The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
The perfect combination of size, speed, and presence, a good power
forward can change the complexion of a hockey franchise. Legends like
Peter Forsberg and contemporary bigs like 2011 MVP Corey Perry smother
defenders on the forecheck, don’t shy away from contact in the corners,
and are immovable enough to provide screens or position themselves for
rebounds in front of the net. In previous NHL games, their general
ineffectiveness made them the first guys I dumped in Be A GM mode – they
weren’t fast enough to escape contact, and smaller players could easily
knock them off the puck. Thanks to the addition of net jostling and a
tweaked physics engine that makes it tougher for squirts like Daniel
Briere to upend guys who tower over them, the power forwards are once
again relevant in NHL 12.
The refined physics and net battles are
just two of the many great improvements to the gameplay this year. With
under-the-hood signature traits determining how an AI-controlled player
should react, your teammates become more involved in the attack.
Offensive defensemen join the rush, pass-happy centers hole up in
Gretzky’s office behind the net, and snipers put themselves in position
for one-timers. With goalies fighting to see through screens and pucks
rebounding off their pads more naturally, NHL 12 has the most diverse
goal scoring I’ve seen to date.
However, some goals aren’t
deserved. Refs blow calls regarding goaltender interference (leaving an
open net), and defensemen are too lax in denying wraparounds or cuts
toward the crease. Hopefully, developer EA Canada can address some of
these problems with the downloadable tuner updates.
Be A Pro mode
benefits the most from the new gameplay improvements. Since the revamped
player AI is much more engaged in the offensive zone, it’s easier to
trust your teammates and pass them the puck. The new in-game task system
also helps the mode feel more dynamic. If your team is behind one goal
in the third period, your coach may encourage you to even up the game
and reward extra experience points for doing so. The only major gripe I
had with the mode was how it determines playing time. My rookie center
played on the first line and led the NHL in scoring, but the coaches
still didn’t trust him enough to skate a power play or penalty kill.
moving up the ranks in Be A Pro, players unlock nine legendary NHL
players like Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque, and Patrick Roy. Though it’s
fun taking these stars for a skate, Be A Legend misses the mark by
placing them on contemporary teams instead of recreating the retro vibe
like 2K Sports did with NBA 2K11’s Jordan Challenge mode. I’d rather get
a hockey history lesson from commentators as Gordie Howe takes the ice
with Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay than watch him pass the puck to The Mule
and Dan Cleary.
The franchise-style Be A GM mode also aims for the
net but ends up shattering the Plexiglas. For the second year in a row,
trades, free agency, and drafting all need major overhauls.
AI-controlled GMs still propose boneheaded trades, above-average players
in their prime still get stowed away on minor league rosters,
restricted free agents (like 2011 number one overall draft pick Ryan
Nugent-Hopkins) sit out entire seasons, and some teams even let their
highly rated prospects enter free agency rather than signing them.
biggest problem with the mode may be the top-heavy player ratings. When
even below average fourth-liners like James Sheppard are rated above
80, you have too large a grouping at the top of the skill spectrum. It
gets even more overpopulated when young players improve as years go by
and aging players don’t receive a commensurate drop-off. By the fifth
year of my career as GM, it wasn’t uncommon to go against teams that had
100 ratings in offense, defense, or both. These mistakes take away from
an experience I would otherwise enjoy thanks to its spot-on player
development, farm system management, revamped injury system that
includes more short-term injuries (which forces you to juggle your
lineup just like a real club would), and improved sim results.
two other NHL destination modes, the EASHL online hockey league and
Hockey Ultimate Team collectible card mode, maintain their high quality
by making a few small but welcome tweaks. It’s now easier to match up
against friends in HUT matches, and a position change card helps you
improve your team chemistry without relying on lady luck to deliver that
highly rated NHL right winger when you already have two left wingers
you could put on the ice. The EASHL sharpens its skates with a more
gradual progression system and the ability to reconfigure your skills
based on the position you are playing in the game at hand.
the Be A GM mode needs a major overhaul and the new Legends feature
falls flat, NHL 12 is still strongest where it counts – on the ice. Just
like a well-rounded power forward who can dominate in all three zones,
you can’t deny the benefit this brings to the club.
Email the author Matt Bertz, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.