Got a chance to download the NHL12 demo last night... little mini-NHL video game Christmas, as it were. The franchise's hit the point where it's not about innovation anymore; it's about tweaks to things that already work. The game itself just feels and looks more polished than NHL11, which is saying something, considering how sharp NHL11 is. The uniforms are more detailed, the cut-aways to the crowd are better after a goal - they cut after an away goal to the away fans - and the highlight packages featuring one player's play in that game is stealing a page from every broadcast playbook.
That's what sets this year's game apart from last year's, at least as far as looks goes. It's like playing a broadcast. The ticker at the top under the score scrolls info on players when they're hurt, when they get a penalty - more than just when they score. The pause screens don't just show the game's general stats. It shows the hits, shots, and goals, a la Gamecenter Live - making going back and playing a replay of a play much easier.
The GCL influence is also felt in Be A Pro mode, where the action pops up on a cut screen, if you choose to not sit on the bench and watch the game. You can choose to sim to your next shift; the fast-forwarding of the clock necessiattes the happenings of the game while your pro's waiting to tick by to keep you up to speed.
I fiddled around with the HUT - it seemed to be very similar to how it's been in the past, just cleaner. I still have a hell of a time getting the chemistry to work out on my lines, but that's probably a personal problem and a lack of good players more so than just issues with the game.
The full menu is up, taunting you with game modes that you can't play yet. Also taunting you are the Legends themselves, reminding you why you get excited about games like this to begin with:
What, no Blues jersey?
There's enough game play to entertain and to show you how to play, though for first timers the lack of the tutorial might be tough. There's not a lot of new gameplay features (like board battles and such) so perhaps EA figured that there's no reason for it. That'll probably lead to a lot of frustrated first timers screaming profanities in the playoff circle - or throughout the whole game, if you don't realize you can change the skill settings for newbies.
Several people on Twitter last night played for a while and made it their life goal to get Tim Thomas to fight - one person did. No broken glass on huge hits yet for me, but I did try unsuccessfully to goad Roberto Luongo into a battle, and it didn't work. I did get a Zdeno Chara/Daniel Sedin fight, which sadly I didn't photograph for posterity's sake quickly enough.
All in all, it's worth plunking down the $60 for the upgrade. You can pay around $25 for EA Sports Season Ticket, which means you get discounts on in-game purchases such as HUT packs and pro uopgrades. It also means you can download and play the full version three days before the game comes out. Or, you can preorder the game from some places and get free equipment and whatnot for your pros. It's your call.
Of course, you can subsidize your purchase by selling NHL11 back to Gamestop or someplace like that, but personally I'll be holding onto my copy so I can play as the Thrashers if I want to torture myself. That, and my pro is a legend and my HUT is actually not crap. Oh, and STL is halfway to Cup number four.
Speaking of the Blues, this year's menu rep is Alex Pietrangelo, in a photo that too me a while of staring at to figure out. What a terrible shot (Iginla's is worse):