Hockey season is in full swing and EA Sports have released the next installment of their NHL series. EA has always put in a ton of care and love in their NHL games and this release is no different. Several new features and improvements have finally been introduced into the game, and they have changed the way the game is played.
The biggest new addition to the series is the inclusion of the new Be a Legend mode. In this mode you take control of several included NHL Superstars including Wayne Gretzky, Jeremy Roenick, Mario Lemieux, and six more. Each Legend comes equipped with stats that appropriately represent their play styles. In this mode you select the Legend of your choice and place him on any team you’d like, and then help lead your team to the playoffs and eventually the Stanley Cup Finals. The mode is similar to the Be a Pro mode introduced in previous installments of the game, so you’ll feel at home if you have ever played NHL in the past. Each game you earn experience and you slowly improve your Legend of choice throughout the season to become the best that you can be. In my play through, I played with Jeremy Roenick and placed him on the Buffalo Sabres. He fit in really well with the team and vastly improved the team by giving them an all-around center. The mode is a blast to play.
Arguably the best feature included in the game is the new physics system. It really changes the way the entire game is played. The size of a player now helps determine how hard a player hits and how fast a skater is. No longer will you see big players cutting around the ice and squeezing into holes that they normally wouldn’t. Goalies are now lively, in prior games goalies were unable to be touched or interfered with. Now goalies can not only be knocked down and pushed around, but they can now get into fights, but be careful because knocking the goalie down now leads to goalie interference penalties. The new system also makes the puck act in a more realistic manner, it’ll now begin to float away from the player if he hangs onto it too long without shooting it and it’s much more easier to poke check it away, this adds a new layer to the game and allows for teams to be more aggressive towards the puck carrier. Some of the smaller details include the outer glass being shattered if hit too hard and players can now be checked into the bench area. I honestly cannot give the physics system enough praise; it adds so many more layers to how the game is played, allowing for teams to play more and be more protective of the puck.
All of the older game modes have new improvements that help make the game even better than it already was. Be a Pro has several new additions that make the game feel like a more accurate representation of hockey, such as being able to start out in the Canadian Hockey League and work your way through a season and then enter the NHL Entry Draft. You can now earn tasks from your coach in the middle of a game such as “Shoot the puck on net” during Power Plays. Ladies can now rejoice! EA has now made it an option to create a female hockey player! In Be a GM mode you’ll notice that the trading AI is vastly improved, the AI will more accurately predict a trade an actual GM would make. Retired jersey numbers will also be included this time around, so no more using jersey numbers that belong to legendary players of each franchise.
The NHL version of Ultimate Team returns and is better than ever. For those unaware of what Ultimate Team is, in this mode you collect various cards that consists of players, coaches, jerseys, and more to create your own team of famous players. One of the fans main complaints about the mode in last year’s installment has now been addressed; you can now play online with friends using your ultimate team. Additionally EA has included a new Ultimate Team 24/7 feature that will allow you to play real teams created by Ultimate Team users, even if they are not online. The EA Servers will save and share your created team and players so that others are able to play them offline. It’s a nice new addition the mode and something I enjoyed while playing it. If you’re a fan of Ultimate Team in other EA Sports games such as Madden and Fifa, you’ll be right at home in NHLs version of the mode.
Online stays relatively unchanged. The EASHL brings out a few new additions such as specific character builds for positions so that you will no longer need to redesign your character if you need to swap to defense for a few games, just to have to redesign your character again a few games later so that you can play offense again. It’s a great new option and something I’ve been complaining about for years. There’s a new stat tracking system in EASHL and there’s a new system for leveling up your character and earning experience. You’ll now earn experience more frequently and you can even go down in levels if you don’t play very well over the course of several games. I love this and it encourages everyone to play better on a more consistent basis, no more working hard and earning Legend status and then falling off because you no longer have something to play for(if taking your team to the playoffs wasn’t reason enough to play hard)
The presentation in NHL has always been some of the best available in sports games, however it’s now beginning to feel a bit stale. The commentary is something that is so hard to get right in sports games and it’s something that has always been pretty decent in NHL, but the play-by-play announcers are beginning to seem old and tiring to listen to. They still say lines that they have been saying for years now and they still don’t quite get names right. The graphics look nice, but there isn’t much improvement over last years game, which is a bit uncommon with the series. The music is really good and fits in with the sport, and those who are not a fan of the soundtrack can take advantage of the very deep custom music option that allows you to set your own music to everything from music played on the menu, to a specific song that plays when a certain team or player scores a goal, even set what sound effect plays for the goal horn. It’s really deep and works really well, it’s by far one of my favorite options in the game and something I wish more games would look at and include. Also on a side note, Winnipeg fans should be happy to know that the Winnipeg Jets are now back and included in the game. A title update will add the Jets new jerseys (they are not included on disc since the official jerseys were not revealed early enough prior to the game launching)
There are a few smaller features that people should be excited about. The NHL Winter Classic is now included taking place in 2010s venue Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The Winter Classic is an annually scheduled game taking place in an outdoor stadium around New Years. It provides a change of scenery and adds the element of the weather, normally absent from hockey games.
All in all, NHL 12 is a great addition to the series. I love the new physics system, brings on a completely new way to play the game. I love the Be a Legend mode, it’s a nice change of pace from Be a Pro mode. My biggest fault with the game is the presentation; I really hope EA brings in some new play-by-play commentators for next years release, as I am quite tired of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement. I recommend NHL 12 for any hockey fan hopefully I will see you on the ice sometime soon.
*A copy of NHL 12 was personally purchased by the reviewer.