It seems like there are always two or three sports going on at the same time. Currently the baseball season is winding down, the football season is about a third of the way into the regular season, and the basketball season is in jeopardy of not happening at all. The regular season of hockey is starting up, and as with all of these sports, a new hockey game has come. While the NHL2K series has fallen by the wayside, EA Sports NHL 12 is there to fight its way to the Stanley Cup.

If you have played previous versions of the NHL series, then NHL 12 will feel familiar. The dual stick controls are employed again to control your player. The left stick controls your player, while the right stick controls the stick movements. The left stick can be a bit hectic during those times when you are trying to shoot the puck into the goal and there is a scramble with other players to get it. If you aren’t used to the controls already, then it will be tough to learn them because the game doesn’t come with a manual. Yes, you have to look at the controls in the game. Even a simple reference card would have been nice.

The typical sports-game modes are in there. The instant play, regular season, and playoff modes are there to let you play the quick game or go for the long haul. The Be A Pro mode comes back as well where you can create a player and go through an entire career playing as a single player. You can also be the GM and scout talent and trade players. The newest mode is the Be A Legend mode, where you can choose from a few legendary players and insert them into the league and see how they do with the current rosters out there.

Graphically NHL 12 looks similar to the previous game.  That’s not a bad thing, as it does look really spectacular.  The players have speed and weight to them, making the checks with a good amount of bravado.  As players skate over the ice during the period, more tracks are visible on the ice.  Plenty of uniforms are selectable, from the current home and away to throwback uniforms of previous eras.  The entire game gives a feel like an NHL broadcast.  Between the intermissions they give pros and cons of the performance so far.  During the replays occasional stuttering breaks the immersion though.

The announcing team of Gary Thorne and Bill Clemente return.  Their banter usually adds nicely to the presentation.  Sometimes when there isn’t much action, the commentary is a bit sparse.  When there is a lot of action on the screen, sometimes the commentary takes a bit to catch up.  These are the exceptions though, and not the rule.  It flows nicely without feeling like the commentators don’t know what they are talking about.

Where the action really matters is on the ice and that has been improved.  The significant improvements are with the goalie.  While goalies were restricted in their movements in previous games, they are free to roam around now.  This means that goalies can fight against each other.  The net will break off of its post holes and cause the action to stop.  Overall he feels more alive and involved in the game.

The developers say that they have worked on the AI, and it is noticeable.  During power plays the team with a man down will shoot the puck to the other end of the rink to keep it away from the net and force the other team to take more time and energy to get the puck back.  Players invade passing lanes to try to steal the puck away.  Players will get slammed against the boards and stay there until the puck is sent away.  In previous versions you could just put speed skaters on the line and use their quickness to attack the net.  That speed can still work, but if you can work the tempo and grind away, you can find success too.

NHL 12The AI isn’t perfect though.  Sometimes the AI players would get stuck in the boards on the sides.  It sometimes could have been because of line changes, but there were times when someone was just hanging out to side of the action until eventually breaking out of their trance and rejoining the action.  The other AI anomoly I had was when I was taking the puck around the back of the net and an opposing player would stay next to the net but not try to get the puck away from me.  It was another instance where the AI just seemed to stop working for several seconds.

I played this on both the Xbox 360 and PS3.  Both versions played identically with no graphical differences.  I would recommend you get the version for the console that you prefer the controller for, and the online play system you use more.

While this is becoming more common, it bears worth repeating.  NHL 12 has an Online Pass code.  If you are planning to play online, you’ll need to purchase a new copy or by a new code.  You’ll also want to make sure that the multiplayer servers are still up when you plan on playing online.

NHL 12 is one of the best sports simulations available that is accessible by both hardcore simulation buffs and casual fans.  While the improvements are subtle, they are definitely worth the price of admission, especially if you haven’t picked up a copy for a few years.  If you love hockey, you’ll feel the same way about this game.  If you are a sports fan but haven’t found out what the hubbub is about, then take a look at NHL 12.  It just might make you a fan.