There was a time when a sports title was fairly straightforward – pick your favourite team, play a season, win the trophy. Over the years the competition between developers has resulted in unbelievabley creative additions to the games. Infact, forget the word “games”, EA Canada’s NHL 12 is nothing short of a complete ice hockey simulator.

It can be a little daunting for the casual gamer when starting up the game because of how many different game modes there are to choose from. Want to be the General Manager of the team? You can be. Want to play with your favourite team (now including Canadian teams)? You can. Want to start as a rookie and only play the rookie’s game time until his career peaks? You can. Want to do the same thing with a legend like Bourque, Howe or Gretzky? You can do this too. And this just scratches the surface of what’s available. You can jump into the playoffs, go to practice, play in tournaments and start up penalty shootouts. If you haven’t got last year’s release or have never bought an NHL game, this is the time to buy. Never before has so much been put into one package.

But for those already familiar with the franchise, what has this update got to offer? The inevitable question is, do you buy this year’s release if you have got NHL 11? Well for starters, there are two new game types: “Be A Legend” and “The Winter Classic”. For the hockey obssessed, the former is a nice addition but it doesn’t offer much more than the already brilliant “Be A Pro” game mode. Instead of being some randomly generated rookie, you can now live the life of 9 of the NHL greats. Instead of just achieving milestones to advance your career like the “Be A Pro” mode, you try achieve, or better, the milestones set by the legends of the game.  While we’re on the topic, the “Be A Pro” mode has also seen some major changes. You now have coach-assigned tasks to earn additional experience and games are now fixed at 20 minute periods. You also can’t get onto the ice whenever you want,  because your ice time varies depending on the line you play and how well you’ve been playing. If you don’t get lots of ice time, you can simulate quickly to your next shift.

The other new game mode is The Winter Classic and it’s nothing more than a supped up “Play Now” exhibition game, albeit outdoors while lighting up the screen with a ton of fireworks and some snow.

Fireworks

Last year saw the introduction of The Hockey Ultimate Team, a card trading game mode that allows you to create and manage the best team possible. You have to balance the chemistry of the team dynamics with contracts for the players and of course, the inevitable injuries. They’ve added historical players to this mode as well as adding new “injury cards” which allow players to recover faster. This game mode is certainly not for casual interest players. It’s extremely in depth and the customization options are endless.  The same can be said about the “Be A GM” mode which also received an upgrade. Player statistics are actually reflected much better during simulations, so the players on your team have more of an effect now based on how they play in real life, and not just on their performance statistics.

The biggest changes to this year’s release is the realism factor, and for starters, the goalie. Previously, this rock of a man coudn’t be touched when he held the puck. Not any more. Now he can be fouled. Very, very easily, to the point where it can become annoying to score goals because there’s often a stick infringment. Get in his face a little too much and his gloves come off! The bench will also get involved in the action and the net can come off the mooring again. Realism +2.

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GoalieDown

Some realism improvements aren’t as noticable right away. Players don’t fall over as easily, they can regain their balance in certain situations. The physics of players is now also taken into account so bigger players have an advantage when it comes to checking. You also won’t run over players as easily when trying to check them and the checker might actually be worse off after the attempt. EA have also introduced anticipation to the AI. This means they’ll stay onside a little more often and can intercept passes. They’ve also slowed down the game a little bit to try match the speed of the real game. Oh and remember how your puck was stuck to your stick? Yeah, don’t wind up the slap shot for too long, the puck will drift away from you. Realism +4.

Stay On Your Feet

Other minor changes include the ability to make a female player and a revamped menu system. I must admit though, there were a few times when I was asking myself “WTF should I be pressing now to advance in this menu?”. The back button was usually the answer which was rather counter-intuitive. Luckily the game’s music is actually so awesome that I didn’t mind spending a little longer in the menu system anyway. The other audio, the commentary (Gary Thorne and Bill Clemente again) which can often be a make-or-break for sports games, for the most part held it’s own. It’s always difficult for developers to get the commentary to reflect the in-game action so now and then you get the odd quirky comment. I tend to turn this down after a while anyway, eventually you’ve heard everything they have to say and it starts to detract from the gameplay. This is common to all sports titles in my opinion so I can’t say EA did a bad job.

Pwned

Make no mistake about it, this game is huge. And if you’re a hardcore NHL fan, you’ll still be playing NHL 12 when they release NHL 14. That said, NHL 11 had so much to offer, you may still be playing that and NHL 12 is basically just an upgrade. You don’t get to transfer your hours and hours spent on NHL 11 to NHL 12 so my gut feel is to skip a year if you cash strapped. If you’ve never played NHL bare this in mind: in the middle of the game, you can start kicking someone’s ass, Fight Night style. Once you start exploring the other game modes, you’ll become an NHL expert. Bottom line, there’s fun to be had by everyone.

Scoring

Gameplay: 9/10

There’s almost nothing to fault here other than the ability to score goals with a set move time and again.

Design and Presentation: 8/10

It is beautiful. Faces are once again even more realistic and watching this does make it look as if it’s a TV broadcast. The menu system still let’s it down though.

Value: 10/10

With so many different game modes to try out you can’t find better value in any other sports title.  I can’t imagine why anyone would need to buy next year’s release.

Overall: 9/10

A masterpiece, provided your interest in ice-hockey is at least a 1/10.

[Reviewed on Xbox 360]

 

Last Updated: September 15, 2011

NHL 12
Summary
9.0

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