Kukla's Korner

Cluster Pucks

NHL 12 Review

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The time has finally come. My NHL 12 review is here. Granted I probably still could have used a bit more time with the game, and ran into a few bumps in the road along the way. Sometimes the puck takes a funny bounce though, and that’s hockey, you just have to roll with the punches, and always be ready for anything and everything. Anyway, without further delay, let’s get started.

There is so much to talk about with NHL 12, that it’s hard to know where to begin. Thankfully EA Sports sent me a little “Review Guide” along with my paperwork, so I’ll just use that for the basic structure.

 

No better place to start than all of the new gameplay enhancements. According to EA’s add campaign for the game, there are some 300 or so tweaks, which having spent so much time playing the game, I do believe that they are all there, some are just very subtle. Although even the subtle changes, can have a huge impact on a game like this.

First though, let’s talk about one of the most noticeable and important gameplay upgrades, the new “Anticipation A.I.”.

Anticipation A.I.

Which really is a very appropriate title, as the CPU controller players now act more human than ever, so much so that it’s just downright creepy at times. As anticipation is perhaps one of the most important aspects of playing great hockey, no matter what your position. Wayne Gretzky has a very famous quote, when asked about how he approached the game, and how he was able to achieve such greatness during his legendary career, he said “I skate to where the puck was going to be, not where it had been”.  Which in my mind, really does sum up exactly what anticipation in hockey is all about, and why it is so important.

It is not an easy task to program a computer player to anticipate things like a human does, but the team at EA Canada did a tremendous job upon their first real attempt at this, and there is still plenty of room for improvement in the future. When playing offline Be a Pro mode, it feels like I’m playing with an against competent human teammates and opponents in an EASHL game, even on the default “Pro” difficulty. As you’ll no longer see defensemen moving together like synchronized swimmers, as each computer controlled player on the ice, now quite literally has a mind of their own. Each of them will react independent of one another, based on their player ratings and how the play is unfolding, while they still keep in mind the positioning of their teammates at the time, as well as the current strategy being employed by the user, or in the case of a mode like BAP, the CPU controlled coach. They will anticipate when a loose puck is about to change possession, be it on offense or on defense. 

In terms of offense, your CPU teammates will now generally work much harder to get open for that first pass out of the defensive zone, and even more so with the potential second pass in the neutral zone, as often times you’ll spot one of your computer teammate wingers sitting right at the opposing blue line, either ready to take the pass into the zone, or to go chase it down in a corner should you choose to dump the punk into the zone. When in the offensive zone, the CPU is much smarter about their positioning, and when and where they choose to make passes or take shots, although much of this is further determined by basic player type, in addition to their particular player traits, which I’ll get into later.

Defensively, it’s the same story. This is most noticeable among CPU defensemen, who are now generally much better at protecting the slot and the front of the net, forcing you to be much more creative with your offense. Which is also no simple task, as the opposing team is much better about anticipating when you are about to pass or shoot, and are far more agile and smart when it comes to avoiding checks when they are carrying the puck back up the ice. I’ve even see the defensive A.I. lunge forward with their stick to just barely break up a pass across to a teammate. Personally, I wasn’t even mad about this, I was impressed.

In general, it feels like you can trust your CPU teammates to make the right play, as you can now feed them breakaway passes, and then watch them hustle up ice, and make some very human-like deke moves on the goaltender and actually score, as opposed to just taking a poor shot from the slot and looking foolish, like in previous years. To conclude my basic thoughts on the new A.I. programming, I’ll go back to my original point, which is that they feel much more human now, in terms of being able to anticipate and react to plays. Of course, I’ve still seen a few areas where this could use some minor improvements, and it remains to be see if these slight tweaks will come in the form of new turner sets that we will get over the next year, go something we will have to wait until next year for. Either way, I’m still already extremely impressed with the new A.I. logic overall, as it is a vast improvement over NHL 11.

 

Dynamic Goalies

Somewhat in line with the new A.I. logic, are the new and improved “Dynamic Goalies”. Which are now fully interactive, as they can be bumped, hit, and completely knocked over, sometimes even knocking their mask off in the process. Beware though, because much like the real NHL, interfering with a goalie in his crease will often result in a goalie interference call, which sometimes isn’t made until after the puck goes in the net. Although again, much like real life, I’ve seen these calls vary by quite a large range. I’ve seen the goalie get bumped, and then completely reset and ready for the shot, which went in, yet goaltender interference was still called after he goal.

I’ve seen the opposite end of the spectrum too, as a player was going behind the net, and as my goalie was going post to post following the puck carrier, he ran directly into an opposing player in the crease, and not only got bumped in the process, but was unable to make the save from the shot because of it. Which is pretty much textbook goalie interference, yet it was never called and the goal was allowed. So, just like with every other penalty in the game, goalie interference mimics real-life, in that when it is or isn’t called can vary widely. Although, generally speaking, I usually see it being called when it should be, those two examples are very rare exceptions.

The other half of the new and improved goaltending is that, well, it put it simply, CPU goalies are generally better overall, and thus, a bit harder to score on. Yes, some of those “always goals” or “glitch goals” or whatever you want to call them are still there, but due to the improved goaltending logic combined with better defensive A.I., and new puck physics, they are of much less frequency now. Plus the truth of the matter is, and I’ve heard this come directly from the horse’s mouth so to speak, in one of EA Canada’s podcasts from last year, those “always goals” are supposed to be there. They could make it virtually impossible for a user to score a goal if they wanted to, so it’s always a fine line to walk, but I feel that they did an excellent job overall with the improvements to goaltenders this year.

They do have some nice new desperation saves too, although in my time spent playing so far, I’ve perhaps only witnessed 4-5 of them, and I’m sure there are many more. The most common of which is the new and slightly modified spread eagle V-save, which human goalies can pull off too, although this animation for them is automatic, as I’ve only done it once, and the shooter went high, so I didn’t make the save. Speaking about goalies in general though, they are now much more agile on breakaways and penalty shots, which do make them harder to score on in these situations.

Part of that also has to do with new puck physics, but I’ll touch on that more later. Most of the new desperation saves I have seen involve those cases where the puck somehow gets behind the goalie, and they will quickly spin back in an attempt to use their stick to swat the puck away from the net, or catch it with their stick before it hits the goal line, the latter of which I have also seen as a human goalie, although I was just a tad bit late, and he puck still crossed the line. One last note about CPU goalies before I get more into human goaltending. Crank up the difficulty a bit, and you will indeed find it much harder to score on them, as I’ve found it to be quite the challenge to pick a corner, especially glove side, on an “All-Star” or higher CPU goalie.

As for human goaltending. It’s gotten some major improvements. The biggest of which is probably the new V-H stance (V-H stands for Vertical-Horizontal) which essentially replaces the old paddle down post hug animation from NHL 11, and is used with the same controls of pressing both triggers down at the same time. Personally, I love the new V-H, even if it requires a bit of a learning curve, even for experienced goalies like myself. As it does give you a bigger push off the post, which makes it possible to actually stop some of those cross crease passes now, plus it just plan looks cool. It might have a few minor exploits at the moment, but I have the feeling those will get adjusted with upcoming tuner sets. Which by the way, in case you didn’t know, these “tuner sets” are usually just adjustments made to certain sliders, usually for online play, but not always.

One of the other biggest changes/improvements to human goaltending, is something that many users have been asking for, which is new camera angles for goalies. Goaltenders now have access to every camera angle that skaters do, including one which I believe is all new for NHL 12, which is a “Broadcast” view, essentially from the press box. Although several of these new views eliminate the problem of losing track of the puck when it’s directly in front of you. This comes with a trade-off though, and that is that is somewhat hinders your ability to see the play coming back down the ice at you, which is why I personally prefer the old “High” camera for when I’m playing goalie, as I never really have to switch views to track where the play is coming at me from the neutral zone. Also, in what I feel was rather a genius move by EA Canada, they have now offered two new controller options for human goalies. Not talking about new control schemes, just some nice options to enable if you choose to.

The first, and perhaps most useful is the new “Cover Puck” option, which can either be set to Auto or Manual. I’d recommend Auto for just about every goaltender, regardless of their preferred camera angle. As they have completely redone the “Rebound Control” attribute to make much more logical sense now. As with high rebound control, shots at your pads generally don’t tend to bounce out as far, and since rebound control still directly ties into your ability to quickly cover the puck, a goalie with high rebound control can now just butterfly slide right towards the close rebound and cover the puck with the new auto cover feature, which is extremely useful in high pressure situations.

The second option, is a new “Goalie Sweep” option, which can either be turned on or off. This essentially allows your human goalie to automatically sweep away short rebounds with their stick when under pressure, or when you have a teammate nearby, which is also very useful, and I’d recommend that all human goalies keep this on as well.

Anyway, the same old right stick desperation saves are still there from last year, but as I said earlier, several of the new CPU goalie desperation saves are there as well, and are triggered automatically, although I’d image some attribute might help this, but I’ve yet to have the time to figure out exactly what that might be yet. As I said, these are automatic, and usually contextual to what is going on at the time. Human goalies also still feel a bit “frozen” and therefore helpless on one-timers, but it’s not as bad as last year, at least from what I can tell thus far. I could talk about goaltending in this game all day, but I’ll save it for later, when I have some more knowledge, so expect to see some kind of “Doug’s Guide to Goaltending in NHL 12” later on down the road.

Moving on, let’s get into the other major new gameplay change this year, the new physics engine.

 

Full Contact Physics Engine

In what is still only part two of EA Canada’s three year plan to completely overhaul the physics in the NHL Franchise, this is right up there with the new A.I. as one of the biggest and best new improvements to the game over NHL 11. Combined with the new “Full Balance Control” system in place, hitting feels more realistic than in any other hockey game I’ve ever played before. Although size and strength do matter, so do balance, agility, and most importantly, momentum. The new checking mechanics might take a little bit of time to get the hang of, but once you do, you can lay major checks on just about anyone with any player, if you have the right moment, as momentum and angle of impact are the two main keys to this.

Thanks to all of the factors that are calculated into each hit, they all have their own unique feel. As players can often get checked, and then only have a partial fall, as they regain their balance using their knee or hands. There are also instances where you will go to make a check and find yourself being the one knocked off his feet, or the occasional fun case of both players being knocked to the ice. On rare occasion, should the circumstances be right, you can also trigger a “helicopter hit” which will send a player flying and spinning through the air, as can been seen in the screenshot at the top of this post. You can finally also knock a player’s helment off his head with a hard enough hit, or send him flying into the bench under the right conditions. As all of these hits I’ve been talking about, are not just random, and they are pretty true to real life, as I said a number of factors are calculated into the outcome of said hit.

Further more, hip-checking has been modified a bit as well, as you no longer come to a complete stop when executing one, although you do slow down considerably, you can still glide into one. Thankfully the “clipping” issue of hip-checks from last year has been fixed, as you can no longer barely nick a player doing a hip-check and go flying as a result. Although with that said, some of the hip-check animations look a bit wacky. As do some occasional results of brutal regular checks, as on rare occasion, I’ve seen a player do a complete flip and land directly on his head… although oddly I’ve yet to see a player taken an injury from said fall. Here is the clip… apparently a slight leg kick was all that was needed to throw my 5’11” 180lbs pro onto his head.

 


Also, as it is considered a part of the new physics, you can once again break the glass with a check or even a shot that goes wide. Although, as true to real life, this is pretty rare. In all my time playing the last several weeks, I only broke the glass 3 times in the demo, and once in the actual retail game, and have yet to break it with a slap shot. As a result of the new live goalies, the net can come off it’s moorings as well, stopping play.

Overall, the new collision system feels awesome, and is by far the most realistic I’ve seen in any sports game that I’ve played to date. As there are even rare occasions of multi-player collisions that can happen. Which I’ve only seen once so far. When playing a game between Detroit and Columbus, I was using the Wings, of course. Anyway, I had an instance where R.J. Umberger was attempting to carry the puck into my zone, but he had pressure from both the front via Niklas Kronwall, and from behind, by Dan Cleary, who I was controlling at the time. I laid a hard back-check hit on Umberger just as he fired the puck into the zone. So hard, that he got knocked into Kronwall with enough force to send him flying over the boards. Again, I saved the clip of this rare event in hopes that I would be able to upload and use it in my review.


Thanks to the new Action Tracker, which I’ll get into soon, these types of crazy moments are easy to go back and save, all the way up until the end of that game at least.


Signature Traits

The new Signature Traits system gives every CPU controlled skater tendencies with and without the puck. Which make every team and player have more of their own unique feel to play as and against. Sadly I couldn’t find any menu which showed what players have what traits, but for the most part it feels pretty true to life, except for the “One-time Specialist” - which lets players do one-knee one timers if in proper position, and I think is just assigned to any player with a high enough offensive shooting, awareness stats, and who knows what else. As players can and usually do have multiple traits. Here is the complete list, which is pretty self-explanatory if you know hockey, I’ve seen just about all of these traits in action. I’m guessing that these are applied to general player type, as well as real-life tendencies, from what I’ve seen thus far.

- Drives the Net:
- Dump and Chaser
- Finishes Hits
- Net Agitator
- Net Presence
- Non Physical
- Offensive Opportunist
- One-time Specialist
- Peripheral Players
- Pinching D-men
- Set Up Man Low
- Shooter Slot
- Puck Protectors
- Rush Joining D-men
- Shoots on the Rush




Net Battles

This was also a nice improvement that added some more realism into the game. As players now have to fight for space in and around the slot. Anytime the offensive team has possession of the puck in the zone, and is considered a scoring threat, the opposition can tie up the offensive players within a designated area in front of and around the crease. Which adds in a whole new element when you’re at the net looking for a pass or possibly a deflection. There is a right stick mechanic for defensive players, that engages with players in the designated zone, then the defensive player has the offensive player tied up. From here the defensive player can either push the player with the right stick, and then both offensive and defensive players can use the left stick to spin around the player they are tied up with, and hopefully either free yourself from the tie up, or get in better position to deflect an incoming shot. Although it isn’t nearly as easy as I make it sound, as many player attributes tie into this new system.




Misc. Gameplay Additions and Improvements

Refined Shooting: There are new animations for redirect one-timers, one-knee shots, roofing the puck, and tucking the puck around the goaltender. Plus, due to the new puck physics, a slightly different feel for shooting in general. Oh, and the “Dump Puck” button, is now contextual, and the type of dump is dependent on the play.

Improved Puck Physics: Perhaps the best of the “little” improvements, as this has a huge impact on gameplay, as the puck has much more realistic physics now, and will roll on edge at times, wobble or flip in the air after shots or passes, and takes much more realistic strange bounces at times. It also bounces off the board better. As I was able to successfully execute a “Joe Louis Bounce” by firing the puck wide to the left of the net, and having it bounce perfectly off the boards and right to a winger waiting on the right side of the net, who I then took and tucked it five-hole with. It’s an awesome addition to the game, and when playing as goalie, you never seem to know where the puck might bounce sometimes. As you can see by this accidental bounce shot I scored on Patrick Roy of the Legends Team.

 


Players Skating with a Purpose: Both human and CPU players now automatically skate harder through the neutral zone and toward open ice is if an opportunity to make a play or grab the puck is there. There are also new animations for players hustling and being overly fatigued while skating, if they are out of energy near the end of a long shift.

Stay Onside Logic: Also a nice and handy few feature, as both user controlled and CPU players are now generally much better at staying onside, as there is automatically a few new animations for players dragging their leg or moving their skate to stay onside on a rush.

New Back Checking Logic: Also applies to players and CPUs, as the defensive awareness stat now factors into how hard a player will skate on the back check, as do other attributes.

Line Changes:  Skaters now have to go into and exit the appropriate door on the bench relative to their position on the ice at the time. Players who are ready to come out for a shift can sit up on the boards to hop over them and onto the ice, as is best seen in Be a Pro.

Cycling Behavior: Also a nice little change as they have improved the ability to curl and corral the puck in corners without losing speed or momentum.

Bench Reactions: Players and the coach on the bench now react when there is a hit being made near the bench, or a player flying over the boards onto them.

Authentic Helment Rules: Play is blown dead if a goalie’s mask is knocked off, CHL players who have their helmets knocked off automatically skate back to the bench as per CHL rules, and when playing at age 15 in the OHL, you have to wear a full cage.

Auto-Stick Sweep: Now when skating backwards, user and CPU players automatically swing their sticks back and forth in front of them in a better attempt to block the passing lanes.

There are other little improvements here and there, but those are the major and semi-major ones in terms of gameplay. Next I’m going to touch on some of the new stuff in HUT.


Hockey Ultimate Team

Here are the following improvements and changes that have been made to HUT this year.

EAUHL 24/7: Every team is now uploaded to the HUT servers, and when you select single player match, this new option will randomly downloads 4 teams. 3 that are within your team’s range of skill and one Top 100 ranked team, which is clearly marked. When someone else chooses to play your downloaded team, you don’t lose any contract or career games, and you are rewarded free pucks, and are given an extra bonus of pucks if your team wins the match, making line and team chemistry more important than ever.

Personally I really have been enjoying this, even though online players were sparse until the European release date, but it should be even better once it hits the masses in North America today.

Play a Friend: You can now easily play a friend’s HUT team if they are online. Neither of you will lose any contract or career games on your team, and there is also no salary cap for these games. There is also a special friends leaderboard where you can see the record of games played against your friends, including the final score of completed games.

Multiple Lineups: You now have the ability to create up to 15 different roster lineups. You save your current lineup or change to a different lineup from any of the lineups screens. Which makes it much easier to have teams for certain online and offline tournaments as well as for playing a friend. You can select and name each line up as well as see their star rating and team chemistry rating from the new lineups popup menu, available at the press of a button on the lineups screen.

Stars of the Week: Every week, the real-life 3 NHL stars of the week will have special cards with improved stats. Not exactly sure how these are going to work yet, as the season hasn’t started. Although I suspect they will either have short careers, or just automatically retire once new stars are named.

Legend Cards: The rarest cards of all, you can pick up one of any of the 9 Legends in the game. I’ve only seen one of these thus far, as no one seems to be selling them on the trade market quite yet. The one I had was Ray Bourque, whom I got from my upgraded reward pack for beating Team USA in the demo, sadly, this got erased after they did the final server wipe, and my reward pack failed to show up when my HUT team reset. I don’t remember his salary, but he had a 5 game contract and career, and 1 training slot, which I’m guessing is probably true of all the Legends. Which seems like the perfect amount of games to me, as you can use them for one tournament or playoff run, which requires at least 4 games to win, and then still keep them around for your friend’s lineup, or main lineup that gets downloaded, as they will never lose that last game that way and never retire. Also certain Legends have multiple cards for multiple teams, if they played for multiple teams. This is to help with chemistry obviously. My Bourque card was for Boston, although I’d imagine he has a rarer Colorado one as well. I’m pretty sure you can’t use the same Legend twice in one lineup, but you can have multiple different Legends in one lineup.

Player Injures: Players can now be injured in HUT games that you are playing that count against contracts/career. Thus, new healing cards have been included as consumables to help the player recover faster and get back into your lineup, there are a variety of these cards based on different areas of the body where a player might be injured. If you can’t help with a healing card, then your injured player must sit out of the lineup until he has recovered.

Position Switch Cards: Also new to consumables, is the position switch card, where you can swap virtually any forward position with any other forward position, depending on the card you get, the same goes for defensive sides. Allowing for better overall line and team chemistry. Also, with the additions of these two new consumable cards, the limit of consumables you can carry has been increased from 50 to 80.

New Salary Cap: The salary cap in HUT has now been raised to 27,000, to allow for further roster flexibility.
Offseason Packs: After each monthly season is over in HUT, you can claim one of two free offseason packs. You have the option of the Draft Pack or Free Agent Pack. The draft pack gives you one new younger player and two training cards. The free agent pack gives you one contract card and two veteran players.

Collection Bonuses: You are now awarded bonus pucks for collecting every player, jersey, and logo card for each team. However, you have to keep them in your collection, as they won’t be counted if they are discarded, or sold/traded on the market.




Be a GM

The new additions to Be a GM mode this year.

New Sim Engine: The sim engine has been rebuilt from the ground up to more realistically simulate the outcome of games based on the attributes of the players on the ice at the time, as well as a whole bunch of other complex stuff I don’t have time to go into. I put it through its paces a few times, and it seems fairly realistic, even though player injuries can play a huge factor into a team’s season, so the results can sometimes feel random, but that’s pretty true to real life… as anything can happen in sports, it’s just less common than the expected outcome of things. More often than not, good teams were winning the Cup and making the finals, and good players were winning the proper awards, but there are still the occasional rare surprises, just as in real life.

New Sim Intervention: You can now intervene into a game you sim at anytime using the Action Tracker, which lets you control the speed of the sim, as well as get an idea of what’s happening on the ice. I never really played around with this much, as I almost never simulate games, I prefer to play them.

Retired Numbers: Actually an option for a few game modes. If turned on, a team’s retired numbers cannot be used. Sadly, as I found out by simming several seasons, the game does not automatically retire certain player’s numbers or even ask you as a GM if you’d like to retire a number when a player retires. Hopefully this option will be added in next year, as it would be a nice option to have.

Authentic Injuries: Perhaps the one new feature that has the biggest impact on Be a GM mode, is the new injury logic. As the frequency and severity of injures is modeled after real life NHL data gathered over the past few years. Plus major injures have different phases now, for example, a broken wrist, will eventually become a sprained wrist, and then finally a bruised wrist before healing completely. At some point along the way it will become a playable injury. Overall it feels like injuries are much more common that before, and tend to be more frequent for simulated games for some reason.

Note: Goalies can still only be injured in a simulated game… for now… as I predict this may eventually change in the future. Also, Goalie Fatigue is still gone, which I wish was back, as it would make having a decent backup necessary no matter how you play the mode. Although I believe that if you have the CPU Edit Lines option turned on, and don’t touch your roster, your backup will get starts based on your starting goalie’s endurance. I wouldn’t know though, as I always turn the option off and manually edit all of my own NHL and AHL lineups.

New CPU Trade Logic: The CPU GMs now generally make more trade offers to your user team, separate from your phone’s trade screen, as well as more realistic offers in general to both other user and CPU Teams. Also it seems that the trade value of most players has been lowered significantly. Plus, draft picks trade values now vary depending on how that team is doing that particular season.

Also: They have somewhat fixed the old buggy scheduling calendar for future seasons, as it is generally now more realistic, and seeing 3 games in a row is a rarity, although you’ll still see the back to back road or home games against a division rival or another team instead of a home and home, but it’s much better overall compared to previous years.

I still have a long list of things I’d like to see added to Be a GM mode, as it’s one of my favorite offline modes, but I’ll save that for a future time. Also, I know everyone wants it to be online, as do I, but how would they handle the scheduling of games and events in the offseason? Very tricky stuff for a full 30 player league that has full control of their NHL and AHL teams. I have my own personal idea to make it work, but it requires a League Commissioner to set certain regulations as well as other League rules.

Speaking of which, I have no idea if they fixed the old bug for online versus leagues, as I’ve had the game before it hit the masses, and there have not been very many people online yet, so I really don’t know, plus they are doing the first roster update today for roster changes that were made after the game was finalized, so we likely won’t have an answer for this until the next roster update.

Moving on… the new revamped Be a Pro Mode is up next.




Be a Pro

Start in the CHL: You now have the option to start your pro’s career in the CHL, from a variety of ages depending on how many seasons you want to play before being draft-eligible. In the OHL you can start as young as age 15. The earliest you can start in the WHL or QMJHL is 16. Once you have been drafted, you can be sent back down to juniors just like in real life. There is also still NHL 11’s Entry Draft option, which drops your pro into last year’s memorial cup game, on the CHL team of your choice, which you play through to try and gain as much XP as you can in the tournament to determine your draft rank. Also there is still the old option to just pick an NHL team to start with.

Be a CHL Pro: New to NHL 12, this option, much like be an NHL Pro, lets you pick up on a CHL player’s present career and play it out.

Earn Your Ice Time: Newly implemented into BAP is the ability to play “authentic” full 20 minute periods in real time, where the coach will determine your shifts based on the line you are on. When on the bench you have three options, watch the game, sim to next shift, or text sim. Watching the game is exactly what it sounds like. Sim to next shift is the quick and dirty way to get to your next shift, using the sim engine to put the game on hyper drive, while still giving you some basic info, like score, shots taken, power plays, and time on the clock. Text sim takes you into the Action Tracker to watch a 2D display of what’s going on during the sim, and this has a variety of speed settings. There is also a “classic” as opposed to authentic option which lets you call your own number like previous years. Personally, I enjoy the new authentic system much better, as it’s more realistic.

Coach Tasks: The other new element of BAP. As a skater you will occasionally be assigned a specific task or two by the coach. There are two different types of tasks, pre-game tasks and situation tasks. As pre-game tasks are assigned at the beginning of the game, and situation tasks are assigned during the game, depending on how the game is going. In addition, these tasks can either be static or progressive. Static tasks are ones you either complete or don’t. Progressive tasks gain percentages as you come closer to completing the task. There is fairly nice variety of these from what I’ve seen thus far. You get bonus XP for completing coach tasks, but there is no XP penalty for not completing them.

Legendary Milestones: Special tasks you can complete at any time during any NHL regular season or playoff game. These consist of some historic records that several Legends in NHL 12 have. I don’t think you are reward any additional XP for these, at least I didn’t get any when I earned my Gordie Howe Hat-Trick. Completing these tasks does unlock a video clip from an interview done with Wayne Gretzky, talking about his own career and various other Legends in the game, usually relating to the milestone.

Goalies: Playing as a goaltender in Be a Pro has finally been fixed, thanks to the new A.I. improvements, you’ll usually get enough shots to earn decent XP. By default, if you’re playing goalie in BAP, your locked into “classic” setting with 7 minute periods. As I said, this works out quite well, and it makes BAP actually playable for goaltenders, has it had felt rather broken in previous years. Although you can still have a bad game and end up with little to no XP, but that’s the nice part of being able to start in the CHL, as you have time to establish yourself and get notice from scouts, instead of worrying about having one bad game in the Memorial Cup screwing up your draft ranking.

Legend Integration: As your pro plays NHL regular season or playoff games and accomplishes certain goals, depending on player type, you’ll level up you’re pro’s rank. The same 6 rankings that we are used to are back, but this time they have three individual “sub-ranks”. This has no effect on your offline pro other than unlocking Legends, as they are unlocked for use in Be a Legend mode as you rank up in your overall player progression screen, which will take all of your various pros stats into account, although goalies and skaters have separate progression. Also remember that now only NHL regular season and playoff games count towards offline player rank progression.

Be a Legend: A separate mode from BAP, but it’s very similar, as you start our as a Legend with whatever team you choose in the NHL, and the Legend starts at the age at which they were a rookie in the NHL, yet you aren’t exactly talked to by to coach in the BAP main screens like a normal created pro. Legends start with their initial stats that they have on the Legends Team, which is most cases, is much higher than their HUT card stats, which were toned back for balance sake. Your Legend can still gain XP and get better over time, you just do not have access to any further hockey shop boosts.



New Presentation Features

New Team Intros: A handful of teams, like Edmonton and San Jose have their authentic team entrances.

New Transitions and Overlays: Brings a bit more of an actual broadcast field, as more players are talked about and highlighted, depending on the situation in the season, as often a player’s current league rank in goals, points, hits, +/- and other things are talked about and occasionally highlighted with a new overlay. This also includes special player highlight packs specific to that game, and so far I have seen player highlight packages for scoring, hitting, good goaltending, and bad goaltending, and I think there might be more. These are very cool, especially when playing BAP or in the EASHL.

New Replay Engine: They also redid he replay engine to make more logical sense, and will occasional replay a big moment from earlier the game, also, all of the replays have the actual in-game sound included as well, which is a nice touch.

Action Tracker: Available from the pause menu, intermission menu, and end of game menu. The new Action Tracker works much like the NHL GameCenter mobile app, or NHL.com’s IceTracker, except that you can pull up a short replay of every single goal, shot, and hit, assuming that moment wasn’t simmed through. There are also tabs to show faceoff numbers in each dot, as well as a net tracker, which tracks where each team is shooting at on net. These can be sorted by period, or entire game after the game is complete. You can navigate through the different parts of the Action Tracker using tabs, and select each moment with the right stick, or a menu sorted by time on the right hand side, then watch the replay with one button, or use another button to take you into the full instant replay controls for the highlight, which makes saving replays of cool moments a breeze after playing an entire game.

Improved Arenas: In addition to some of the new intros, they have also gotten the rights to a few more official NHL arenas in the game, and they are more accurate than ever, including the proper colors for the panels that connect the glass, such as the red used in Washington and the blue used in St. Louis, for example. They have also added the nice touch of retired numbers banners hanging from the rafters. Although they don’t include player’s names, and from what I have noticed thus far, they seem to have forgotten Yzerman’s number 19 at the Joe Louis Arena for some unknown reason.

Winter Classic Mode: Technically a separate game mode, this is really more of a presentation thing. You have two ways to play it, either the 2011 matchup with Washington and Pittsburgh, which includes authentic rosters to the time, and will give you some additional specific commentary. You can also choose to play the mode using any two NHL teams. Thankfully they have included several teams past Winter Classic uniforms, such as Detroit and Boston.

Legends Team: This team consists of the 9 Legends included in the game, and the rest of the roster is filled out with various current day star players… usually… actually some parts of this roster are a downright outrage. So hopefully it might get changed with future roster updates, due to community threats of riots. As Brent Seabrook is including on the third defensive paring, yet Nicklas Lidstrom is nowhere in sight, despite being far more deserving and having higher in-game attributes than Seabrook. This team is available in a variety of game modes where you can select a team from any league in the game, as they are listed in their own separate league.




EA Sports Hockey League

More Character Creation Options: You can now not only make a female pro, but there are now some 130 or so “generic” heads to choose from. Then there are also the handful of old fully customizable heads from previous years.

Performance Screen: A new pop-up screen shown at the end of Versus, EASHL and Club games, showing user, player, or Club progress gained or lost from the prior game.

Multiple Position Builds: You can now customize each position, Center, Left Wing, Right Wing, Defense, and Goalie, with a different character build, in which you can change just about everything, except for a few “global” traits, such as gender, name, birthday, and location. Everything from height, weight, handedness, number, equipment, boosts, as well as player type and attribute build can be customized and different for each position should you choose to do so. Also, skater and goalie progression have been separated now, and only games played as goalie will count towards your goalie’s rank progression.

EASHL All-Stars: A new leaderboard, separated by position and ranked by a “fantasy points” system of stats relevant to that position, each month the top 100 players at each position are tracked, and then at the end of that monthly season, the top 5% of each of these players in these positions will be awarded as an “EASHL All-Star” which will be showcased in the League History screen for that month along with all the other awarded teams and players from that month. All-Star Players will also be given a special in-game overlay on their player’s pop up overlay during games, displaying them with an All-Star Trophy for the next month.

Club Scouting: A new feature available from the pause, intermission, or end of game menus, that shows all of the human controlled players for both teams in the current game, as well their overall rating, Club status, and current stats and grades from that game.

Separate Leaderboards: Not only will each position now have their own leaderboard, there will now be separate leaderboards for ranked OTP games and EASHL Club games.

Club Cool-Down: Now when you leave a Club, you must wait a certain amount of time before joining another Club or creating a new one. Currently this time is 60 minutes, but might come down a bit more after release or later on.

Unranked Club Challenge Matches: All Club Challenge matches are now unranked.


In Conclusion

I think that just about covers everything. Although, I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things. As there is so much to do. I could probably do nothing but play NHL 12 all the time, and still not do everything that there is to do in the game by the time NHL 13 comes out next year. It’s by far the biggest improvement I’ve ever seen in the EA Sports NHL Franchise from one year to the next, within the same generation of hardware. It’s easily the best and most realistic hockey game ever made… until next year. As always EA Sports continues to further improve on an already impressive and highly praised and awarded franchise.

I’ll give NHL 12 a 9.5 out of 10 Cluster Pucks. As it’s not perfect, and there is and always will be room for further improvement, which is one of the many reasons I always find it a necessary purchase each and every year.

 

A final note to all of you who have sent requests for KK’s EASHL Club System, the list is approaching 30 people now. So I’m going to have to implement the Farm Clubs right away, just to give everyone a roster spot and ice-time. However, as I’ve said, this first month will just be used to sort out the rosters for the Clubs in the system, so playing for one of the Farm Clubs at the moment will not decrease your chances in any way of making the Main Club’s roster when it is decided at the end of the month. So that is just a heads up, I’ll see you all online. Let the games begin!

Filed in: | Cluster Pucks | Permalink
  Tags: ea+sports+nhl+12+review

Comments

soletrain's avatar

nhl12 sucks because you can’t play it long enough. it freezes up in every mode. what a waste, if i worked on that game i would be ashamed.

Posted by soletrain on 09/24/11 at 04:13 AM ET

Doug Miller's avatar

nhl12 sucks because you can’t play it long enough. it freezes up in every mode. what a waste, if i worked on that game i would be ashamed. - Posted by soletrain

Strange, as I nor anyone else I know playing NHL 12 (which is a lot of people) have not had any such issue with the game yet. Might just be a bad copy of the disk, or your system.

Either way, I have heard nothing about problems with it freezing up… so yeah… kinda gotta disagree with you on this one.

NHL 12 is an amazing game, and anyone who likes hockey and doesn’t realize that, might need some medical attention.

Posted by Doug Miller from Wyandotte, MI on 09/30/11 at 03:54 AM ET

shanetx's avatar

Doug, have you started having any trouble with freeze ups since this discussion?

I bought a PS3 just for this game after reading your reviews and it freezes up fairly regularly- once every 10-15 periods.  The camera will just jump off to the corner at the opposite end of the rink and it’ll become unresponsive.  At numerous other times the gameplay seems to be suffering from some kind’ve odd latency, mostly when pulling up line and/or strategy options to change.  It’s infuriating. 

This, on top of unclear directions on how some things work (training players in “Be a GM mode- do they train themselves based on what you’ve set them to be coached upon, or do I need to go in and spend that experience they accrued?  I see Franzen has “1100 available experience” and I dunno what to do with it, for example) have conspired to thoroughly dampen my gaming experience.  Sad.

Posted by shanetx from Floydada, Texas on 10/10/11 at 02:30 PM ET

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About Cluster Pucks

Here at Cluster Pucks, you find a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but it’s all hockey. I mostly try and stick to the rather insane task that I’ve given myself of attempting to cover the CHL, NCAA Hockey, as well as the EA Sports Hockey League, in addition to other EA Sports NHL-series related news. So yeah, unless I specifically plan something, you never know what you might get from me on a day to day basis. I tend to write pretty thorough and in-depth posts more often than not that. I can also be pretty opinionated at times, so feel free to disagree with me however you wish, just don’t be surprised when I comment back and keep the discussion going.

Before I came on board here at Kukla’s Korner, I spent 10 years of my life working as a writer and director in the independent film world. I don’t have any sort of formal degree, or hockey writing background other than my work here. Although I’ve always loved hockey and writing, so it seemed like the perfect fit. I’m always eager to hear what the readers think, so if you’ve got a question, comment, idea, whatever, just feel free to email me anytime at doug@kuklaskorner.com


You can also follow me on Twitter at @dougmiller37

I’m also the General Manager of KK’s EASHL Club System (Xbox 360), which is always looking for new talent, so if you think you’ve got what it takes to run with some serious and talented EASHL players, feel free to contact me over Xbox Live. My gamertag is Doug IVI (that’s eye vee eye at the end). Just include KK in your message, so I can help sort out the junk messages.