EA Sports--particularly their Vancouver-based development team--always seems to make it look easy. While EA Tiburon--makers of Madden--sweat and labor and work their fingers to the bone to make each successive Madden better than the last Madden, EA Vancouver and their hockey sims always seem to arrive silently and elegantly, like a puck quietly sliding into a net. Year in and year out, these guys deliver an excellent approximation of the sport of professional hockey. And this year is no different.
So what's new? And do you need to buy this year's NHL if you already own last year's? Let's take a closer look.
Here's what's in the box:
1. The A.I. is definitely improved over last year's game. Your computer-controlled teammates do a much better job this year of anticipating where the puck is going to be, as opposed to merely skating to where the puck already is. In other words, your teammates, when controlled by the CPU, almost always seem to be where you need them to be, when you need them.
2. This year's game has a greater physicality. Bigger players, especially once they get up to full skate, seem to really lay into the smaller, faster players. Also: using those big bodies, especially on defense when it comes to jockeying for position in front of the net, can give you the edge you need to stop a third period offensive charge. And the goalies are busier this year. In fact, goalies can even get into fights, if that's your thing.
3. The new Be A Legend mode lets you unlock hockey's all-time great (via Be A Pro mode), and then lets you pit them against today's teams. Would Wayne Gretzky or Chris Chelios be able to hold their own against last year's Cup-takers the Boston Bruins? Be A Legend allows you to set up all kinds of fantasy what-if situations.
With tons of gameplay modes, and one of the most intuitive control schemes ever created for any sports game--period--NHL '12 is, without a doubt, still excellent. But do you need to own this year's version? That's a tough call. After having so much success for so many years in a row, this is the first time in a very long time that NHL '12 doesn't feel like a must-have.
BOTTOM LINE: NHL '11 was great. So is NHL '12. But because EA did such a fantastic job with last year's version, this version doesn't feel like an evolution/revolution. I'd recommend renting it for a weekend, and trying before buying.