Reviewed: October 7, 2011
Released: September 13, 2011
Here’s a question for you: How long has EA Sports been churning out yearly updates for their highly acclaimed NHL franchise?|
Answer: 21 years. Or, in other words: long enough that I should not have a player get stuck in the boards five minutes into one of the very first games I play of EA’s newest offering, NHL 12.
Indeed, my very first go at a game in NHL 12 resulted in a player graphically clipped into the boards so severely that I had to quit the game and start a rematch. This was definitely not a good start for a franchise that has been around as long as this. And while I can say that after a couple dozen hours of gameplay, that particular experience was the worst incident of clipping I witnessed – nonetheless, it set a somber tone for what was to come.
I need to start by stating that EA has NHL in the bag for 2012 – simply because for the second year running, there will be no competition from the likes of the folks at 2K Sports, who pulled out after the 2010 season. You will also have to forgive me, because I am still partial to 2K Sports’ NHL 2K9 – widely considered the best NHL 2K title in franchise history, and one that is still in heavy rotation in my household. And while I would like to say that I can look at EA’s NHL 12 with complete and utter impartiality, I really cannot help but to compare it to 2K9 – which puts it at a bit of a disadvantage.
Not that it had to be that way, mind you – EA Sports could have easily knocked my socks off with NHL 12, but what they delivered instead is whole lot of mediocre gameplay dollied up with a boatload of bells and whistles that really do not amount to much. So what gameplay improvements is EA Sports’ boasting about with this year’s NHL game? Not much, really:
NHL 12 has all the same features that were included in NHL 11, including Be a Pro, Be a GM, the offline Ultimate Team dynasty mode, the online Ultimate Hockey League dynasty mode. What does that leave for the 2012 additions? Basically, it is summed up as a tweak on the Be a Pro mode from NHL 11 only called Be a Legend, improved “Full Contact” player physics, and goalie fights. Not all that impressive, eh?
Be a Legend takes NHL 11’s Be a Pro mode and adds legendary players like Ray Bourque, Chris Chelios, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux to the mix. Gamers into the whole “Be A…” mode that EA has been adding to every sports title for the past few years will find this right up their alley. Sadly, the legends are simply inserted into current and future seasons, so skating in the golden days of hockey is not an option.
In prior years, checking was an animation-based affair in which the sizes of the players did not really come into play. Now, with the improved “Full Contact” player physics there is a noticeable difference in checking between players of differing physical size, stature, and momentum. It is now harder for the smaller players to lay out a larger player, and the central defensemen are now solid as brick walls. These physics definitely require a bit more thought when it comes to checking and getting in front of the crease for the big wraparounds.
Finally, it came as a surprise to me, but apparently gamers everywhere have been clamoring for goalies to take part in the fights, and with NHL 12 their requests have been answered. And I can attest that yes, you can in fact skate a goalie out of the crease and incite a fight. In fact, it seems that EA is really trying to emphasize the fighting by making it far too easy for fights to happen under the default slider settings.
But what really holds NHL 12 back is EA Sports’ insistence on hammering home their brand of slow, calculated gameplay – while it definitely lends itself to improved positioning and passing around the net, it just makes he gameplay seem to drag along at a snail’s pace. Hockey is fast and fluid; NHL 12 is not. The one place where NHL 12 has NHL 2K9 beat hands-down is in the overall presentation. Visually, NHL 12 could win awards with its excellent character modeling, beautifully rendered rinks, and superior lighting effects. Add to that audio effects and commentary which are spot-on authentic and you have a presentation package that is second to none.
I would also like to point out that EA seems to really be embracing the new key-codes system to enter online play. I am seeing more and more of this pop up in games, which basically tries to squeeze a few extra dollars out of second-hand purchasers who will have to pony up the cost for a new key-code if they want to play online. It is all pretty sneaky if you ask me.
That said, NHL 12 is a serviceable hockey game with excellent presentation value. I wish it were a bit faster and more fluid, but the increased control that comes with slower gameplay is nice as well. Owners of NHL 11 may want to skip this year’s offering because the changes are not all that much different from last year’s model – but if you were one of those clamoring fans asking for goalie fights, then your prayers have been answered. I’ll just stick with my tried-and-true NHL 2K9.