September 13. Mark it on your calendar. NHL 12 arrives in stores. Now, I know that I wrote in a previous article that I have a sort of hate on for these upgrade-a-year sports titles, but EA’s NHL is one that I get excited about every year none the less. Yes, I know that it is essentially a patch made into a whole new game and sold at full price, but in this instance, I’ll let it slide. I’ve been playing this series since NHL ‘91 on the Sega Genesis, and let’s face it, I’m not stopping now.
There are a few reasons that I’m looking forward to this year especially. EA has introduced a few things that should make this game shine, things that I’ve hoped were going to be introduced in previous versions, but weren’t. Things like active goalies, which are now part of the action, and real physics, where big guys actually hit like big guys. While these things are a great addition, there are also reasons that they could be damaging to the overall experience. EA is notorious – especially in their NHL titles – for adding things in that seem great in theory, but end up being terrible after implementation. Things like the faceoff deke, where a player holds the bumper button and flips the analog stick up, sending his player soaring past the other guy and wheeling towards the net. While this may happen very rarely in the NHL, it happens anywhere from 10-20 times per game online. Plus with the wonky physics engine in 10-11, little guys can cream big guys and big guys often miss or have trouble knocking down smaller players.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the pros and cons of the new features:
The new Be-A-Pro additions:
NHL 12 will have tasks for your be a pro character. You’re going to earn your ice time by hitting specific targets set out by your coach. So for instance, you are playing in your first big-league game, and you’re about to go on the ice for a big PK and your coach set out the goal of blocking 2 shots. If you successfully block them, you’ll gain more ice time in the future.
PRO: This adds more interaction to the mode by allowing players to deliver key plays in key moments. It adds a little more tension and realism knowing that you have a job to do on the ice (much like a real player) and you’ll get praised if you do it well. Players already familiar with playing the game like an actual sim (not just simulating the seasons and using trick goals) shouldn’t have any trouble making these key plays as they’re already part of your normal routine, you block shots, you get open, that kind of thing.
CON: Although not a bad addition, but I can potentially see one major flaw. Anyone familiar with these types of goal-oriented success situations knows that it can be unnerving at times. If improperly implemented, you could, for instance – with a target of blocking 3 shots – go out and score 5 goals and 3 assists and still get sent back down to the minors for only blocking 2 of 3 shots. I can distinctly remember, in an earlier hockey game, leading the league in scoring and getting sent back down to the minors because I wasn’t always standing where I was supposed to be! I mean, if you’re leading the league in scoring, you’re standing in the right space regardless of what your coach tells you! It was just very unrealistic. Hopefully EA can pull this one off!
Goalies are fair game! You can run them, they’ll be an active part of net-front skirmishes, you can get in their face and they can push you out of their crease. This could potentially be a game changer.
PRO: With interactive goalies, the game play changes drastically. In NHL 11, if you had guys crashing the net, the goalie would simply follow the puck, allowing opposing players to essentially bump into the goalie and knock in loose pucks. Now that the goalies are part of the play, you’ll see a more responsive net minder in that he will look to clear out the crease and make better saves. They will react to screens and act accordingly. Also, now that you can hit them like any other player, the goalies are going to be able to make desperation saves while falling, which should be pretty awesome to look at. Let’s just hope that some of the glitch goals are gone in this version, and the goalies are less robotic. Also, GOALIE FIGHTS!
CONS: Now that you can hit the goalies, look for it to happen in EVERY PLAY online. Sometimes you get a match where your opponent is a pleasure to play with, no late hits, no yelling (or worse, chewing!) into the microphone. The other 90% of the time it’s a disaster. And with the addition of the goalie hits, I can see this quickly becoming a routine of skate towards the net, hit the goalie, score. Wash, rinse, repeat. Let’s hope that EA has thought this one out as well.
Now you’ll be able to hit guys over the boards, knock helmets off both players and goalies, as well as break the boards/glass with big hits. Also, nets can be knocked off their moorings.
PROS: Almost everything. This was a feature that was in much earlier versions of this game, and should never have been taken out. Nothing riles up the crowd like a huge hit that knocks an opposing player into the bench. With helmets flying off and boards and glass breaking, look for this to give you some spectacular visuals.
CONS: This is one feature that can get old FAST if it’s not implemented correctly. The last thing you want is to play against someone that puts you into the bench every time you skate by it. There needs to be a certain ratio of over the boards/glass breaking hits, or this will quickly turn players off. With the nets being live as well, they can now be knocked off their moorings by collisions in front of or around the net. Let’s hope that this can’t be done just by skating into it, or you’ll have many a goal disallowed by a player who simply skated into the net when he saw you on a breakaway.
So, essentially, proper implementation is key. If done right, this could be the best NHL game since 91’! If not, well there’s always next year, right?