Today, EA Sports released their annual hockey game, NHL 12. Since 2008, the NHL series has been the class of sports gaming, and this year's edition is no exception.
Over the course of the next two days, I will review the game, focusing on different aspects each day.
Today, I will focus on the core gameplay.
If you've played the NHL series in the last few years, you're familiar with the two stick system. The left stick on the controller controls, for lack of a better word, your skates, while the right stick controls your stick. Push up on the right stick, and you have a shot. Get it? Good.
It's important to note that the changes to this years game are very subtle, but really make a difference. The most important change to the core gameplay is goaltender collision effects. In years past, a collision with the goalie simply meant the goalie would slide harmlessly to the side. This season, every bump can throw the goalie off. Crash the net, and the goalie is certainly affected...so much so, that the goalie can be knocked completely to the ice. Go too far, and you'll get penalized for goaltender interference.
Another new feature in the gameplay is the ability to battle in front of the net. Power forwards will head to the front of the net, and defensemen will engage them. Cross checks, hip checks, and shoving in front of the net affects the goalie as well. These are not canned animations. Every movement is organic and unfolds as it happens. If the scrumming players bump the goalie, he is affected. If the offensive player goes too far, it's a penalty.
Another change that jumped off the screen to me was the puck physics. The days of random rebounds and rocket post shots are a thing of the past. The puck reacts more realistically than ever. Rebounds bounce in front of the goalie properly, which makes slot play more important than ever. Those scrumming forwards can now shovel that garbage on goal, which is how the majority of goals are scored in the NHL. In years past, most goals in the NHL series came on breakaways or point shots. I'm finding a good percentage of my goals are coming from in front of the net on a goalie rebound.
The checking is vastly improved this season as well. No longer will a defender magnetically cling to a puck carrier. The drifting and sliding skating is gone. Now the defender has to find the correct angle of pursuit to eliminate a skater. If he misses, he hits the boards and is behind the play for quite a few strides. If he connects, he can shatter the glass or send the skater into their bench...two more new features.
Oh, and if you've ever dreamed of dropping the gloves with Roberto Luongo, now you can. Goalies can fight with skaters or the other goalie. To make the goalies fight (on the XBOX version) after the whistle blows, hold LB and A. Once your goalie is selected, hold A and head to center ice while tapping the Y button. On PS3, LB = L1, A=X, and Y=Triangle. So far, it has worked every time I've tried it...so enjoy punching Bobby Lou. I have.
To me, the core gameplay is the most important element of a game. EA Sports commits to making it better every single year in the NHL series. I wish some of that passion would rub off on the Madden and NCAA games.
Tomorrow, I will review the gameplay modes, including the Hockey Ultimate Team and Be A Legend modes.