One would be forgiven if they felt last year’s entry into EA Sports’ NHL franchise was a bit by the numbers. As good a game as NHL 11 was, the game was beginning to feel stale. While the on ice action was still the best simulation of hockey to date, it was also nearly identical to NHL 10. A lack of direct competition from 2K Sports could have certainly played a part but whatever the reason it was clear that the series forward momentum had been obstructed.
Much like a good but aging team, NHL 12 has more than a few question marks surrounding it this year. Most importantly, can it add the right pieces to flesh out the package? Moreover, can it regain the momentum it has had for the past four years? So, developer EA Canada did what any good general manager would do. They set out to answer those questions and deliver the best possible on ice action that they could.
NHL 12 does not waste any time in trying to prove that they are back on the right track. Before you can do anything else in the game, NHL 12 puts you in control on the ice during the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. At first, nothing seems different; NHL 12 plays very much like the past couple iterations have. However, once the puck rolls into the corner the game reveals its shiny new coat.
The biggest change to the on ice game this year comes in the form of improved board play. EA Canada calls it the Full Contact Physics Engine and while a tad bit clinical, it is an apt description of the changes on the ice. This new physics engine makes battles for the puck a whole lot more interesting and realistic. No longer are defenseman one man wrecking crews that obliterate anyone coming into their zone with the big hit, it takes a bit more strategy.
In association with the new physics engine, goaltending has been completely overhauled. Where once they were just giant pong paddles, goaltenders now feel like every other player on the ice. And just like every other player on the ice, goaltenders can be plowed into, have the puck knocked away from them and be knocked off their game by some good old-fashioned intimidation. These changes enhance the authenticity of the on ice action even more making NHL 12 the most realistic hockey game to date.
As great as the on ice action is, the way NHL 12 presents that action is not as cut and dry. NHL 12 improves on the visual presentation in nearly every way. While the NHL series has been running a television style presentation for years, it has never looked this good. However, the announcing team is still stuck in the same loop of mediocrity.
The announcers are still saying the same things as they were in NHL 08 and they are still making the same bumbling inconsequential pronouncements as they always have. Worse yet is the in game advertising. While sports games have long been filled with in-game advertising, NHL 12 seems to take it to a completely new level. Every mode in the game is seemingly sponsored by some corporation, the game continuously drives this point home, and it gets exceedingly tiresome.
What does not get tiresome though is the game’s plethora of game modes. Like last year’s iteration, NHL 12 is packed to the brim with different game modes. Most of the modes are returning favorites, with a few noticeable tweaks, but NHL 12 also introduces something fans have been clamoring to get in the game for years. That of course is the inclusion of legendary NHL players into the game.
Be a Legend allows players to assume to role of one of a handful of the most popular and influential players to ever play in the league and play them in today’s NHL. Unfortunately, the game locks away a good bit of this content and forces players to grind through modes to unlock all of the legendary players. No offense to Jeremy Roenick, but the majority of players are going to want to play as Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux. Not allowing players to have access to these players is a shame that may dampen people on the overall game. Quibbles aside, Be a Legend is quite a bit of fun and should make many fans happy, once they unlock their favorite superstar (providing it is not Roenick).
As previously mentioned, most of the modes are carryovers from previous iterations. Be a Pro mode is still the quintessential sports role-playing game. Hockey Ultimate Team brings back card collecting fun. The online component is still a journey into the wild west of gaming. With so many different modes, finding something that fits someone’s tastes should not be an issue.
The core hockey experience is about as close to authentic as one could wish for and while the presentation aspects leave a lot to be desired NHL 12 is still one of the most polished sports gaming experiences around.
4* out of 5
Pros: authentic on ice action, legendary players, tons of modes
Cons: presentation leaves a lot to be desired, locked legends require a major time investment