As the resident hockey nut at PlayStation LifeStyle, I was very excited when I stepped into the EA Booth to try my hand at the latest puck slapping simulation, NHL 12. With every year’s iteration raising the bar for sports simulation, NHL has a lot to live up to and thankfully it looks like the guys at EA Sports are up to the task.
The demo I sat down with put me right into the action of the Winter Classic; an event where two hockey teams meet up at an outdoor venue, taking the sport back to its roots of pond hockey. The first thing I noticed was the added boost EA Sports has given the game with snow falling all around the players. Also improved was the presentation of the fans cheering on their teams and the players themselves. Added to this are live highlights of every hit, shot, and goal accessible at any time during the game.
Of course, you are not buying a sports game solely on the presentation and, thankfully, NHL 12 has the gameplay to match. The feel of skating up and down the ice, shooting the puck on net, or taking a hit feel great and give players an idea what it might feel like to lace up the skates. The new additions added to this year’s model does wonders for the authenticity of the game. Features such as hits that break the glass, players running over the goalie, and helmets flying in the air are a great addition to the core gameplay already in place. It was very cool to go and take a run at another player, only to fall down yourself as you make impact.
The crease has become a huge area of emphasis this time around as the goalie and the goal itself are fully in play. This means that you can knock over this goalie this time around (if you want to visit the penalty box) and you can even knock the goal off its moorings. Adding even further to this is the all new crease battles where you can duke it out with a defender or forward for control over the area in front of the goal. This is yet another wrinkle in what is already a deep and fulfilling game.
Certain modes in the game have also seen improvements made and none are bigger than the Be a Pro. While the core of this has not changed much, the biggest change made that will make the mode more accessible to casual gamers is the ability to skip to your next shift. What that means is that if you are playing 4th line minutes and only seeing the ice two or three times a game, you can fast forward past all your time on the bench to play only your shift. This should shorten down the length of games in Be a Pro and make it easier to pick up and play without a huge time commitment.
It must be hard to really improve a franchise once a year, but EA Sports looks well on their way to continuing their trend of improving the NHL series each year. The improvements to the gameplay and presentation take this over the top and should be looked at by anyone wanting to experience the closest thing to real life hockey. EA Sports even assured me they were looking into the microphone issues that have plagued the PS3 version for years, hopefully that is resolved when the game ships later this year.