It’s been a while since I’ve laced up the skates to participate in a hockey video game. I used to play them almost religiously, as there are few games that are as fun with a half-dozen friends as video game hockey. For years I’d been hearing about how fantastic EA’s NHL series had become, and how it was a near perfect sports experience. When given the opportunity to try NHL 12 out for myself, I was pleasantly surprised to find EA had done a tremendous job replicating the real deal.
Developed by EA Canada
Published by EA Sports
Having not played a current-generation hockey game, it took a little while to get accustomed to how NHL 12 plays. Though many fans familiar with the series will find some nice improvements to the AI, there was a bit of a learning curve for me to adjust to. I was still stuck in my old ways of dashing around the ice with a single player, trying to make things happen by myself. Only after a few games did I get used to having reliable teammates and goaltending. High-scoring affairs were few and far between for me, as the goalies in NHL 12 are probably the smartest I’ve ever played against. Thankfully, the rest of the computer players on my team were constantly moving into position to help me out. Learning how to play as if it were a real hockey game instead of a video game was part of the fun, and it really brought me back to the days of yesteryear when I followed professional hockey.
What really surprised me about NHL 12, though, was the Be A Pro mode. Unlike the similar game mode in EA’s Madden series, NHL’s is actually good. You can play as either a created player or any existing pro, and whereas Madden’s appeal is limited to a handful of positions, every possible position to play at in NHL provides a much more enjoyable experience. Trying to turn a rookie from the CHL into a first line player in the NHL takes time and patience, and the rewarding feeling of finally becoming a strong contributor to your team is extremely satisfying. Unfortunately, the same feeling was missing from the Be A Legend portion. As great as it was to get on the ice as Jeremy Roenick or Mario Lemieux, I didn’t feel as invested in their career as I did with my own created player.
Though I was skeptical about how well NHL 12’s Ultimate Team would play, the developers actually know how to make a collectible card game fun. Packs of player cards are much more akin to booster packs for games like Magic: The Gathering where you have a chance of getting rare cards (good players) in the same pack as a bunch of more common cards (average/poor players). I got burnt out on the similar game mode in Madden because you can only get elite players in specialized packs, which takes a bit of the fun out of getting a new pack of cards and hoping for that one really phenomenal star. The different ways to play, including tournaments and online, really make the mode stand out, and make Ultimate Team one of the stand out modes of NHL 12.
Playing online is a smooth experience, and NHL 12 is one of the rare sports games I’ve played that doesn’t run into horrible lag problems. Granted, there were brief moments where I had a few delay issues, but nowhere near the scale of other sports video games. That’s a major plus for a game that’s as fast-paced as hockey. I had more fun playing with real teams than I did playing on a small team as my created pro, though it had nothing to do with how the game played. It had a lot to do with how horrible I am compared to the others playing. I never really felt like I was contributing, and as I’m still learning the ins and outs of how to properly play NHL 12, I had more fun in the offline version where I didn’t feel as much pressure to perform. That said, there’s definitely plenty to like about the online modes for people who have been playing the game for the past few years.
I love the way the game looks, and EA did a fantastic job with the presentation and player models this year. NHL 12 is also one of the few sports titles where the commentary doesn’t get worn out after a handful of games. What’s more impressive, the commentary is actually able to keep up with the pace of the game, and call things happening on the ice correctly. Though it should say something about the rest of the sports video game market that a game getting commentary right has to be pointed out as a highlight of the presentation. The game’s physics do make a difference in how different lines play, and how certain teams match up better against one another. I was used to being able to floor anybody on the ice with even the smallest players, but that’s just not the case in NHL 12. It took a bit of adjusting, but once I understood how the game’s physicality worked, I could appreciate the game even more.
Even though it’s been almost half a decade since I’ve had any interest in the NHL, this year’s NHL 12 sparked my passion for the game once more. It takes a bit of getting used to for newcomers, but once you figure out how to play, NHL 12 is one of the most satisfying video game sports experiences you’ll ever have. The kind of attention to detail that’s paid to how the game is played should serve as a model for any and all other developers working on a sports title. Despite not having played an EA NHL title for the last few years, I find it hard to believe any of them were better than NHL 12.