Hockey fans will likely already be downloading the recently released playable demo of NHL 12, hoping that the small sample of modes will be enough to tide them over until the game’s full release. But with an endless parade of trailers and new features teased for this year’s installment of the hockey series, how do they work in action? We’ve spent a good amount of time with the NHL 12 demo, so read on for our first impressions.

It’s been too long since we got the chance to play NHL 12 at E3 2011, but even then it was hard to grasp just how many changes would be made to the NHL formula this year. We were impressed with the updates that were apparent after just a few minutes of gameplay, but with the extended experience offered by the demo, it’s clear that plong time fans will have plenty more tools to add to their arsenal.

The fact that goalies will be brought into the action thanks to the new Full Contact Physics Engine is certainly the first change most players will notice. Aside from getting the opportunity to give goaltenders a piece of your mind (and equipment) play around the net is undoubtedly the most realistic to date. Players who had previously crashed the net with abandon will now lose their footing when colliding with the goalie, and be forced to maneuver up and out of the crease to avoid penalities.

Whether goaltender interference penalties will be increased or decreased in the final game isn’t clear, but the inclusion of net battles means that gameplay from the face-off dots in is much more hectic and refreshing than in the past.

We’ve already seen detailed descriptions of the new and improved puck mechanics, and having the puck slide from your stick while winding up for a shot is definitely a wake up call. It may irritate some players at first, but having the puck operate within the rules of real physics is a major step forward for the series.

NHL 12 Demo Screenshot

Where past games equated a slap shot to a gun being fired, traveling off a stick faster than the eye could see, NHL 12 goes in a very different direction. Sticks are no longer puck-cannons, as they must first cradle, then fire the projectiles more accurately. the shots themselves no longer seem like merely a game mechanism, but an exercise of the game’s physics engine. As a result, the stick seems far more active and responsive to player inputs, especially when in close to the net.

Once the puck leaves the blade though, it becomes subject to the laws of physics in a way that we have yet to see. The puck isn’t being blasted at the goalie, but simply being directed toward the net, with deflections and bounces occurring far more frequently. It’s hard to describe, but players familiar with past games will notice the difference immediately.

The overall pace of the game and skating has remained relatively untouched, so most of these changes will only become apparent over time. Nevertheless, the game is different this year, with dozens of new strategies and tools waiting for the extremely committed NHL enthusiast.

The demo also gives a look at the new Be A Pro mode, letting players jump into a game already in progress and attempt to play the role of hero. The new ‘Coach Tasks’ is a definite improvement from past grading systems, as even generating offense and energy served to fulfill the task of ‘getting something going out there.” But once a shift has been completed, the player is forced to sit on the bench and wait for the next shift. It’s possible to sim forward to the next time you are able to step onto the ice, but the fact that a separate loading screen is required to do so is a bit disappointing.

To see a few of the changes in action, and the gameplay offered with the demo, check out the latest NHL 12 ‘Sizzle’ trailer now:


As usual the demo doesn’t allow players to tweak game speed or other settings to their preferred set-up, so for those who dislike the new changes, there is a chance that increased shot speed and puck control could minimize the changes. But even if you long for the bygone days of Blades of Steel, the approach to realism in NHL 12 is something that everyone should prepare for.

After our first experiences with the NHL 12 demo, it seems that the new features really will be making the old new again, bringing both small and serious changes for those who have felt that something has been missing in the past few NHL titles. The Full Contact Physics Engine is unquestionably the star, but with so many new tweaks and adjustments, there’s sure to be something for everyone.

We’ll have to wait another month to get our hands on NHL 12‘s Legends, or to try out the deeper-than-ever Be A Pro Mode, but it’s safe to say that we’ll be spending plenty of time with the demo until then.

What do you think of the new gameplay and presentation on display in the NHL 12 demo? Do the multitude of changes seem as important as you had thought? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

The demo of NHL 12 is available for download now on Xbox Live and PSN, with a full retail release for the Xbox 360 and PS3 coming September 13, 2011.