Let’s get this out of the way. I like to play and write about videogames. Real sports aren’t my forte, but I always enjoy a good sports title when it comes my way. If you’re looking for a super sport-head review of NHL12, which gives insight into what players and teams are featured here – this isn’t the place for you (sorry!).  However, if you’d like to read about a good videogame, continue reading.

Reebok!

Yes that’s right, NHL 12 is a superb videogame. When it comes to sports gaming, you need great presentation, realistic physics, a superb social experience and tight contr0ls. NHL 12 gets a tick for every box, as it literally has all its bases covered. From the get go, you’re presented with a slew of different modes – from play now, “be a legend” or take on the NHL Winter Classic (which pits you in outdoor stadiums).  Also complimenting the experience is the full range of licensed music.  The new Dropkick Murphy’s anthem for the championship Bruins “Hang em High” is featured proudly as are metal classics like Judas Priest’s “You got another thing coming.”  NHL is full of  tunes that ultimately get the adrenaline pumping.  When put together, it leaves a great impression. You have enough modes to last until next year’s inevitable title, and some fantastic tunes that never grow old.  Game on.

No longer is the Goalie impenetrable

As for the game itself, well it plays brilliantly. The controls feel perfectly tuned, gliding around the ice feels natural with the left stick, whereas the right stick controls everything done with your hockey stick. Pull it back and swing it forward for a shot at goal, or swerve it sideways to confuse your opponents with left/right dekes. When you aren’t in control of the puck, these commands will cause your player to do satisfying tackles and shoulder barges. The bone crunching animation is really worth seeing – it’s immensely satisfying sliding straight into someone, then crushing him against the barrier, or even throwing him over. Aggression like this really sets the game apart, and it’s also good for a few laughs with your friends. Not only humans like aggression apparently, as the AI would often push me around for causing a foul, or completely smacking the stick out of my hands and even smashing me so hard that my helmet flew across the way.  The fighting is also good for laughs and good times with friends.  FIFA needs a fighting minigame now that I think about it…

Another point worth mentioning is the Goalie. In previous titles, the Goalie is often perceived as a giant mechanical wall. In NHL 12, he’s a dynamic human-like player. You can slide on up, bunt him around, or confuse the hell out of him by using stick manoeuvring. Inevitably however, the Goalie will miss simple goals thanks to this refinement, but it’s a lot better than being frustrated by obvious mechanical issues.  What you can’t do is jump around in front of him like Sean Avery, that’s illegal now… and also not physically possible in the game.

Vicious check in 3..2..1

Complimenting the aggressive and tactile feel of the game are the superb visuals. The Stadiums are lifelike in scale, and absolutely smooth to the eye. Players appear blurry for the most part when perceived closely, are modelled quite well from a distance, and the crowd dynamically reacts to what’s happening at any given moment. When the camera pulls in too close to the action however (especially during replays), the frame-rate can often choke up, and slow to a stuttering pace. Luckily, it never lasts for more than a few seconds, so it’s only a minor grievance.  Yet when it all works as intended, the ice will kick up at player’s heels, glass barriers will reflect the action and players will literally sweat, often reaching for a bottle of water during various breaks.

Though the presentation of NHL 12 is good, it’s still not up to par with that of the 2K licensed sport games. The commentary is solid, albeit a little boring at times – but you won’t hear any of that nasty robot dialogue.  Before penalties or after goals, the camera will cut to the crowd, players in the sin-bin, or even other players on the bench, really giving the game a live broadcast feel. However, these cuts and slowdowns can feel annoying, especially with the amount of penalties you (or your opponents) will inevitably concede. Of course you can skip through these moments, but constantly having to do so can break up the action.

"Yay, I put the puck in the net"

All of this carries over perfectly to the online segment of the game as well. You can play online with local players sharing the same console, or battle it out solo against the world, in damn near all of the modes. Nearly all of our games worked flawlessly with national opponents, but when playing worldwide it got a little choppy here and there – it’s best to play with your fellow countryman. The camera-cuts were still present when playing online, and it took a little longer than usual to skip through them, so prepare for a little waiting when playing over the internet.

Extra points for Ballerina dancing!

All in all, NHL 12 is a great step forward for hockey games in general, it’s fast paced, a damned good social experience, and it’s one of the more aggressive sports games on the market. EA has clearly learned some great presentation mechanics that can be improved upon with future titles, but what you get with this year’s game is simply unmissable for sports fans.

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Aggressive, fast-paced gameplay

+ A step up in terms of presentation for EA’s sport titles

+ Great licensed soundtrack

- Camera cuts can slow gameplay

- Occasional frame rate drops

 Learn more about the RipTen scoring system and what this score means. Visit our review scoring page.

 NHL 12 was developed and published by EA Sports.  It was released on September13th, 2011 for Xbox 360 and PS3 for the price of $59.99USD.  A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.  Aaron was upset he couldn’t do triple axels in a pretty pink dress as Sidney Crosby, but he loved the game anyway.