Improving the franchise
I have no idea why Hockey isn’t more popular than it is here in the States. It has fast movement, decades old rivalries, and some of the biggest hits in sports. Yet, despite this, most people here never watch it. Fortunately for gamers, however, EA Canada has a sweet spot in their hearts for the sport and gives its digital counterpart the AAA treatment. Coming off two consecutive years of fantastic hockey games, it would have been easy for the developer to simply rest on their laurels and hope the fans of the franchise will fork over their cash on reputation alone, but this isn’t the case. While it isn’t revolutionary, NHL 12 does improve on a number of issues that have plagued the series. Overall, this is one titles sports game fans won’t want to miss.
The core gameplay in NHL 12 is simply the best the franchise has ever seen. The controls are still just as tight as in previous years, the right analogue stick control for your stick is still great, and the hits are still vicious. Plus, on top of the already solid foundation a number of improvements have been built. For one the puck acts much more like a real object on the ice and less like something glued to your player. This means that you can no longer hold pack a slap shot while you slide across the center, or perform multiple consecutive one-on-one dekes while cutting back and forth at a sharp angle. While before the static puck would have magically moved with you, it will now react according to its momentum and slide away from you if you don’t take care of it.
"Signature traits" is also a new feature. It isn’t as defining for players as such features are in other games, but it does help differentiate players that otherwise have similar ratings. Players that are known for surgically placing wristers, always making contact on one timers, drilling slapshots, etc. will do so. Like I said, it isn’t a complete game-changer, but it is a nice touch that does add to the game.
Improved player interactions at and around the net also change the way the game plays for the better. As great as NHL 10 and NHL 11 were, I felt that bigger physical teams like the Kings or Bruins were at a disadvantage since they couldn’t really utilize their size on offense like they do in real life. Instead of really interacting with each other, players close to the net would simply skate around each other. This is now a thing of the past, as a solid fight for position mechanic has been implemented. Players now use their elbows and hips to try and work for the best position, and player size and physicality plays a huge role in who will win the battle. This continues into the actual net too as the goalie no longer has an invisible shield protecting him, allowing players to knock them out of the goal (it should be noted for balance’s sake that you can’t just knock the goalie out of the way every play - if you aren’t careful you will get a penalty just like in real life). There have also been a few smaller improvements such as the right players populating team benches, helmets being hit off, and broken glass on checks that don’t necessarily add anything to gameplay, but bring the experience that much closer to the real thing.
Improved gameplay is backed up by solid visuals and above-average audio. To be completely honest, there isn’t that much of a visual change from NHL 11 to 12, but that doesn’t mean the game is ugly by any means. Some player models look better than others (I think Dertoit’s Zetterberg might be the most accurately rendered sports figure in all of EA’s titles), the crowds are about the same as other sport’s titles, and the TV-like presentation is good enough to make me happy without blowing me away. Where visuals really shine are the animations for the aforementioned position fights in front of and in the net. Players don’t just either skate past or check one another. You can see them jockeying for position, using leverage and momentum to move their opponent. This realistic visual representation is important because it lets you predict where players are going to be a few seconds in the future, letting the keen player make some impressive plays.
The best gameplay the series has ever seen, New additions like fighting for position and improved puck physics are extremely welcome additions, Enough Depth to keep you busy for months
Most game modes are pretty much the same, Be a legend mode is very underwhelming