NHL 12 Review (Xbox 360)
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Day One: First Impressions
Day Two: Gameplay Impressions
Day Three: Be A Legend and Winter Classic Impressions
Day Four: Career/Dynasty Impressions
As I said earlier this week, NHL 12 is in a peculiar position. Its bevy of small, but meaningful, changes might slip past all but the most knowledgeable hockey fans, yet its major modes remain relatively untouched. Casual fans might appreciate the new additions like the Winter Classic, but the longtime users may find that the excellent gameplay is no longer enough to keep them interested.
Gameplay is by far the strength of this series. Since the switch to a pure analog mode a few years ago, EA’s NHL series has become one of the most fun to play sports sims on the market. And in the years following, EA has done a good job of tweaking and upgrading the authenticity. In this way, NHL 12 is no different.
The upgrades this time around are very subtle -- yet ones which do affect gameplay in a meaningful way. The anticipation AI does a good job of making everything on the ice feel much more fluid and dynamic. You’ll see players show hustle through the neutral zone and move more logically to find the puck. Player traits also add to how players react, and ultimately shape how teams perform. To fully understand player complexities, more time with the game will be needed but what is here thus far is promising.
The physics engine continues to be improved, and now everything on the ice is “live,” including the goalies. Hits are now much more risk/reward, and the outcomes are nice and varied. Occasionally, something that looked good live didn’t quite look right upon further review in the instant replay booth. Also there are some bad interactions between players still. So while the system is still an improvement, it is far from perfect.
Other additions, like net battles and goalie fights, didn’t quite do it for me. Everything else remains pretty similar, including the fighting engine which is starting to become the weakest part of the gameplay. Penalties for me (on default sliders) swung from "about right" to "almost none;" I hope that some sliders can keep the number of penalties consistently realistic -- although there are discouraging reports out of the community to the contrary.
Still, this is a very exciting, fluid and fun game to play which hardcore hockey fans will absolutely love to play.
The presentation in NHL 12 is one of those areas that’s not bad, yet because it hasn’t been significantly tweaked in a few years, will be criticized (also see MLB: The Show’s commentary as an example of this).
In comparison to other EA games, NHL 12 stands out for appropriate and timely replays. The replay packages, usually occurring durring the third period, nicely sum up an in-game storyline, whether it is a series of nasty hits or key goals.
The new Action Tracker is a pleasant surprise, and allows you to cycle through key plays with little loading or menu surfing. We’ve seen this type of thing in other games, but it’s still a welcome addition; I found myself often watching my hits post-game using this feature.
Still, the presentation needs to do something to stay fresh. Simply using player intros and replays isn’t quite the industry standard anymore, as MLB 2K11 and NBA 2K11 have shown. The commentary is pretty stale --but again, not terrible -- and could do more to communicate the intensity and drama of the game.
Since I had the game prior to its wide release, I sometimes had a hard time finding an opponent. Still, I had a lot of problems even staying connected to the EA servers. Though I did not experience it (maybe because of fewer online users), reports of freezing are rampant, especially on the PS3. The freezes I experienced were in the menus, as the game tried to connect to the server. I expect (and hope) that once everything is up and running, we’ll see the smooth online play of the past few years. If you are primarily an online player, definitely wait to see how the bugs are fixed before diving in.
In terms of online modes, Hockey Ultimate Team and EASHL are two of the deepest online modes on the market. EASHL is back, and for those with a strong connection to the game’s social component will find this a refreshing and solid online mode. HUT has seen notable improvements, from injury/healing cards to the ability to switch players’ positions. I really like the HUT 24/7, which allows you to play this mode alone, but versus other user’s created team.
The new modes-- the Winter Classic and Be a Legend -- are both disappointments in my eyes, though they aren’t necessarily bad.
The Winter Classic looks pretty enough, especially the falling snow and Heinz field, but it's also pretty superficial.
Be a Legend is also slightly superficial, though it adds another layer to the Be a Pro career model. I can’t see too many people playing the mode simply to climb the legend ladder, but it is integrated nicely into the regular career mode.
Be A GM / Be a Pro
These two modes, like NHL 12’s online modes, are very deep in terms of options, abilities and functionality. Yet, outside of one notable addition to Be a Pro, they are relatively the same as last year.
Same doesn’t equal bad, however, and if you are a hockey fanatic you’ll find a lot to like in both modes. Be a GM retains the interesting task/reward system, and is full of authentic touches like retired numbers and multiple leagues.
Yet, despite a revamped trade and simulation engine, odd things happened in my few simmed seasons. Players seemed to earn too high of overall ratings, and teams didn’t quite perform as expected. I saw postseason favorites miss the playoffs with sub-.500 records. This is one area that has been of serious concern in the past; definitely check our boards to see if any other bugs or roster issue pop up as they are almost impossible to keep track of right up to press time. I also am starting to dislike the clunky user interface.
Be a Pro is relatively the same as well, minus the excellent and overdue ice time system. Instead of calling your own time, and unrealistically gain minutes, your coach now runs the show. This is an outstanding addition, and, along with the ability to start in the CHL and complete in-game tasks, gives longtime users something different to experience.
The theme of NHL 12 seems to be one of small change, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You just need to be ready to appreciate the small details instead of being overwhelmed by additions created to simply to sell the game. This lends NHL 12 to be a game which was created with hardcore hockey fans in mind. That said, even hardcore fans may still be disappointed by the lack of innovation in both the dynasty mode and presentation.
In all, NHL 12 is the best playing hockey game EA has made, at least in this generation of consoles. The career and dynasty modes are very deep, and EASHL and HUT continue to be a lot of fun to play. There are a handful of issues that plague each mode, but the gameplay is great enough to bolster the game’s overall value.
If you are a hardcore hockey fan, do not hesitate to pick up NHL 12. For everyone else, you might want to think twice if you already own NHL 11, but this game is definitely still a solid buy for casual hockey fans.
Learning Curve: Very familiar and intuitive gameplay for both veterans and rookies.
Control Scheme: The analog sticks get a work out, and are used to effectively handle the way a player moves the puck.
Visuals: Great in the standard view, a few issues up-close. Would love a practical broadcast view.
Audio: Stadium sounds and crowd are good, as is commentary--it’s just getting a little stale.
Value: There’s a lot to do--I think HUT, EASHL, and Be a GM are rich, if flawed, experiences on their own--and the gameplay is worth revisiting over and over.
What does it mean?