Reviewed: September 29, 2011
Released: September 13, 2011
It seems like the Bruins won the Stanley Cup just a month or two ago and here we are at another NHL season. Oh wait… the Bruins DID win the cup just a couple months ago. Poor concussed Sidney Crosby hasn’t even had enough time to recover from his headaches from last season. It’s amazing that EA has enough time to update their games in this short of time.|
NHL 11 was hands down the best hockey game ever on consoles. It was so good that it ran away with over 20 Game of the Year awards. While I’ve always been a fan of 2K Sports’ NHL series, they gave up and EA has done an amazing job taking hockey and all their sports games to a new level of realism. But NHL seems to be a step ahead of most other games. From the skate tracks on the ice to the guys in the announcer booth, everything about NHL 12 is about as authentic as you can get.
How do you review the follow-up to an outstanding game? Sports games have pretty much pushed the graphical limits of the PS3 and Xbox 360. So the developers are now focused on improving the little details and making the game special. With a game as packed as NHL, my first response is to find out what is new in the game. NHL 12 has a bunch of tweaks or complete revisions. Every year there are complaints about stupid A.I. problems. This season EA has done more work with AI, player movement and interaction. The biggest change is more of a perception issue – players now go where the puck will probably be, not where the puck currently is.
Some of the most noticeable gameplay improvements involve player interaction with the goalie. In NHL 12 you can now crash the goalie crease and knock them down or out of position. You can also knock the net off its posts. But you run the risk of getting a penalty for interfering with the goalie. For all you goalies out there: yes, even the goalies can fight this year. Other gameplay additions include Plexiglas breaking from hits and shots, player helmets popping off, and you can even hit a player over the bench wall.
The “Be a General Manager” mode has been improved significantly. The simulation engine has been completely overhauled. Previous versions at times seemed to defy logic. Well now every statistic and result is based entirely on the ratings and playing styles of the 12 players on the ice. The Sim intervention has been tweaked, now allowing you to follow every important event through a visual display with a running play-by-play running down the side. This looks a lot like the interface you would see on ESPN’s online Gametracker for most sports.
There are a bunch of little tweaks that make the game so much better. One of them involves retired jersey numbers. If you create a player with the number 9, and he is traded to Montreal, either you or the game will chose another number for him. What a great way to show respect for the legends of the game. Be A Pro (BAP) mode has again expanded. This time you can start in the CHL or even as a 15 year old in the Ontario Hockey League. Probably the most noticeable gameplay change in BAP is you have to earn your ice time. Previously you could call for a line change manually while you are on the bench. Now it’s up to the coach. So a 3rd shift will get his 10-15 minutes of playing time per game. But a 1st shift will get 17-20 minutes. Anyone with dreams of playing professional hockey will love this mode. You can even watch the game from the bench.
Ultimate Hockey Team (HUT) continues to improve on its fun trading card interface. There are over 4,100 players from 10 leagues now available and you now can get Legend cards. Some new cards are included in NHL 12 such as Healing cards and Change Position cards. Xbox Live offers a variety of options for you. The popular EAUHL online dynasty league is back but this time with a lot more options and rewards. There are three divisions for different skill levels with a champion crowned in each. A nice touch is the addition of a champion banner which comes up whenever you play someone online. That will intimidate everyone!
Just a word of warning for online players: if you wanted to use the trial period for EA Online Pass, do not import your NHL 11 profile. You will not get a trial period and it will immediately require you to enable the online pass with the included code in the game case.
Following in the footsteps of the NBA 2K team, EA is now adding some licensed “legends” to the game for users to play. So you can see how Gretzky would do if he had stayed in Edmonton. Well, not really. But you can see Gretzky play with some of his greatest teammates and adversaries. Well, not really. While NHL 12 does include greats like Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, Chris Chelios, Ray Bourque, Patrick Roy and Steve Yzerman, the “Legends” team roster is rounded out with some current or marginal stars that most casual fans have never heard of.
Don’t get me wrong, the inclusion of some big names is great, and I’m sure it cost EA some serious money to license them, but there are only a handful of individual players who people would pay to see. There are however a whole bunch of amazing teams I would love to see face off against each other or against current teams. With all that’s good about NHL 12, this is the one area they didn’t seem to care about too much.
The team creation mode is still the same old garbage. This is just inexcusable shortsighted “got the blinders on” corporate stupidity. NCAA Football and FIFA Soccer have fantastic creation modes on the internet. You can create whole teams with custom logos and even entire leagues and tournament brackets. It adds a lot of life to a game when you can import user created classic teams.
The NHL has been around since 1917. NINETEEN SEVENTEEN!! That’s over 90 years’ worth of great teams and players. Add to that all the great Olympic teams, Canada Cup, World Cup of Hockey and other leagues like the ECHL, IHL, Central Hockey League etc. Oh and just a reminder EA, you have the NCAA college license too. While NCAA hockey probably wouldn’t sell very well as a standalone game, it would be a huge addition to the NHL game in the ‘be a player’ mode to start out in college.
C’mon guys! Walk down the hall to the FIFA offices, look over their shoulders and “borrow” the team creation center programming code! It’s not cheating if you work for the same company. The point of this rant is: there is nearly 100 years wealth of teams out there and plenty of fans willing to do the work of programming the rosters and stats so you don’t have to pay anyone. You just have to make a little extra effort to provide us the tools.
Graphically NHL 12 is the best sports game I have seen. Player face maps and uniform textures are amazing. The fabric on the jerseys is a sight to see in 1080p. Gameplay graphics are amazing as usual the past two years. However there are still frame rate problems when viewing instant replays on the Xbox. I’ve tried NHL on the debut Xbox 360 console, a mid-stream console and a new slim. They all have the same frame rate issue but only during instant replays. All the cutscenes between puck drops are great and serve as they should – to enhance the reality feeling of the game. Add the new team introductions and various props like the shark head in San Jose and only a live game could be more realistic.
Again this year the NHL 12 sound is top notch. Gary Thorne and Bill Clement return to the broadcast booth once again and do their usual outstanding job. Thorne particularly does a great job of sounding excited about the plays and Clement provides some good commentary. NHL 12 sounds like a real TV broadcast. Just like it did last year. It would be nice if they added a couple other commentators for minor league games or different playoff locations. Pang and Melrose and a few others are top notch. Don “Grapes” Cherry might even be fun, but like Dickie V in college basketball, he would get old quick.
NHL 12 offers 45 achievements for 1,000 gamerscore points. They seem to be a little more varied this year but we still get the simple 10 point “complete a NHL Winter Classic game with Pittsburgh vs Washington”. A handful of the achievements are only possible if you play in the online Hockey Ultimate Team or EA Sports Hockey League. So that will limit those of you looking for quick points.
Overall, the amount of different play modes both online and offline are staggering. There is something for just about everyone and when you get tired of one mode there is something different to explore. The inclusion of the Ultimate Team trading cards from Upper Deck is brilliant. We can only hope they increase the customization and expandability next year with a decent team builder application. NHL 12 improves on several areas that make this game even better than last year. But unfortunately EA left areas like team creation untouched. I expect quite a few Sports Game of the Year awards to be heading from NHL’s shelf to FIFA’s shelf this year. Luckily, they’ll just have to walk down the hallway to deliver them.