NHL 12 review: NHL 12 is a very impressive title, with spot-on physics, plenty of different ways to play and a very robust online play
Before this, the last Ice Hockey game I'd played was back in the N64 days. I love the sport, but it's not exactly the most popular game here in Australia, so the video game adaptations tend to pass by without attracting my notice.
- Superb physics
- Game can be completely tailored to your comfort
- A lot of modes and options to wade through
- Initial impressions of this game can be quite confusing
In many ways EA Sports' NHL 12 is the definitive hockey game, with options to suit just about any gamer's preferences.
So I was absolutely blown away by how different NHL 12 plays. Those people who claim that sports games don't really change from one year to the next (aside from updated rosters) really need to take a break for a few years, because they couldn't be further from the truth.
From controls right through to gameplay options, NHL 12 is an impressive, advanced product. Indeed, for the more casual players, the default gameplay settings are a touch too advanced. Using the right side analogue stick for shooting opens up a world of nuanced playmaking opportunities (as well as opening up the face buttons for additional strategic play options), but it takes real practice to get the hang of. Throw in a goalie that is quite good at blocking shots at any difficulty level, and this is one of those games which can be unforgiving, even at the newbie level.
Thankfully, EA has provided plenty of different control options to provide a more casual experience. It's possible to tweak things right down to "NHL 96" style controls — a pass and a shoot button, and that's it. The game hasn't been built around that level of simplicity, and as such setting the controls to that level becomes a relatively dull way to play, but it does the trick of easing newcomers into the game.
Of greater concern for the new hockey player is the sheer weight of gameplay options in NHL 12. The conventional tournament is buried all the way out of sight in the initial interface, as EA clearly wants people playing online. The problem is that both of those styles of gameplay are for the committed player. Online play without the match experience becomes a farce quickly.
Building up to that ability requires practice, and thankfully once you find the tournament menu and get things going, there's plenty of choice for tournaments to play in — from the NHL to the major leagues of the other hockey-playing nations. There's also an international championship, though disappointingly it's thin on the selectable nations — only around 100 countries play ice hockey in the world. FIFA manages to represent nearly twice that number in its games.
On the ice, the action is as good as you'd expect in NHL 12. Just like the real sport, it's fast and reflex based, but there's also a surprising amount of strategy involved with working out how to break through those damn goalies.
Player statistics do play a subtle, but definite role in determining their abilities, and there's all the usual injuries and penalties involved. The computer AI tends to be unrealistic in that it often plays a very clean game, so penalties coming your way are few and far between.
NHL 12 also looks great, with canned, but impressive crowd animation and well-defined skaters. This is also one of those rare sports games where the commentary doesn't become too tedious. It's often incorrect, with some of the "insightful" comments failing to reflect the broader context of the game, but that's to be expected.
Overall, NHL 12 is a very impressive title, with spot-on physics, plenty of different ways to play and a very robust online play once the AI is no longer adequate. If you haven't played a hockey game in some ten years, now is time to come back to the sport.
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