NHL 12 Review (Xbox360)

You remember reading that review of an ice hockey game a while back? You might even remember reading last year's NHL 11 review. It'd be useful if you did remember, because it'll save you some time reading this. Because, like nearly always, it's the same thing as last year, just with a few revamped features and some little tweaks here and there built up to be massive game changers.

So we've got the usual ice, sticks, toothless Canadians, that sort of thing, all brushed over by the zamboni to a fine shine, flawless with no scratches. A yearly update that's been spit-polished over the many, many iterations and, thankfully, one that can still be played with the classic 94 controls, as well as the more modern right stick shooting/skills system.

Now you can shove the tender into the net, although expect to get binned for two minutes if you do

There's little point going on and on about the core of the game, as it's been done elsewhere and with more authority, so it's more valid to discuss the new features and how much they bring to the table. Are they enough, coupled with the latest roster updates, to make it worth slapping a wedge down on the counter?

There are two main update prongs, the first being the revamped Be a Pro mode, which can be played with your usual created monstrosity or in Be a Legend, where you take control of a host of big stars from the hockey world, like Wayne Gretzky.

However, this mode seems a bit like it's been inserted because they're running out of ideas on what to do next, and therefore feels slightly underthought, especially in comparison to the likes of NBA 2K's Jordan mode (different sport, same idea).

A lot of the new updates are in the presentation department, attempting to tackle the issue of how you get your playing time managed. In last year's version, you had control of when you came on to the ice, but this year's iteration is about being set 'challenges' that earn you ice time if you do well.

You can also go even further back in terms of the progression of your player, starting off as a not-so-hulking teenager in the CHL and gradually losing your teeth over the years until you make it as n NHL star. Again, just like in 2K's NBA series, when you are waiting on the bench, you can fast forward until it's your turn to be rotated into play.

Time a hit correctly and you can shove players over the rails and into the bench

The other prong is an improvement in the physics engine, so you'll see more helmets flying off, sticks flying to the ice or nets being pushed out of position. Perhaps the most important new physical element is that the goal tender isn't just an immovable block of stone in front of the net any more, and it's also the feature that makes the greatest impact on the actual playing of the game.

Tenders feel more real now, capable of mistakes and, with the addition of the physics, reactions that feel more like a human being is in the net, rather than an invisible wall that blocks shot with thin air. You can even beat him up now, should he get on your nerves by making too many good saves.

Due to this, rebounds happen more often and therefore it's not just about flashing the pass across the front of the tender and one-timing it in. Now you can mix things up with long range shots and hassling the keeper for fumbles.

You can shove the keeper out of the way now too, as well as attempt to smack his head off. This can lead to interference penalties, both caused by you (and in a nice touch, sometimes leading to umpire reviews of goals, which don't always lead to them being disallowed) and caused by the AI. Some might find this annoying and claim they happen too much, which is a valid point, but to this reviewer's mind, the number occurring seem acceptable.

As usual with EA Sports games, no new update would be complete without flashy presentational updates, and this year is all about bring the player a “cohesive television package.” New screen wipes, overlays, menus, that sort of thing. It's all nice 'n all, but is it worth spending 40 quid on?

Like in FIFA, you can choose what type of celebration your scorer does

That depends on how much you like the hockey, of course. If you didn't like any of the other iterations, this won't sway you, and likewise if you've played and loved all the others, this won't disappoint.

The additions that change the gameplay do make enough difference to those schooled in the ways of hockey, and the goal tenders being made more real is a big boost to how 'authentic' the whole thing feels. But is it worth it for those who like it but who don't know their Jarome Iginlas from their Sergei Samsonov? You've got to say no, even if it is, yes, still a great game.

Top Game Moment: Shoving the goal tender when a shot's coming in and seeing the hotly disputed goal not get chalked off. Result.

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