“Hey, hold up a minute”, you might be saying to yourself. NHL 12? Didn’t that game game come out, like, a millennium ago? Yes, sorry to say, but the much anticipated Piki Geek review of Electronic Arts’ latest entry in their award winning NHL series is a tad late. And when I say “a tad” I do of course mean that it is shockingly overdue. My bad.
But you see now, the thing is, this has been a hard game for me to nail down. For the three of you actually waiting for our opinion before dropping $60 I’ll make this quick. If you love hockey, then go ahead and consider this a five star review – NHL 12 is the definitive hockey experience on consoles, for the time being at least, and if that’s what you’re looking for then there really is no substitute.
For the rest of you just interested to read about the game then join me after the break and I’ll explain the weirdly dichotomous nature of NHL 12.
Critically speaking, the game is easily split, and the two halves defined thus. Everything part of the game that could cynically be called “NHL 09.3” is brilliant. EA have successfully refined their already fantastic hockey game and given us the ultimate version of it. You might have played it before, but it’s never been quite this good. Conversely, where the 2012 iteration of the game falls apart is in its attempts to add to, and thus one could argue, evolve the series.
So when I say that NHL 12 has a weirdly dichotomous nature, think of it like this – all the things you hate about EA Sport’s line of products, namely that there less a series of games so much a series of updates, are what make NHL 12 so good, while efforts to move the series forward while justifying the $60 price tag fall flat. Am I supposed to give them points for trying or dock the score for playing it boringly safe?
The biggest and most hyped new addition is “Be A Legend”, the weakest part of the game overall. Ostensibly little more than window dressing atop the already successful “Be A Pro” mode, to Be A Legend is too remove a lot of the depth and sense of reward from the game. It’s basically like creating any old super star player, sticking them on whatever team you want, and then going “hey look at me, I’m the best already”. EA could have just as well left it to the player to create their own copy of Gretzky, Howe, or whoever and call it a day, as there really is nothing more to this portion of the game then collections of letters that happen to form familiar names.
You’ll probably end up spending most of your time offline with the Be A GM mode, an incredibly deep and rewarding part of the game that’s partly about guiding your team to immortal glory, and also a quest to become the best damn wheeler and dealer in all the world. That first part is pretty self explanatory – take control of a team then play 82+ games a year. The other is considerably more complicated, and requires you to juggle the task of building a winning team with the struggle to stay financially solvent.
If you don’t feel up to the challenge, there is the option to leave most of the business of being a GM to the computer. Otherwise, expect to spend a lot of time learning the finer intricacies of the cap system, pouring over the myriad of contract subtleties, and growing increasingly frustrated with the hard bargaining AI of fellow GMs. As with any game, time and experience will reveal cracks in the system, but for the first fifty hours or so (and played at the higher difficulty settings) expect to get your ass kicked a lot, both on and off the ice.
The successful Be A Pro mode returns with a few tweaks designed to speed up gameplay and add a little realism to the proceedings. Previous iterations of Be A Pro were marred by an unrealistic approach to ice time, or to put it more simply, often you would either spend far too much time on the ice or none at all.
To resolve the issue, the development team has beefed up the simulation aspect of the game with quite a clever little mode that simulates the game while your player is off the ice up until his (or her, you can be a woman now) next shift begins. So if you’re a rookie getting only 6 or 7 minutes of ice time again, then that’s how long your game will be. You need to earn more ice time, not just choose whether or not you want it.
The tweaked simulation mode is amongst the best of what NHL 12 now brings to the table. For one thing, it makes speeding through a season in Be A GM mode a breeze – just pop your head in every once in a while to chip in the odd goal and you’re golden. Among the other notable tweaks to the gameplay include changes to goalie play with the aim to make it more interesting (though a career as a goalie remains just as time intensive as before) and a new physics engine for hitting that doesn’t really feel all that different to last year.
As for the changes that didn’t turn out so well, the music selection is pitifully small compared to what one might normally expect from an EA labeled title, and a lot of the sound effects come off as a little flat. For example, checking someone into the boards should be accompanied by a thunderous rattle as body meets metal and Perspex, but in NHL 12 it mostly just sounds like hitting someone over the head with a pillow case full of junk mail. On top of that, crowd noise is just god awful and feels terribly synthetic, contrasted with the game’s excellent visual presentation.
Yet between the presentation and excellent (though not necessarily spectacular) graphics NHL 12 is quite probably the closest approximation to a real life game (on TV) that I’ve ever played. The sound in the hits might be a little lacking, but visually they are suitably violent and cringe worthy. The stadiums look full, the ice looks used, and when a close up replay kicks in, your players look like real people and not just triangular chests propped up on stilts. Taking the sound into account, a fair assessment of the presentation of NHL 12 would probably be to call it imbalanced, but I suspect that might be the cynicism of a critic talking so lets go ahead and say that the graphics make up for any failures in the sound department.
If you love hockey, and especially if you’re already a fan of EA’s series of sporting titles, then you really can’t go wrong here. For everyone else, NHL 12 is not quite so mind blowing and innovative as to enrapture the attention of any old Joe or Jane gamer. Like with most sports games, if you don’t already care for the concept (i.e. the sport in question) then NHL 12 is game I’d hazard to recommend. Instead I’ll leave it at this – if you enjoy fast paced, end to end action with beautifully intuitive controls and coupled with never ending layers of complexity and depth, then give NHL 12 a shot. You won’t be disappointed.
NHL 12 was released on September 13th, 2011 for Xbox 360 and PS3. Review is based on the PS3 version.