As summer comes to a close, the average student will undoubtedly feel somewhat melancholy at the prospect of shorter days, foreboding tests and quizzes and frigid walks to morning class.

Thankfully, with Tuesday’s release of Electronic Arts’ “NHL 12,” the exciting smorgasbord of new game titles that is the pre-holiday gaming season is officially upon us, giving colleges across the nation a much needed shot of adrenaline.

Sports games such as “NHL 12″ are, as a whole, at a higher risk for “copy and paste syndrome.” This, of course, is the tendency to release games which are nearly indistinguishable from their predecessors, and thus a complete and utter waste of time, money and trained hand-eye-coordination.

Thankfully, the NHL series as a whole has had a fairly good track record of coming up with creative and ingenious ways of making refreshing improvements on game content, and “12″ is no exception. To the casual player, the game’s graphics may not seem all that different than previous NHL titles. The series seems to have found a sufficient graphical plateau to sit on, and though “12″ may not boast visuals comparable to more popular games of today, when playing it in full 1080p it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t look impressive.

Those like I, who play the game in a more … determined fashion, will notice that EA made numerous tweaks on a smaller scale, changes which make for a more realistic NHL than ever before. The physics of the game, for once, actually seem to follow the laws of the natural world. Gloves, helmets, sticks and even the net will fly before your eyes as the glorious mayhem that is hockey takes place. One other impressive adjustment you may notice is that, rather than simply pasting randomly-generated faces onto NHL uniforms, developers took the time to (for the most part) render real-life facial characteristics onto players. Even those sitting on the bench are actually recognizable members of your team rather than glorified, stick-wielding mannequins.

All in all, the atmosphere on the ice just feels more authentic than ever before. The sound is fantastic, as usual. The roar of the crowd after a bone-crunching hit or breakaway goal is all one needs to feel fully immersed in the game. Unfortunately, EA has still done little to alter the game commentary. It’s been three or four years now of the same announcers saying just about the same things over and over. One can only bear hearing the line, “The gloves have dropped; let’s see if the fisticuffs will follow” so many times when picking a fight.

By far the most radical changes in “12″ lie in its gameplay. Everything feels smoother, faster and impressively fluid. Making quick “playmaker passes” to teammates in your offensive zone leads to entirely new and complex ways to create epic scoring chances. Even though it now seems harder to take quick slap shots and wristers off of passes, it’s arguable that this added touch is more realistic than simply allowing you to hit 100 percent of your shots off of give-and-go plays. When playing with a teammate on offense, you can now jockey for position in front of the net, shoving defenders for the high-priced real estate in front of the goalie.

The checking system in “NHL 12″ has been completely overhauled, making hits more frequent, as well as smarter. Now, instead of needing huge amounts of speed and perfect accuracy to hit your opponent, it’s possible to simply knock them off balance with a well-placed, slow moving check, giving you easier access to the puck in your defensive zone when you’re in a pinch. Though the more realistic checking system is indeed advantageous to defenders, it can create frustration on the other end of the ice. I often found myself being checked a ridiculous amount by opponents, which eliminated a good portion of my scoring chances and left me screaming at my television screen in rage.

Though the multiplayer matchmaking system and gameplay seem to be relatively unchanged, EA did add a nice little screenshot which tracks your experience progress at the end of every game. Though it was only a small addition, it’s nice to have an idea of how the last game affected your overall ranking.

One thing that remains frustrating as hell is the fact that EA online will disconnect you from your game immediately if your internet has any temporary loss of connection, resulting in a loss. You’d think that they would at least throw you a small bone by giving you a “courtesy countdown” to regain your internet connection and salvage the game.

If you’re a stat junkie, “NHL 12″ will be nothing short of a statistically satisfying wet dream. The completely re-done post-game stat report is nothing short of revolutionary. You can now see where you’ve taken every shot, made every hit and taken every penalty on the ice during the game, as well in which parts of the net your shots tend to end up. The game also now automatically saves clips of every goal and notable play, offering a great way to back up your brag.

All in all, “NHL 12″ delivered at least one great thing in every aspect of the game. “12″ was all about improving upon what was already great, and they succeeded. Though some of the new game play improvements may frustrate old timers, it was a step in the right direction for the series. That being said, EA still suffers from its own enormity as a company and seems to neglect the “little things” that people are looking for in games, such as an online system that caters more to individual players. I give it four out of five stars for its ingenuity and genuine enjoyability.

Andrew Lahr is a creative writing major by day, gamer by night. His email is aplahr@wisc.edu.