The NHL 12 demo dropped onto Xbox Live and PlayStation Network very early on August 23rd which meant I would be very tired for the rest of the day and that’s exactly the case.
But enough about me, let’s talk about the demo. The game starts up with the same EA sports, it’s in the game we’ve been hearing for the past few years and then skips right to a Press Start screen with Steve Stamkos. I was expecting to see some sort of an intro like NHL 11’s demo had, but okay lets continue.
The main menu has been revamped and in regular demo fashion most of the modes are disabled. But unlike last year this year’s demo includes a few more modes. We have Play Now, which is a standard game against the computer. This is a change from last year where we were forced to play the Battle for the Cup mode which always ended in an unskippable cutscene of whatever team won the game hoisting the cup in all its glory. This is especially annoying to hardcore players of the NHL demo because all that time wasted watching the cutscene could be used for more playing time. So like normal we have the two teams from the Stanley cup finals of this year to pick from: The Boston Bruins, and the Vancouver Canucks. A little something I noticed playing this as the bruins is the roster is exactly as it was in the playoffs with one exception, no Mark Recchi, as we know Mark Recchi retired as soon as the Bruins won the Stanley cup. So I understand why he’s not in the game, but it would have been nice to have him in the demo.
Next up is a mode that debuted in NHL 11’s demo. Hockey Ultimate Team an addicting game mode where you get cards that represent players. The change this year is two new card types. Healing cards and position change cards. The healing cards can be used to heal up your players when they get injured during the games which happens a lot. The healing cards seem like a solid addition, but I haven’t gotten a chance to use those yet. The second card type is the position change cards, and they sound exactly like what you think they would be, you can change your left winger into a center, this is useful is many situations where you are stuck with some guy with a 66 overall on your second line because he’s the only one available as a left wing. So just switch a better player to the left wing position and bam better line chemistry.
Next is the revamped Be A Pro mode. This mode has gotten a much needed overhaul from the days of NHL 09. Instead of just going on the ice whenever you felt like it, you have to earn your ice time. If you fail to do what the coach asks you to do which can range from killing off this penalty or even scoring a goal your ice time becomes less frequent. They have smoothed out this mode quite a bit, and it’s the little things. One being when you make your way to the bench you don’t just go and sit on someone’s lap, you can actually go through the bench doors and sit down in your own spot. The time on the bench is important now, you can do what you always could which is watch from the bench, or you can choose to see a full text breakdown of what’s happened since you’ve gone to the bench. Or you can just skip to the next time you’re on the ice. I chose the latter option mostly. It looks like Be A Pro is one of the modes that EA sports focused on most and it shows.
Let’s nitpick a little bit here, Statistics, one of the most important features that nobody really talks about, let’s take for example the overalls. Hours upon hours of time was wasted because some kid decides it’s a fair game to choose team Canada (the highest rated team) against the New York Islanders (one of the lowest rated teams in the NHL). Let’s look at the goalie statistics for Boston and Vancouver, Tim Thomas is an 89 this year which is one point higher from last year which was probably one of his worst seasons statistically. This year he broke records for statistics and gains ONE point? While Luongo (Choke master flash) still sits at a 90 overall.This makes Boston’s goalie overall a 91 and Vancouver’s goalie overall a 97, really? I’m sensing a little Vancouver bias here. Now this is only the demo, so all of these stats are subject to change.
The Gameplay, NHL 12 was touted to have over 300 gameplay refinements and let’s see what we find. Right off the bat I notice the graphics have gotten an upgrade, everything looks sharper, reflections on the ice and boards look crisp and the shadows are a bit better than last year. The presentation has also changed, the score and clock in the top corner have changed for the better and there are many more cutscenes that would actually happen in a television broadcast such as the goalie skating around after being scored on or between whistles. The hitting has changed drastically; hits don’t seem as powerful as they did last year. This could possibly be a glitch, when you hit someone in to the boards (which is very difficult to do) there is a lack of noise, it sounds like checks are being made into a pile of pillows. And the big boom you used to get from hits that were satisfying aren’t there anymore. It seems like when you hit someone they just fall down instead of going into the boards like they should. The skating has taken a change for the better. The skating is more like NHL 08 where your skater actually moves his whole body instead of just his feet and different players have different skating styles, like holding your stick in front of you with one hand. The passing and puck physics have also changed and it’s great. The puck can move and bounce just like real life, and you have the deal with it accordingly, which can mean a shot from your knees or missing the shot completely. This adds more realism because you might think you have control of the puck surrounded by people, but seconds later someone’s skating out of the pile with the puck. The passing has gotten better, there are less missed passes from last year and I think the core mechanics have definitely been improved. One big change you will notice if you slap shot a lot is that the puck is no longer in your possession once you wind up for the shot. The puck can be poke checked away or if you hold it for too long the puck can just slide away from you. One-timers have gotten an overhaul as well. I don’t know what they did, but they made one timers feel good. That is the over arching feeling I get from this game, is that it all just feels good.
But it’s not all good here. After playing the demo for a few hours there are a couple of things that start to get really annoying, one of the main annoyances is the dekeing. In NHL 10 and 11 the dekeing was fluid and fast, but as soon as you move the right stick you slow down and completely stop skating. This makes the shootout mode almost impossible. If you could score with wrist shots or snap shots there wouldn’t be as much of a problem, but wrist shots are completely useless against the computer goalies. The hitting, like I noted above the hitting just seems off and it feels like you couldn’t hit someone into the boards even if they were standing against them already. The sound needs to be fixed. When you hit someone there needs to be a sound, right now it is barely audible. And finally the announcers, like I’ve said time and time again Gary Thorne and Bill Clement have got to go. We’ve been listening to them babble on robotically for years now and it’s time for a change. We need to breathe some new life into what can make an experience go from good to great. Oh, and then there’s the music. This is a small gripe, but if I’m going to hear the same song a thousand times over the time that I own this game, I want them to be something that I like.
Overall the NHL 12 demo is a game I’ll be playing for multiple hours a day until I get my hands on a copy. With all the additions they’ve made over there at EA sports they have put together a very solid game and have rightfully earned my $60.
So what are you waiting for? Go download this demo right now!