NHL 12 Review: A Missed Chance at Greatness
Competition tends to breed creativity and ingenuity. Don’t agree? Must not be a hockey gamer, then. Just take a look at the latest iteration of EA Sports’ annual attempt at bringing the coolest game on Earth to your gaming console: NHL 12.
You don’t have to know much about hockey to know that physics (not to mention geometry) play a pretty big role in determining the outcome of events in a hockey game. You know, since that’s also true for all physical actions in our universe. If you do happen to be a true hockey fanatic, however, you’ll be quick to point out that these sciences determine way too much in this sport for them not to be front and center of any computerized representation of the game. So, of course, it makes perfect sense that the team at EA is just getting around to implementing physics into their game now.
That’s one of their big draws this year, see. A brand new physics engine. Just one problem: the physics aren’t exactly realistic. Here’s an example. One of the most exciting and devastatingly painful plays in hockey is the hip check. Every now and again, an unsuspecting NHLer can be seen flying sideways through the air after an opponent slyly stuck his rear end out just in the nick of time. The key tidbit here is every now and again, though. Hip checks are not employed very frequently because they are a risky proposition for the hitter. Attempt a hip check and miss, and you’re looking at a trip to the coach’s doghouse. In NHL 11, the hip check was far too easy to attempt, presented very little in the way of risk for the defender, and was generally poorly implemented. Upon its release, NHL 12’s hip check was, quite frankly, one of the most ridiculous things in any sports game ever. Why? Well, the animation was simply broken. Attempting a hip check would awkwardly move your player into the victim in totally unrealistic ways, often resulting in something that looked like a wrestling move. There are no gorilla pres slams in hockey, but there was one in NHL 12.
Yes, this blunder was patched.
How did the EA gurus fix this issue? By basically eliminating hip checking all together. Doesn’t really make much sense. The hitting doesn’t say much about the brand new physics engine either. See how realistic it is when you, as 6’9” Boston Bruins captain and defenseman Zdeno Chara, attempt to hit 5’8” Mats Zuccarello-Aasen of the New York Rangers, and your guy falls down in a heap while the nasty Norwegian skates on, undeterred.
The other big draw for EA this year is the Be A Legend mode. In a blatant attempt to ride the coattails of the far superior and more realistic NBA 2k series, EA has included 15 NHL legends, including Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Jeremy Roenick, all of whom can be unlocked and used in a variety of game modes, allowing the user to use a first-year Great One and recreate history by adding him or any of his fellow legends to any roster of the user’s choosing. Interesting idea, but it doesn’t even come close to matching 2k’s work with legends. In the fantastic hoops game, the boys at 2k have given you full teams and opposing teams, game-specific presentation and commentary, and a slew of features to engross you in the experience. NHL 12 doesn’t really do any of that. It just lets you play as any of these 15 guys. Since 2k also does a much better job of giving each individual player, including the legends, a realistic and uniquely accurate feel, what this really means is you get 15 players with high ratings who don’t really play all that much different than the highly rated players, like Sidney Crosby, already in the game.
The returning modes are, a few minor tweaks aside, largely the same. The Be a GM mode is virtually identical to the version in NHL 11. The trades and free agent signings still tend to leave you scratching your head, and the rookie generator still provides you with players that you can potentially draft who hail from Japan with names like Richard Johnson or a Ukranian named William Robinson. Is it really such a big deal to fix something so silly, something that so easily removes the player from the fantasy world that they are trying to immerse themselves in? The Hockey Ultimate Team mode, which allows you to collect virtual trading cards and then construct teams from them, is more or less the same.
One legitimate improvement that the EA crew has made is to the artificial intelligence. This year’s CPU players are noticeably smarter than their counterparts from a year ago. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they are smart. Improved they may be, the AI players in the game are still prone to making absolutely ridiculous blunders. Their positioning is often terrible, and their decision-making might make you pull your hair out. The minor improvements do make the Be A Pro mode, where you play as one player, a little easier to deal with.
If you are a gamer who happens to like hockey, you’ll probably buy NHL 12 and you’ll probably play NHL 12. I’m not going to tell you not to. I’d be lying if I said I won’t play it. But you shouldn’t be happy about it, and if you can resist buying it, more power to you. We need another hockey game out there, because there is a clear need to let EA know that what they are doing is not enough. They certainly have the capital to do more. Let’s see them use it.
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