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NHL 12

ESRB: Everyone - E
Platform: PS3
Category: Sports
 
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Author: Mat White

Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Sports

With every September comes the annual release of EA Sports' NHL game. This year brings the introduction on nine legends, a revamped Be a Pro mode, and an improved Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT). It’s hard for any game that releases every year to keep things from getting stale. Do the new additions and improvements offer enough to warrant a sixty-dollar price tag?

Graphics

The graphics remain largely the same as last year’s instalment. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t improved upon what they had. With new shooting animations, goalies making desperation saves and how players fall down after getting hit, I’m very impressed with all of the subtle changes they’ve made that often get overlooked or unnoticed. The crowd is definitely a step up than what it used to be, but it’s not quite where it needs to be yet. Sure they get up and cheer every now and then but they aren’t very animated and there are only so many different people in the crowd. To be honest though the crowd really doesn't matter that much and shouldn’t be very high on EA Sports’ list for improvements. Another thing they changed is the way menus look like in game.

For the last several years NHL had some pretty boring looking menus. So it’s nice to see EA Sports pay some attention to the way the menus now look. NHL 12 marked the first year that EA added the ability to create female skaters, which is nice I suppose, but I feel they kind of dropped the ball with it only letting you choose from two preset appearances, while having over one hundred male heads. Some of the player’s faces look great compared to their real life counterparts and some players don’t look anything like how they should.

Sound

The first thing I want to mention about the sound department is the commentary team of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement. The commentary is boring. I don’t know if they are responsible for some of the lines they say or EA Sports is, but it’s not good. The worst line I had the pleasure of hearing was about Chris Kunitz. Gary Thorne mentioned that Kunitz went to Ferris College and Bill Clement responded with the golden line of, “It’s better to come from Ferris College than Ferris Bueller.” Just writing it makes me cringe. Apart from the awful attempts at humour, they also mispronounce some of the player’s names, such as Max Pacioretty. Which is unacceptable for a professional hockey commentator to do.

Commentary aside the sound quality of the game is fantastic. EA Sports did an amazing job at creating the atmosphere of being at an NHL game, especially during the playoffs. The way the crowd cheers can get you into the game and make it feel exciting. Everything from how the puck hits a player’s stick when receiving a pass to driving someone into the boards is top notch. Just mute the commentary volume, turn everything else up and you’re good to go.

Gameplay

Legends were added to this year’s game and originally I was excited to find out all of the legends that EA was going to put in. However, I don’t think they did a good enough job implementing them into the fold. The legends EA sports chose are: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman, Ray Bourque, Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, and Borje Salming. Gretzky, Lemieux, Howe, Roy, and Bourque — great choices, but guys like Roenick, Yzerman and Chelios haven’t even been retired for more than five years or so. Also, they left out some players I thought would be locks as legends. Bobby Orr, who is arguably the best player ever, was a glaring omission. While they could argue that they didn’t want to include too many players from one team, three out of the nine legends played for the Detroit Red Wings. Also, if you’re going to have a legends team in the game, make sure there’s enough legends in the game to even make a full team. Don’t have nine legends and just fill the rest of the team with current players.

Along with the legends they introduced Be a Legend mode, which is basically the same thing as Be a Pro mode and seems like a waste of your play time when you can be playing Be a Pro or HUT. Hut is back from last year’s iteration and better than ever. This is the nest mode in the game by far and it’s where I have spent most of my time with this game. They’ve made it easier to manage your roster with the ability to save separate line-ups for tournaments with certain parameters (which is a huge time saver). For anyone who hasn’t played HUT, you get a starter pack of cards to open and inside you get players, jerseys, logos, arena, and everything else that you need to start a team. You want to win games so you can earn in-game currency (EA pucks) that you use to buy card packs or head to the auction house and bid on cards that other users have put up for sale. Your players can get injured now in HUT and in order to use them again you need to use a Healing card on them, whether it’s a Torso, Leg or an Arm injury. You can also use training cards to improve your players and you have to keep them under contract to be able to use them. The only thing that I don’t like about HUT is the ratings of certain players seem to be out of whack. For example, Taylor Hall who is one of the best young players in the NHL is only an 82 overall with a 90 potential, while a guy like Cal Clutterbuck who is a young checker with limited offensive potential has the same overall and potential.

The big change for Be a Pro is that now you have the option to start out as a junior playing four years in the CHL before getting drafted into the NHL. They’ve also made it so that now when you’re on the bench, you can skip to your next shift, making the game flow faster. Which is a great idea especially if you are going to start in the CHL.

Gameplay mechanics are generally great this year with a new physics engine that helps with the realism. The puck physics are good — if it hits a player when he blocks a shot, or when it careens around the boards, the puck acts just like you would expect it to. Hitting has been improved a lot over the last few years. Gone are the days when you can hit a guy like Zdeno Chara off the puck with let’s say, Teemu Selanne. While hitting in the game is generally good, there are occasional glitch hits that are more funny than they are game breaking. Passing is easy to get used to but difficult to master. As it seems to pass to the wrong area sometimes even though I’m clearly aiming somewhere else. I don’t like how EA Sports set up the hitting and puck control when you’re playing online. Players seem to be able to resist hits left and right and skate towards your net too easily.

Gameplay as a whole in NHL 12 is great without any game breaking weaknesses or flaws to prevent you from enjoying the game. During the first couple months or so after release I was getting disconnected from the server while playing online and given a loss. That was irritating but it seems like it doesn’t happen very much anymore. Another thing I would appreciate EA fixing is the AI when you call for a line change. Players tend to stay on far longer than they should, taking anywhere up to five minute shifts.


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