Last year I had a strange itch for a hockey video game. I am sure many of you get that random feeling where you want to play something completely different than your typical genres, well this was a great example of such. I purchased NHL 11 for the Xbox 360 and was floored by how fun this game was. Normally with a sports game I tend to play a season along with a handful of online games and my thirst is quenched. That usually lasts about a week maybe? In the case of NHL 11, that thirst went on for months at a time. It truly held my interest for quite some time until my Xbox died. Luckily I had obtained a new Xbox earlier this year just in time for NHL 12, but how does it hold up against the last version, as well as other sports games?
NHL 12 has all the bells and whistles you would want in a sports title. Franchise, online, and general manager modes are all on the list of standard features. My favorite feature is back from last year with a little more substance. That’s right, Hockey Ultimate Team comes roaring back and man, it’s good. My favorite mode from last year has had some tweaks and that has made the good parts better. For those of you that do not know what Hockey Ultimate Team is, allow me to explain. Basically its a great mix of collectable card games and hockey action. You begin with a starter pack of hockey cards. These cards include players, coaches, contracts, training, logos, jerseys, and arenas. With these cards you build your team. Once your team is built you battle it out on the ice in order to win EA pucks, which you use to buy more packs of cards to improve your team. All the players have stats which can be raised with the training cards. Some players can be improved more than others so keep an eye on their potential rating. There is also a contract number as well as a career number. Contract number goes down each game they play. You replenish it with contract cards. Career is how many total games they can play before they retire. There is also team chemistry to worry about. Ways to improve team chemistry include having players play their intended position, having them on the same line as people from the same league or better yet team. Chemistry can affect passing and all around team play so it’s a good stat to be aware of. A new thing to HUT are injuries. Of course there are now cards that can heal these injuries as well.
While playing Hockey Ultimate Team, EA constantly saves the information on EVERY Hockey Ultimate Team. Why, you ask? Well if you play against the computer it will have you play against a computer controlled version of someone’s HUT. In fact while you’re asleep, your team is probably on the ice shoving people into the glass and scoring hat tricks on someone. Fear not though, the games your team participates in without you knowing do not affect your contracts or the health of the players. The good news is you get a few EA pucks for their work. There is also online play of course as well as tournaments. The Hockey guys at EA know how to do an Ultimate team mode, they should really give the guys at Madden some tips.
A few major changes include the full contact physics engine. With the way the game works now, size and strength really matter. Your big guys should be able to easily punish smaller guys, that is if they can catch them, as the smaller guys may be more agile. Everything on the ice feels more alive. From sticks breaking to people getting their helmets knocked off, nets coming off as well as glass breaking, and players can even be knocked over the walls into the player benches. Another neat thing is now goalies feel more dynamic. In NHL 11, goalies felt like big lumbering walls. If you got to close with your player you just sort of stuck there. You couldnt really interact with them physically. Now you can crash into them and generally ruin their day, as long as there isn’t a penalty called. Watch out though, because goalies get the same treatment in reverse and can punish those who get too close. And they can fight.
The presentation of the game is much more polished. The commentary is about the same, but wasn’t too bad last year so all in all not a bad thing. If only the Hockey guys would give the Madden guys some advice when it comes to commentary. The pause menu is nicer too, giving you all the information you’d ever want. Having a diagram of the rink with quick menus giving you all the stats you need with icons of where they happened. With a simple button press, you get all the replays of those events which are also easily navigable. Great feature if you ask me. In last year’s version it was difficult to find the replay you wanted.
The famous Winter Classic is playable as well. You can square off as either Pittsburgh or Washington and play in the legendary outside game, with snow flurries all around and the excitement of skating in the winter elements. It’s a really great way to get into the action right away.
There is also be a pro mode, where you create a player and play as only him or her. That’s right, I said HER! NHL 12 allows players to make female characters. From there you assign starting stats and begin your quest to become a legend. As you play in games you are rewarded experience points to level up your stats. Along with that you are rewarded with ranks from Amateur all the way to Legend. Upon becoming a Legend, you actually unlock Legendary players from Hockey’s past. Then you can compare your stats with theirs. These Legends can also be found as super rare cards in Hockey Ultimate team.
The online modes are all there and are all fun. My favorite online mode is the EA Sports Hockey League. You create a player and go online to play with 11 other people. It’s kind of neat to play games where all of the characters are player controlled. If anyone drops, they are replaced by a computer. The only problem is really with the players themselves. A lot of people like to be puck hogs or defensive players zoom out ahead of the wingers and blah blah blah, you know, typical E-peen stuff. Despite that, it’s really rewarding. You create your character from the top to the bottom. Looks, equipment and stats. You are then given a pool of experience to put into stats for offense, defense, and athleticism. You get to spend these points for five positions so you will always be ready online. The reason for this is that while online you aren’t stuck with your preferred position. All the players are put into a pool and you choose the side you wanna play for. Then after everyone is ready, all the positions are displayed in the middle and you quickly have to pick your position. Sometimes you get lucky and get yours, then sometimes you get stuck with the goalie and let the opposing team score seven goals on you in the first period. This also encourages you to perhaps learn to play those positions better. It’s almost an RPG with classes and skills and PVP. After each game you are graded based on your performance and given experience points. You also unlock equipment that gives stat bonuses. It’s quite an interesting experience and you can join leagues with your friends and play in tournaments.
|Pros||Great graphics. Controls are tight. New Physics engine. Hockey Ultimate Team is fantastic. Good online modes. Soundtrack is better, with JUDAS PRIEST!!! You can break the glass! Goalies can fight!|
|Cons||Some minor clipping issues. Some of the menus can prove to be counter intuitive. Online experience can vary depending on the players, but that's not really a fault of the game.|
|Verdict||While this isn't a HUGE upgrade from last years version, I believe there are enough additions to warrant the purchase. NHL 12 is probably the best sports game this year and possibly overall that I've played. It really is strange to me how Hockey isnt as popular in the United States like it is in Canada. It has everything: great athletes who respect the game, speed, hard hits, and great action. NHL 12 brings all of that on to your home console.|