NHL 12 review (Xbox 360)

NHL 12

I was surprised and perplexed to see an age restriction on a sports sim that is not about fighting.

As it turns out, though, ice hockey is actually quite a violent sport.

In my very first game I had already beat a player down to the ice with my fists, thrown another off the ice rink into his team mates on the bench, and smashed another guys face through the glass surrounding the rink – spraying shards of glass into the crowd.

Awesome! Was this sport invented in some Norwegian Viking prison or something?

Ice-top brawling

If you have seen any of those classic ‘The Mighty Ducks’ movies about ice hockey, you will know very little about the sport. Educational they were not, but the basic point of ice hockey is this: two six-man ice skating teams try to hit a black rubber disk (puck) with a stick into the back of a goal box.

There are a host of rules that you will quickly figure out while playing – but you can either play fair, or turn penalties off in options and go back to those Norwegian prison rules we love so much.

The speed and fluidity of the gameplay really makes for some fun and tense games. All skater control is assigned to the analog sticks – left stick for player movement and right stick for, erm, stick control. Its a great setup and you really feel attached to your skater, guiding his glides around the defense and slapping some wrist shots at the goalie.

Ok, that just sounds wrong.

Taking shots at the goal net is performed by flicking the right stick, much like the punch-throwing mechanic in the Fight Night series. A quick flick of the stick will perform a chance-shot on goal which works well when you’re up in the goalie’s face. Pulling back before flicking forwards performs a shot with a lot more power and accuracy, but leaves the puck open to be swiped away from you.

Taking control

The control scheme is possibly the easiest to learn in any sports game besides maybe a tennis game. It’s really intuitive and a complete beginner will get the hang of the basics within a few minutes.

EA also added a simplified control setup where all shots and passes are controlled with the face buttons. Combining the button control scheme with the side-on camera view gives it a decidedly old-school flavour, reminiscent of that NES classic ‘Blades of Steel’. Just a gazillion times better!

As with all the latest sport offerings of late, they are placing large emphasis on physics here too. Your skaters need to build momentum to perform substantial body checks to push the opposition off the puck, or to rush the goalie.

The puck also behaves accordingly; if it hits a soft pad or body part it will just drop to the ice, or if it hits something hard, like the metal coping of the goal box, it will clang loudly and bounce off out of control.

That rinking feeling

There is not much you can do with the plain white of an ice rink, so the game does look a bit bland, but the ice looks real. Players skates will scratch and scuff the ice as they move about, and chunks of it will shatter and spray into the air when they slam on the brakes or hit the ice with their sticks.

For once some attention has been paid to the crowds, and they look only slightly worse than the guys on the ice – reacting accordingly to the action on the rink.  The hockey players look good but not particularly outstanding. I’d say they’re on par with FIFA 08.

The hockey players also move rather gracefully across the ice, which makes a great contrast between the brutality of some of the skater collisions where helmets fly off and sticks break. Sometimes, the other team will take offence to your harder-than-necessary play style and try to smack you back in line.

You can either skate away like a little figure skater, or man up, drop your gloves, and fight like a real ice man.

When this happens the view switches to first person and you try and punch the other guy down to the ice, after which you are both penalised – but its totally worth it!

This aspect is actually pulled off really well and it’s a nice break from all the other hockey action.

The atmospheric sounds of the indoor stadiums are done extremely well. The constant din of the spectators erupts during good plays, and amping rock music blasts over the PA’s when goals are scored.

Hockey players will call out for passes or assistance, and the sound of scraping ice skates and slapping of sticks (yes, I know how that sounds) is faithfully recreated. The addition of an announcer calling out specials at the kiosks or advertising websites and community initiatives is a nice touch.

The commentators are excellent, as they almost never repeat themselves in a single game; but if you play several consecutive matches, the commentary does get a bit samey.

Game on and on

All the usual EA game modes are in there. Be a Pro, Be a Legend, Play-Offs, Tournaments etc etc.

I really like the “Be a Pro” modes in these games. With NHL 12 you start in the minor leagues as a created guy or girl (tough cookie!) and your stats are upgraded the more good games you have. Ultimately you hope to get noticed and drafted into one of the main NHL teams and go all the way to the Stanley Cup, which is a big deal in the states and Canada – much like our Currie Cup.

There is a mode called “Be a GM” (which stands for General Manager and not Giant Moob) – here you get to manage a hockey team – but I can honestly say I didn’t know what the hell was going on. So many stats and abbreviations that only true hockey fans would know about. Believe me, I gave it my best shot.

On the ice the CPU players rarely make a mistake, so I found the multiplayer to be a refreshing change. Players will always try to out-check each other or smash faces through glass and get into punch ups. It can get annoying, though, as some guys over-do it.

The main portion of the online mode lies in ‘Hockey Ultimate Team’, whereby you are given a starter pack of virtual hockey cards. You use these cards, and the players on the cards, to set your team and play against other users’ ultimate teams to earn “EA Pucks” – which are used to buy or bid on other card packs. Each card has a certain amount of times they can be used before having to be repurchased or replaced.

The aim is to fill your team with the best players and climb the leader boards. The real fanatics will likely do this for a full year until NHL13 is released.

Once again EA have implemented the online pass for multiplayer, so it seems this is here to stay.

Make or break

We know by now that you can’t go wrong with an EA Sports title, no matter the sport. They are extremely detailed and faithful to the sports they represent; it’s for this reason the game will keep most of us, who don’t know all the details of ice hockey, at arm’s length.

That being said, if you are an ice hockey player or fan, you are sure to get your money’s worth with this title. It is simply jam-packed with play modes and real-world hockey action and stats that you can tell it was developed by people who have a real passion for the sport.

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NHL 12 review (Xbox 360)

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