Giant Bomb Review

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NHL 12 Review

4
  • PS3
  • X360

The fundamentals of hockey are polished to a glistening sheen in this tightly focused, if not particularly revolutionary sequel.

NHL 12 is great. This assertion is not the result of any big, game-changing feature introduced in this, the 20th iteration of EA's hockey franchise. Nor does it stem from some long-ignored element finally getting its proper due this time around. Rather, NHL 12's success comes from a million little things all coming together at once. The minor tweaks, basic adjustments, and new features all come together into a play experience that is wonderfully competitive, perhaps more so than any other hockey game before it. This is no big leap forward for the franchise, mind you--comparatively, it's almost less of a leap over NHL 10 than NHL 11 was--but for those who just want to tool around with their favorite franchise, build up a pro of their own design, and hop online against the masses of like-minded players, NHL 12 shan't disappoint.

Play down in front of the net has never been as realistically thrilling as it is in NHL 12.

Again, where NHL 12 shines brightest is on the ice. The biggest change you are likely to notice over NHL 11 is in pertinence to goalies. Once built as monolithic, immobile beasts you couldn't cut through with a burning saber, goalies now behave as real players do. They can be pushed out of the net, they can be crashed into, and my lord, they can even be fought with. They're human beings now, with all the encumbrances that sudden mortal status entails. Much of this has to do with the new "full contact physics engine." While that sounds like a meaningless marketing buzz term, there is an appreciable difference in how players move and interact on the ice this year. Pinning players to the boards, engaging in tight battles in front of the net with agitated defensemen, and yes, again, crashing that infernal goalie actually feels realistic, and damn good as well.

Another change involves player styles and roles. Let's face it: these games have always lived and died by their playmakers. The power forwards, grinders, and other lumbering puck jockeys not specifically tuned toward scoring plays have never been as useful as they are in real life. Now, subtle AI tweaks have fixed a lot of that. Offensive defensemen will push closer to the net and do their best to stay in position for a one-timer. Power forwards will make it a point to stay in front of the net and challenge defenders in order to pick up rebounds and garbage goals. Essentially, it's the way it ought to be.

While this does fix a lot of the stiffer, more robotic issues that sometimes permeated previous NHL titles, it also has occasional flaws, especially with scoring. The shot stick mechanics are as tight as ever--though stick-based faceoff mechanics need some fine tuning--but some of the AI behaviors occasionally break down into predictable patterns that can be exploited, especially when it comes to scoring chances. The wraparound goal is one that borders on Madden Money Play territory. It ain't a 100% guarantee, but all it usually takes is one d-man a hair out of place to put an easy wraparound past a bewildered goalie. Getting past that defense can still be a challenge, hence why it's not quite a money play, but goalies just don't seem quite as adept at defending against that far side wraparound shot. I also found it a tad too easy to just blatantly interfere with goaltenders, and also that my defenders would take a lot of really boneheaded interference penalties for no good reason. It's one of those balance tweaks that, hopefully, EA will fix up somewhere down the line.

With the press of a button, you can jab at an opposing player to try and goad them into a fight.

One other mechanical tweak EA made is to fighting. This is one of those sticky wickets that hockey games have never successfully tackled, and while this year's version of it isn't perfect, it feels tighter, and more reasonable than any game that's tried before. Strangely, this is one of those features I discovered largely on accident, as it's not really promoted anywhere in the game outside of a brief tutorial. That said, considering the sheer volume of hockey enforcers that have been found dead this past summer, perhaps EA can be forgiven for not wanting to make a big deal out of this.

The on-ice presentation is tighter, too. EA hasn't quite reached the sort of indecipherable comparative broadcast quality that 2K Sports has with its NBA series, and the commentary is, by and large, pretty similar to last year's NHL game. That said, the overall tightness of that commentary, the addition of streak call-outs by the announcers, and other minor tweaks here and there make this one of the better attempts at a broadcast style of presentation EA has ever put together. It's certainly several cuts above Madden, to be sure.

Another thing NHL has always done much, much better than Madden is the notion of player creation. NHL's Be a Pro mode has typically been a shining beacon of how to do this kind of thing right, versus the relatively dull, passionless efforts of the Madden series. Changes to this year's mode are slight, but generally good. Mostly, the mode has been tweaked in such a way as to help avoid any moments of idling. You can opt to sim through any on-ice action not involving your created player, ensuring you don't sit around, waiting for the coach to call your number. The weird trade-off for that is that now, apparently all Be a Pro games are simulated to 20 minutes in real time (or, at least, I couldn't figure out how to change that setting in the game's admittedly sometimes befuddling, ill-explained interface), meaning you're still going to have to dedicate a fair amount of time to each game, especially if you're a top line player.

Be a Pro also has something of an offshoot mode this year, a mode called "Be a Legend" where you can, for some reason, play as one of the great aged ones of hockey lore like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Jeremy Roenick. That's a fine idea in theory, except that the game opts to include these guys in the laziest way imaginable, essentially making them into Be a Pro defaults that can be plopped onto existing modern teams to "see how they fare in the modern NHL." Guess what? Wayne Gretzky can still play hockey pretty well. Now that that mystery has been solved, can we maybe try a little harder next time? Again, one thing 2K Sports has always handled well is its treatment of classic players, including this year's NBA addition of full classic teams and rivalry match-ups. Hockey, more than any other sport, is as much about the play of the team's supporting players as it is its superstars. Full, classic rosters and rivalries would mean a hell of a lot more than seeing how Jeremy Roenick would fare as the top line center of the Minnesota Wild.

Yep, that's as satisfying as it looks.

Perhaps I have overemphasized the importance of this feature in the grand scheme of things, but I only do so in absence of any other real mode or feature additions of value. The Winter Classic, the outdoor game that the NHL has done a very good job of convincing us all is the greatest thing to happen to the sport in the history of ever (it's cool, but come on) is finally included, though only last year's game at Heinz Field is here. Be a GM mode feels largely untouched from last year, warts and all. Yes, it's still lots of fun to manage your franchise, but it'd be great if EA Canada could take some time to finally bring this interface together into something that doesn't feel laborious when trying to manage the most base-level details of the team. Same goes for the online modes, which are almost a carbon copy of last year's selection, with only minimal tweaks to anything on offer. There is also the Ultimate Team mode, which is still the Ultimate Team mode. Into card-trading, random chance, and microtransactions? This is absolutely the mode for you.

That's about the extent of the complaining I can reasonably muster toward NHL 12, however. It has its quirks, and certain areas certainly feel ignored compared with previous pushes forward in the series, but by and large, NHL 12 is a game that gets the details right in a way most sports games barely even aspire to. The on-ice action is tight, fast-paced, natural-feeling, and just a ton of fun, whether you're playing offline or on. If you need full-on revolution in your sports titles, NHL 12 might be a year to skip. If you just want a great-looking, and even better playing hockey game for the upcoming NHL season, NHL 12 has you covered.

Alex Navarro on Google+
48 Comments
Edited by Ventilaator

Hockey!

Edited by handlas

^ stop changing your comment fool

Posted by Solh0und

Hockey,son!

Posted by S0ndor

Sports!

Posted by CornBREDX

Good to know this one is somewhat decent. I haven't gotten a hockey game in a few years. It sounds like this is the year to get a new one.

The only thing I miss is color commentary. The straight laced commentary is fine, but sometimes it's nice if it can be funny. Then again I know why they haven't done it since 2002 (I think it was). Its difficult to pull off and if people don't think its funny then its just bad.

I still miss it though.

Anyway, this review is appreciated.

Posted by HellBound

I like this game, it is better then NHL 11 in a lot of ways except one. Team Balancing. The ratings for teams are not even close to accurate. Vancouver is pretty much unbeatable when they are a worse team then last year (even if by a small margin) and their GOA rating is inflated like crazy. Boston has a weak offense rating which is way lower then it should be. Teams that are horrible are someone better and teams that have the same players as last year somehow either decreased in skill or gained a tremendous amount of it. How does the Sharks GOA go from 86 last year to 80 this year when the goalies are the same?

Now yes, these are just statistics in the game and does not make or break how you play...but it does have an effect. You could be really bad at the game but just pick VAN and you will probably win just because other teams can't keep up which just makes this game unrealistic. Or the goalie will keep making these incredible saves while your goalie won't, which is also un realistic and a game breaker in some areas. Other then that, it feels better this time and the sounds and atmosphere are way better. Great review.

Posted by FreakAche

Rated 5 stars for inclusion of Winnipeg Jets!

Posted by RE_Player1

I'm going to get this for my brother. He has NHL 10 so I don't feel bad buying him 12. Also doesn't hurt from the sounds of the review that it's a good game with some meaningful tweaks and changes. Also WINNIPEG JETS BABY!!!!!

Posted by dagas

I tried the demo and to be honest the only difference I detected from NHL09 was slightly more slugish controls and a new UI. the graphics look the same, the commentators say the same things and it generally just felt like the same game as the several years older 09.

Edited by Scodiac

Nice review. It certainly is a great game. This is the first hockey game I've bought in ten years or so. The things you can pull off are amazing to me. It's easy to notice someone online with real skill.

There are so many different things you can do. So much content. Sure, it's just hockey but all the different modes and different ways to play online make it totally worth a purchase. I don't think I'd get into buying it every year but I'm certainly back into playing hockey video games with a vengeance.

Posted by Skogen

Where the fuck my Thrashers at?

Posted by Thiemen

This game is so weird

Posted by Nadafinga
Edited by poser

I don't understand these reviews. The game is a huge step backwards -- the new physics are buggy, online is as laggy as ever and there are NO new features.

It's not a bad game, the core gameplay is very solid but as a whole it's an off year. 7/10

Posted by Scodiac

@Skogen: They no longer exist. They're the Winnipeg Jets now.

Posted by csl316

My problem is I never got over Mutant League Hockey.  Although the first PS2 I game I bought was the cool NHL 2001, and NHL Hitz was quite fun, too... it's all about MLH.

Posted by matti00
@dagas the commentators and the camera angles being the same bothered me when I played the demo, but in the full game there's a lot more variety. Like, a lot more. It's actually fairly impressive after 2 years of NHL 10
Posted by freakin9

The demo made it seem like a carbon copy game. Now I know demos aren't usually a indication of the final product, but the only thing different was the goalie bumping and nets coming ajar. The same ridiculous "yep, it's going in, the goalie is going to flub this one" moments are there, not that the moments are there but the exact same ones. While I never used to care as much about this, talking to a friend that does makes me really question when they use the same between play cut scenes and repeated commentary tracks. This just seems like one big year off for EA after a pretty consistent progression up till now.

I liked HUT but the problem with the feature is the game is never as cool as when you first get your first set of cards, eventually you end up just making your favorite team which seems to defeat the purpose of the mode, and at some point you wonder why you aren't playing as your favorite real life team.

Oh well, not buying a sports franchise every year is probably healthy.

Posted by NateDogg

I was just thinking that Alex should review this game and as soon as I get on the site my thoughts were answered. Very nice review. I've gotten all the next gen NHL games since 07' but I was lagging a bit on picking this years up. The whole goalie contact alone makes it damn worth trying out.

Alex is a fan of which team?

Edited by Peanut

I skip these games every other year, so this year I grabbed it. I'm enjoying it a bunch and having not played last years game at all makes it feel better. The thing about picking the game up on an "every other" basis is that the things they don't change stick out the most. I still see the same 5 or 6 AWFUL player faces on 90% of every teams roster and the menus are still horrendous.

They also still haven't fixed the pure cheese that is the AI puck control. I love how you can poke check, lift the stick and check the SHIT out of a runt like Martin St. Louis with a huge bruiser of a D-man like Pronger and the AI somehow still have a magical connection to the puck. On the flip side, you could be cruising through the neutral zone with Crosby and have some POS 4th line call-up scrub take a stride in the opposite direction and they're off with the puck like you had just passed it right onto his tape.

Also, I feel like they need to do a ratings overhaul at this point. I understand how being a total shut-down d-man with little offensive capabilities leads to a high overall player rating, but how are some of these players rated in the mid-to-high 80's when they've got stat averages worse than everyone on the 74-75 Caps team.

Posted by Hockeymask27

Proudest day of my giantbomb life a NHL review!!!!! Thanks Alex. Also for those who care if your anal about rosters like me buy it if not stick to 11. If your new come on in 12 is great

Posted by shrinerr

Alex should've just wrote what he did for Madden...

"NHL 12 is fine, see you next year."

Posted by MightyDuck

Solid review alex! I was turned off a bit from the demo but find myself enjoying the subtle changes made. I really like the smoother animations in this years game.

Posted by PosseOfOne

I think us hockey fans deserver a quicklook of this. Maybe Alex should get his butt back to the westcoast and do one

Posted by Pinefresh

The fact that there aren't any major improvements is alright with me because the only one I care about is the addition of my Jets. The could have just released it as DLC for NHL 11 and it probably would have been enough for me. It's nice to see a hockey game getting a fair review, thanks Alex.

Posted by ThePickle

This'll likely be the first game I buy since Catherine.

Posted by nick_verissimo

A hockey review on giant bomb? Now this site really does have everything for me!

Posted by Swoxx

Wow, an NHL review. Unexpected and awesome!

Posted by SleepyDoughnut

Lol, I think it's funny that this game was never announced on the bombcast's new releases. Still, great that there are sports game reviews being done now.

Posted by FreakAche

@Skogen said:

Where the fuck my Thrashers at?

Muhahaha!

Posted by bkbroiler

Alex Navarro: sports reviewer extraordinaire.

Posted by grayfox1210

TOUCHDOWN!!

Edited by Nurve

IT'S HOCKEY SEASON!

Posted by shootermcclay

I already love this game, even though $60 is too much.

Posted by slowbird

skipped it last year, think I'll get back in on it now. the goalie changes sound pretty good.

Posted by Dark_Lord_Spam

All of this hockey slang is making me uncomfortable. If I had any fear of Canadian spies, I'd wonder if Alex was a Canadian spy.

Posted by PosseOfOne

@NateDogg: New Jersey Devils

Posted by lolgreg

@Peanut: Yeah they seem WAY too nice with the player ratings. It's like they're afraid to give anyone on an NHL team a sub-70 rating. I've also heard the team ratings are ridiculous.

I haven't picked this one up, as I'm still debating whether or not I should bother... considering I own NHL 11. I'd rather just pay $10.00 for an imaginary DLC that could essentially hold all the changes made to the game -_-

Posted by Skald

Yeah Flames dude checking some guy.

Posted by Brendan

Damn it, Alex is so good at writing sports game reviews. I don't even care about these games and yet I continue to read these.

Online
Posted by GorillaMoPena

The game has felt incomplete without the Genesis version of Hartford Whalers theme

Posted by DevWil

this is going to sound really asshole-y of me, but did alex even play 10 or 11? the fighting is the same as in those games, except now goalies can get involved.

now my own (brief) review is leaking into the comments of his, but how does he not mention the absolutely overpowered hip check (which becomes apparent the second you play online) or spastic physics behavior? this game just looks awful in motion if you look closely. 11 looked like some sort of sane representation of reality. 12 is a freak show by comparison.

i don't think playing 10 or 11 is absolutely required to write a responsible review of 12, but alex refers to the franchise's recent past too many times to get a pass for being ignorant of the trajectory of these games in the past couple of years. hell, all he had to do was read the wiki articles on this site for 10 and 11 and this review would've been way better informed.

Posted by heatDrive88

Really tempted to grab this. I've tried it at a friend's place and love it so much more than last year's iteration with the full contact system in place. It actually makes physicality count for something in front of the net and for puck space, rather than previously just moving guys around trying not to take interference penalties.

Posted by Alex

@DevWil: Maybe it's just because I haven't played 11 since, well, last year, but I don't remember the fighting engine working quite as it does here. If I still had my copy I'd double check to be sure, but regrettably I don't. I did play NHL 10 as well, so yes, I am fairly well-versed in this franchise.

I fully disagree that 12 looks like some kind of crazed freakshow compared to 11. It looks a lot like 11 in general, actually. I also didn't have the issue you had with the hipcheck you mentioned online. Played a bunch of matches, and for the most part I never found checking to be all that obnoxious. Maybe I just never found players who knew how to exploit it?

Staff
Posted by FesteringNeon

Thank you for sports coverage Alex!

Posted by Phished0ne

I love playing this game, just so i can be a pro, who is a center sniper for the Oilers that leads the league in Shots, Goals, Assists, and PIM!

Also, Fuck Ales Hemsky, he totally blew our playoffs run. :(

Posted by Geown87

@Alex: Nah, it really has been the exact same shitty fighting engine for the past 3 years. All you have to do is spam up on the right stick to win fights. That's why I usually avoid them.

Props to GB for a NHL review. Quick Look would be sick.

Go Pens!

Posted by Asmo917

@Alex: I was going to write my own user review, but my only addition would be a gripe about incredibly slow loading speeds and clunky feel of the menus. Did you see any of this, or alternatively, did you install the game and think that may have made an impact?

I rarely install games, but am going to try that out for myself tonight to see if it makes a difference for me.