that delivers the sense of what it’s like to be in the trenches during a hockey contest, and you’ve got yourself a game that no fan of the sport should be without.

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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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