Upon first glance, the demo for EA’s NHL 12 appears to be a retread of last year’s NHL 11.
Sure, the songs may have changed and Chicago and Philadelphia have been replaced by Vancouver and Boston but on the whole, the game remains fairly status quo — and I’m OK with that.
EA puts out a solid quality product and the developers are better off improving the game rather than continually reinventing it. The controls and gameplay are familiar, with minor tweaks made here and there.
The first noticeable change to the game is the menu screen. A cleaner interface means improved usability for the EA novice. Featured in the in-game menu screens, the design of the Game Manual and the easy accessibility to graphics tracking statistics such as shots, goals, and hits, are a very nice touch.
In the game, the biggest changes are made to the way the goaltender interacts with his surroundings. The goalie is now more a part of the game rather than just a static block who serves no purpose outside of protecting the net.
Players can now run the goalie, allowing for a new way to score goals and wreak havoc in front of the net. Any contact with the goalie, both before and after the whistle, results in quicker responses from the opposing skaters, who will immediately engage you in a battle around the net.
The goalie can be knocked down and pushed around. When pushes comes to shove, the goalies will even drop the gloves with each other.
The skaters, on the other hand, have not undergone many significant changes. Although it’s hard to verify this, it appears that a user has more control over receiving passes, as the game switches players a bit sooner than in previous versions. It takes a little bit of adjusting. At first, cross-ice passes made to players on the attack that are located outside of the viewable area of the screen could result in more offsides and more missed connections.
Players also do a better job at reacting to lost pucks than in NHL 11. When the puck is poke checked away, the artificial intelligence kicks in and tries to gain control of the puck again.
In Be A Pro mode, the changes made are more of a setback than a step forward. A player will be assigned a task (ie. provide momentum, get more shots on goal, score a goal, etc.) and these tasks are a distraction from the actual game. Rather than play the position well and help the team out, gamers will be more inclined to take meaningless shots, play selfishly, and drop the gloves for the sole purpose of completing a task.
A user can now simulate ahead to his next shift, shortening the time he spends on the bench. The instant gratification is nice at first but fleeting. Doing this will detract from the realism of this mode and make it less appealing. Overusing this feature may kill the desire to continue playing Be A Pro mode in the long run.
As a personal aside, I still do not see the appeal of the Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) mode and could never stick with it for more than a game or two. The setup and interface are counterintuitive and I have little interest in the concept. Others may find more value in HUT and I cannot provide any comments of worth to them.
One of the aspects that has been sorely lacking in recent hockey games has been the ability to play as classic teams. Hitting the ice as the ’87 or the Stanley Cup-winning Flyers teams was a great bonus. If the Legends available in NHL 12 is a step back towards that — with Wayne Gretzky and Jeremy Roenick both included as legends, maybe we can make Gretzky’s head bleed for super fan #99 over here? — then it’ll be easy to overlook the game’s glitches and consider this game to be a vast improvement.