NHL 12 Review
Brendan Shanahan, long time NHL player and future Hall of Famer, was once asked if playing hockey was hard. “Is hockey hard? I don’t know, you tell me. We need to have the strength and power of a football player, the stamina of a marathon runner, and the concentration of a brain surgeon. But we need to put all this together while moving at high speeds on a cold and slippery surface while 5 other guys use clubs to try and kill us, oh yeah did I mention that this whole time we’re standing on blades 1/8 of an inch thick? Is ice hockey hard? I don’t know, you tell me. Next question.” There is no doubt that the men and women who play the fastest sport on Earth have to have plenty of skill and determination. For the rest of us who enjoy the sport, but can barely stand on skates let alone put a puck past a goaltender, NHL 12 is there to let you suit up and skate with some of the best.
NHL 12 gives you so many different ways to play hockey that you’re not likely to be done by the time NHL 13 rolls around. The previous incarnations of the series established solid options for players who enjoy different things. NHL 12 is no different. You can play a casual game, practice your skills alone or with the team, pit your team against anyone else in the NHL and a smattering of other leagues included in the game or settle in for some serious action. Be a GM, a standard feature now, lets you be an armchair General Manager and trade and draft your way to a winning team. For an online flavour of building a competitive team, last year’s Hockey Ultimate Team mode has been brought back and refined to let budding strategists jockey their way to the top.
The Be a Pro mode’s options have been vastly improved. The ability to play a custom-made character, an existing NHL player in the midst of his career or a kid from major junior hockey throughout his whole career gives you a chance to keep coming back to the game and building on what you’ve done before. This year EA has given players the opportunity to import their NHL 11 profile to continue playing the career that may not have been finished before NHL 12 was released. No more having to give up a year’s worth of gaming and start over as a rookie!
NHL 12 has stepped up the game with plenty of new features as well as improvements on existing features. The Winter Classic, held outdoors on New Year’s Day every year now, is a great addition. Many teams will never get to participate in the real Winter Classic due to their location (for example, we’ll never see the Phoenix Coyotes take on the Tampa Bay Lightning because hockey in the desert and sub-tropics doesn’t lend itself to outdoor games), but players who are also fans are able to send their teams out into the snow to battle for bragging rights and two regular season points.
The introduction of hockey legends as unlockable characters is another much-touted addition to this year’s game. Retired players have been off-limits in the past unless you used the Creation Zone to build them from scratch. Now, through reaching various goals (the out of character gaming kind, not the kind that lights the red light and makes goalies annoyed), the likes of greats Wayne Gretzky and Steve Yzerman can be unlocked for use on any team and give a boost to current rosters battling for the Stanley Cup.
For a newcomer to the series, the controls take some getting used to. There are tutorial options for those who like to be walked through how to get the buttons and joysticks to do what you want. However, the controls are intuitive enough that fumbling through a few games will teach even a casual gamer how to throw a hit, make a pass and aim towards the net in hopes of getting a goal.
Every year the graphics in the NHL series improve. The most noticeable difference in NHL 12 comes with the upgrade of the physics engine. Hits are more realistic and bone-shaking, and passing and shooting feels as smoothly as it should when you’re sliding a puck along a sheet of ice. The level of detail going into not only the gameplay, but each individual player, continues to improve every year. With the sheer number of players available, not every player’s features are accurate (many default to basic features that look nothing like the actual person), but they have stars like Alex Ovechkin’s crooked nose and Henrik and Daniel Sedin’s small mouths and knitted brows down perfectly.
Female Character Angle
Hold the phone. This year there actually is a female character angle. Previously, the series has been the exclusive domain of big, bulky men, many with crooked noses and scars galore (and yes, the mullets too). EA has taken a step in the right direction for making the NHL series more female-inclusive. After a letter from a young female fan requesting a female avatar be inserted into the game for use in Be a Pro and the Creation Zone in general, EA’s NHL team in Vancouver went ahead and did just that. The options are limited to two generic heads, as opposed to the multitude of customisation options that the male avatars have, but it’s a great start and hopefully one that will continue to develop in future incarnations of the series.
NHL 12 is an impressive step up from NHL 11, which was an impressive step up from NHL 10. The team at EA Sports that develops the NHL series take on board player feedback each year and the amount of effort that goes into not only the big, flashy additions but the small details that make the game is obvious. Every year takes a step towards creating a more realistic hockey gaming experience while giving players plenty of customisation and gameplay options to keep it fun. NHL 12 is such a big step up from NHL 11 with the new features and the improvements on the old that it is definitely worth checking out for anyone who already plays this series. Gamers who are into sports games in general or hockey in general would do well to check out NHL 12 as well. It’s a well-designed game that caters to a broad audience. The gameplay is fun to tinker with casually or to spend countless hours scrambling up the points ladder.