Over the past few years, EA Sports has done an excellent job innovating its NHL series, and NHL 12 is expected to be no different. This year, the guys at EA Canada are introducing what they call their "hat trick of gameplay innovations," and we had the chance to see all three aspects in action.
For starters, EA has addressed the problems many fans of the franchise had with how players react on the ice. In the past, skaters would not respond to the action on the ice until a specific event occurred. This time, though, they move around the rink as they would in a real game. On offense, players with teammates in control of the puck will skate to areas to get open, take advantage of scoring opportunities, and, in general, make smarter on-ice decisions. On the defensive side of things, rather than waiting for an attacking skater to make a pass, defense men will anticipate where the puck will be heading and try to intercept the pass and commence a counterattack.
Of course, these types of actions will play out depending on the skill of the player. Faster skaters will be able to intercept passes or get open more effectively than slower ones. To offset this, bigger players will be able to use their size to their advantage, and this shows itself more so in the game's second enhancement: the full contact physics engine.
With this new engine, players react more realistically to collisions on the ice. If two players are skating toward the same unoccupied puck, chances are, depending on their respective sizes, one will win the puck while the other will be sprawled on the ice for a few moments. Stronger players will more likely take out the other guy, but smaller or faster players might be able to avoid a hit altogether. The physics engine has also opened the door to better animations with collisions. No longer do hits look and feel the same; depending on where on the body contact is made, expect a different animation to take place.
The third part of the "hat trick" comes in the way of introducing dynamic goalies. Those familiar with the NHL series will know that goaltenders often didn't feel organic to the rest of the game. Too often a goalie's reactions and movements felt predictable and extremely limited. Now, goaltenders make better decisions and react to their surroundings. ,And when attacked by an opposing player, they will take a hit. Of course, you can't viciously attack the goalie and expect to get away with it, but if you do it correctly, a good scoring chance can be had.
From the brief time we had with the game at the EA Studio Showcase, all three aspects were implemented pretty well and should open the door for hardcore hockey fans to discover new methods of playing the game. Of course, there are still a ton of other features to be showcased for the game, but these improvements should help in delivering a solid, hockey experience fans have been craving. NHL 12 launches this September on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.