NHL 12 Preview - Updated Hands-On

We sit down with NHL 12 one last time before it hit stores this September

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Before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, I was lucky enough to live in Vancouver for the last four years, and as most sports fans know, the city was draped with hockey fever until mid-June. So, it's a little hard to believe that we are only a couple of weeks away from the launch of NHL 12. With the game launching on September 13, we had the opportunity to sit down and see the final build of the game and get one last taste of what everyone else will experience in a matter of weeks.

Electronic Arts' brand of hockey has delivered over the last few years, and this year is no different. As we've touched upon in previous coverage of the game, the focus is EA's trilogy of improvements: anticipation AI, dynamic goalies, and signature traits. Surprisingly, these are not the only areas where NHL 12 is looking to progress over last year's game. For starters, the presentation is seeing a massive overhaul, because EA wants to give gamers the closest experience possible to watching a real hockey match. They are doing this by having an Action Tracker that keeps track of every possible, meaningful bit of action that occurs in-game. No longer will you have to pause after every cool play to see what you managed to pull off; it's all recorded and can be referred back to at any time.

The Action Tracker is also implemented in Be a Pro mode and can be used in a number of ways. Not only will you get a better frame of reference for how your team performs, but you'll see how well you are on the ice in comparison to others. On top of that, the Action Tracker helps to speed up play in Be A Pro mode, letting you track the progress of a particular match without having to stay stuck in the standard bench angle viewpoint until your next shift on the ice.

In regard to Be a Pro mode, expect to see more interaction with your coaches and more response from them as you make your way up from a Major Junior Club to the AHL and hopefully become a star in the NHL. Improvements include having more-realistic play time dependent on your position and line setup. If you're a third-line defenseman, for instance, expect to play fewer minutes in comparison to a first-line player. Furthermore, your coach may ask that you complete certain in-game tasks on top of normal requirements. Accomplishing these feats will see you earn more ice time and become an even more important member of your team.

Another improvement being made this year is allowing for some incorporation of your pro from last year's game. While you won't be able to start at exactly the same point where your career left off, you will get a head start and avoid having to start at the bottom. Of all the talk surrounding the upcoming release of NHL 12, the recent announcement of the inclusion of various legendary players has garnered the most attention. Incorporating classic teams and players is nothing new for sports games--EA included a centennial Montreal Canadiens team a few years back--but this year EA is incorporating some of the greatest players in a number of different modes.

Based on completing objectives as your Be a Pro player, you will unlock the Legendary players for use in other modes. Players include Wayne Gretzky, Jeremy Roenick, and Patrick Roy, to name a few, but getting them all will take you a while. Requirements include finishing a game with a "Gordie Howe hat trick"--score a goal, get an assist, and get into a fight--or scoring your first goal on your first-ever shift the way Mario Lemieux did in his debut back in 1984. As an added bonus, those who play the card-collecting Ultimate Team mode, Legends will also be available as rare cards. Their stats will be significantly better in comparison to other players, and considering their lengthy careers in the real world, they'll last considerably longer than regular cards.

Taking into account the success of the last few entries in EA Sports' NHL franchise, fans of the franchise should be pleased that rather than coasting along the ice, the team over at EA Canada is picking up steam and eager to crash the net. NHL 12 will be available on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on September 13. Expect our final analysis of the game around the same time.

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