It’s time for hockey lovers everywhere to rejoice as EA Sports has released NHL 13 to the masses. This yearly effort from EA Sports comes out at a rough time for the hockey world, as a lockout is looming for the league. With a host of new changes and a big new mode, this effort could be exactly what people need to hold them over until hockey resumes play.
NHL 13 sees a ton of new additions to the presentation and gameplay, along with a few new modes to bring some added depth to the game this year. The biggest addition comes in the brand new true performance skating physics, which give a much needed change to the way you move on your skates. Holding down the left analog stick all the way now allows you to skate at full speed, giving a more realistic sense of fast skating. Pick a player with extreme speed and watch as you blow down the ice, a-la Modano in his prime. This speed comes at a cost, though, as you are no longer able to stop on a dime without consequence. Try to stop too fast and you will lose your balance and the puck along with it.
Not only does this new true performance effect speed, but it also changes the way your skaters make cuts and skate backwards. Defensemen get hit the hardest with this change as the transition from skating backwards to turn and chasing a dump-in are slower, with it taking time to turn and accelerate after the puck. This allows for the series to finally have a proper dump and chase game, with forecheckers getting on top of the defenseman with a lot of speed. NHL 13 also allows players to tweak their teams forecheck and neutral zone tendencies, allowing for a better use of your skaters and how they attack the puck.
Added to the changes are also a much more effective poke check, which actually allows players to poke their stick into passing lanes and break up plays with more regularity than in years past. Shooting also feels a lot better than before, as players with heavy shots feel extremely accurate and forceful. All of these changes do wonders to make the game more challenging for returning vets of the series and still easy to pick up for newcomers.
NHL 13 offers plenty of modes—both new and old—for players to enjoy this time around. Back from previous seasons are the Be a Pro mode, Online Team Play, Hockey Ultimate Team, and the EA Sports Hockey League. Be a Pro allows players to create a pro or pick a current NHLer, and then work their way to the top from a first-person perspective. Online Team Play allows for 6v6 play between 12 people around the world. Hockey Ultimate Team is the card game from previous series, allowing players to earn pucks and unlock decks with new players and perks to fill out your lineup card. EA Sports Hockey League let’s players make teams and face off against other teams, with playoffs coming once a month.
These are not the only modes you will enjoy in NHL 13, as the game has two new modes that should help provide a load of depth for players. The first of these new modes is NHL Moments Live. In this mode, there are over 30 highlight moments from the 2011-2012 season that are available for players to play through and try to recreate or spoil. Moments such as Jonathan Quick’s shutout streak, where you must play as Dallas with only five minutes to spoil his shutdown and win the game. Each of these moments can be played on four difficulty settings; with each one giving a higher amount of pucks that can be used in the Hockey Ultimate Team mode. This new mode was a lot harder than I thought it would be, and I literally spent hours trying to complete just a single moment. New moments are in the works as well, and moments from the upcoming season will be added as they happen.
The other new mode this time around is the GM Connected mode. For anyone who has taken part in the VGHL (Video Game Hockey League), this new feature should be very similar. In the GM Connected mode, players can create a hockey league that has 32 user-controlled teams, with players and GMs to keep things organized. Each league can have up to 750 players and can be customized with a variety of advanced options. Players can play games against the computer, versus another player, or online team play with multiple teammates. Trades and free agency will allow the league to ever evolve, and players can enjoy the league at a comfortable pace.
One of the highly touted parts of NHL 13 was the boost up in the game’s artificial intelligence. AI-controlled skaters now move to more natural positions on the ice, anticipating plays and moving to a spot on the ice that actually makes sense. Defenders do a better job of moving into position to cut off paces and close off the front of the net. The goalie AI is also vastly improved, with goalies now able to make a lot of new saves this time around. During my time with the game, I was robbed on numerous occasions, creating a sense of accomplishment when I finally got one in the net.
The presentation in NHL 13 makes some huge strides, but also hits some bumps on the way. Arenas are given a huge amount of detail to try and best mimic their real-life counterparts. Character models have also been given some great detail, with players looking extremely life-like. In-game replays and the commentators are also given a fresh coat of paint, with better analysis of the play and a new True Broadcast camera that adds a level of realism to the in-game presentation. All of this is not without its hiccups, as some of the replays from the in-goal camera are extremely blocky. Menu lag throughout the game is still there as it has been in all the previous games, which is an big disappointment. Moving between the various menus is slow and if you happen to click on the wrong option, you will spend a bit too long trying to get back to where you wanted to be.
I don’t know how EA Canada does it, but every year they find a way to make changes to their game while keeping the core intact. NHL 13 makes huge strides with the addition of True Performance Skating, adding a whole new element of speed to the game. Add to that the GM Connected mode and NHL Moments Live, and you have a strong group of additions to make for a great game of hockey that should hold you over until the labor issues get resolved. Now if only EA Canada could figure out the menu lag!