I’m sure we can pretty much agree that Ice Hockey isn’t exactly a mainstream sport on this side of the water. We have a professional Ice Hockey league but most aren’t even aware of its existence. But the NHL game series seems to have a solid fan base in the UK, with fans buying the game year on year. I can’t say I fall into that category, my last NHL video game experience was NHL2k7, so I was ready to be impressed when I slotted NHL12 into my Xbox.
My first impressions were of a nicely polished, big-budget sport game, much like recent FIFA games, or the NBA series. The game’s tutorial is pretty smooth and sets you up with all of the knowledge you need to play the game: how to barge an opponent against the hoardings, how to plant a fist into a player’s face and, of course, how to rack up some valuable points.
I was surprised at the depth of the game, every area of the sport and everything that surrounds it is covered, and covered well. NHL 12 not only lets you control your team’s actions on the rink, but off it too, by taking charge of your franchise’s financial and business moves and more. You can also choose to control your very own custom character too, and see him grow from a young man to an older, more experienced one.
When playing the game, it’s quite clear that, even though the game’s AI is pretty advanced, there are still improvements to be made. For example, the computer-controlled opponents hardly ever go offside, make a mistake, initiate a fight or commit a foul, ultimately giving you an inauthentic experience. Those, however, are pretty much the only downsides in the game, so you can pretty much get an idea of how much work has gone into this beauty.
What surprised me about NHL 12 was the amount of leagues available to play. Despite the name of the game, you can compete in more than just the NHL. There are a number of smaller and lesser known leagues like the Canadian Hockey League, American Hockey League, Czech Extraliga, SM-liiga, Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Elitserien and the National League A. Well they just sound like words to me, but for the hardened Ice Hockey fan, those league names will be of some significance, so it’s only right they have a presence in NHL 12.
Aside from the plethora of leagues, the first thing that hit me about the game was the visuals; they’re very pleasing on the eye. EA Canada have obviously gone out of their way to present the game in a very televised style, there’s adverts all over the place and the play-by-play commentators are as cheesy as you’d expect them to be. Sticking on the subject of commentary, compared to other major sports game like FIFA, Madden or Pro Evolution Soccer, the commentary here is streets ahead. You very rarely notice a blunder or an unfitting sentence, giving you as close an experience to a televised hockey game as you can get.
There’s a wealth of gameplay modes and options too, more than you can shake a stick at, in fact. The flagship game modes are all there as in previous years. The season and playoff modes, and the relatively new Be a Pro mode, allowing you to have some authentic and damn right realistic hockey action.
The game’s multiplayer modes are what you’d expect them to be. There’s nothing particularly new for you to revel at, but the core functions are there as usual, and EA make a good job of it too. When finding a match, you’re pitted up against another online player with similar abilities to you, allowing for a close, realistic hockey experience.
If you were to mention Ice Hockey to the average Joe, the first thing they’ll bring up will most likely be the fighting. Unlike almost every other team sport, fighting is allowed and even publicized, so it’s only fair that NHL 12 lets you get in on the action, and that it does. When approaching a player, tapping Y will see your character face up to him, initiating a physical encounter in which you then proceed to pummel away at each other until one of you goes down for the count, ooh-arr.
Most of my time with NHL12 was spent dictating my team’s moves and actions as their General Manager. But when not playing the role of a power hungry dictator, I spent many an hour as my custom-built character, a fresh-faced 16 year old playing in one of Europe’s major Ice Hockey leagues. Playing your cards right, scoring goals and making an overall good impression eventually sees you climbing the Ice Hockey ladder, getting drafted to an NHL franchise and making the big-time. This process can take hundreds, if not thousands of games to achieve, meaning you can potentially see your 16 year old babyface grow from being a naive, young athlete to a 40 year old grizzled veteran with a few scars to show.
NHL 12, as you can probably tell by now, is a huge game teaming with different modes and gameplay features, requiring a huge amount of hours invested. I couldn’t possibly name and analyse all of its modes, options and features, but if you yearn for a feature-rich and full Ice Hockey experience, look no further than NHL 12. It’s suitable not only for the hardcore that buy the game year in, year out, but for those of you that have strayed away from NHL games in recent years, or perhaps never played the series at all. NHL 12 is a fantastic achievement on EA Canada’s part, and is well worthy of stealing a hundred or so hours of your life.
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