NHL 12 Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3
On firing up NHL 12 for the first time the likely emotion you will feel is 'overwhelmed'. If you are not a keen follower of the game, or haven't played a previous version of NHL (or at least not one in recent years) then there is just so much to take in - a gigantic variety of game modes, a very American utilisation of numbers and statistics in sport (this is most certainly not cricket) and the comprehensive attack on all senses which the actual game of ice hockey can bring to someone unprepared. Even if you have played before, or know the game like the back of your hand it's still a lot to take in straight away.
But give yourself time and don't let it get to you and the ultimate experience will be a positive, rewarding one. The wealth of options means there's something for everyone. The game itself is fast paced, frenetic and violent entertainment which moves at a pace, and with a purpose, akin to that of a cheetah hunting a gazelle. Its ruthless, and fun.
Ice hockey is most popular in the USA and Canada and although there are teams and leagues in the UK it is way down the pecking order versus other sports such as football. If you have played a Fifa game as many will have you'll know exactly what to expect from an EA sports title. The presentation is of the highest quality. Snazzy graphics are the point of entry and the superb attention to detail (trails in the ice left after skating over an area; reflections of the surrounding environment on the surface of the ice) really adds to the overall depth of experience and ensures you feel as if you are taking part in the televisual event of the year - each and every time you step onto the ice. The stats, the commentary (even down to little things you might miss if not listening closely - for example calling your virtual pro by the name you've given them) all ensure the game is just like it would be if watching live during the season, only its interactive to the extreme.
Whatever you desire in terms of your skating fix, you can have it. Launch a career across multiple seasons. Manage the team too. Begin your professional life in the Canadian Hockey League working your way up to the NHL by playing well, enhancing your ratings and catching the eye of bigger clubs. You can start out direct in the NHL if so desired. Heck, forget being rubbish and play as a legend with super shooting abilities and great overall ratings from day one in whichever NHL franchise you fancy. Play online in a ranked match or as part of the EA hockey league. Collect, trade, buy and sell cards to ensure you have the ultimate team with which to beat others with. The variety is amazing. It's likely only one or two modes will be to the taste of any individual - card collecting is for example a very subjective mode and miles away from being a real general manager and getting on with trading a 2017 first draft pick for that awesome centre right now.
The best fun this reviewer had was with General Manager mode where playing as the best team in the league and putting 12 past each opponent was surprisingly liberating. Be a Pro mode didn't click (it's just a matter of running around hitting people, running into people and shooting, right?) but for readers more expert the depth is there for a compelling game. Just to note that if choosing to play as a legend rather than a user-created professional, only one is available from the get go - if you want to play as Wayne Gretzky you need to unlock him first.
The actual ice hockey is perfect. It's perfect compared to how imagined from watching it (as opposed to playing) at various times over the years, anyway. The game that can be played is just like seeing the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Boston Bruins live on TV (there's even sponsorship from various multinational companies!). The physics are superbly implemented - from the glide of a skater and the drag as you pull him back to turn in another direction; the feel of the puck as you take a slap-shot and the weight of collision felt as you're bundled into a wall by the opposition trying to get that flat circular item away from you. But its hectic. Its often very difficult to identify what's going on, where the puck is and what your options are (pass, poke or what?). It manifests the intensity of the real game but until practice makes perfect a lot of what results can appear quite random. A more in-depth tutorial mode would be appreciated by anyone not wholly versed in the game.
When playing the role of a virtual pro consigned to one position things can be even more confusing. This is compounded by the need to play three twenty minute periods as in real life and play in shifts (simming those you sit out if desired). This is all fine and really accentuates the immersive feel but coming back on, with the camera taking time to settle, is very disorienting and leads to frustration during play.
This version of the game - as is the case with many of the seasonal updates EA release - is very much an evolution of what was already a stellar sports game. The physics engine has been revamped and players respond more realistically in accordance to their stature - the bigger they are the harder it is to make them fall. Goalkeepers are more flamboyant and more reactive to what's going on as opposed to just being an extra body. They can also get involved in the first-person fighting (imagine something akin to Super Punch-Out or Fight Night) if desired and the ability to play the 2011 Winter Classic - outside, in the freezing snow - adds to the emotion.
Ultimately whether or not NHL 12 is for you depends on how into ice hockey you are. If you're a fan then you must own this game. It's as close to a perfect rendition of the game as can be got. The variety, presentation and flawlessly implemented online mode will ensure you'll never get bored - at least not until NHL 13, anyway. If, on the other hand, you know nothing about ice hockey or don't normally fancy it, then trying before buying is recommended. The nature of the game and its various intricacies, coupled with the intensity and pace can make it very hard to get to grips with. A lack of familiarity with the way franchises are run or the rules of the game will lead to confusion. If you do decide to take the plunge however, a riveting entertainment experience awaits.
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game