Recently I had a chance to sit down and really dive into the new demo for NHL 13 that was released this past week from EA Sports. EA told everyone they were completely changing the game this year and I have to say that I definitely agree. This is looking to be one of the best hockey games in years!
For the last few years, the NHL series from EA Sports has been the subject of a bit of criticism for the baby steps in innovation it has taken compared to the start of the generation and the giant leaps it made from NHL 07 to NHL 09. Since then, it’s been a smattering of new stuff mixed in here and there like broken sticks and glass, full contact physics, and many other minor improvements. Don’t get me wrong, the physics engine was a great addition but, with a lackluster skating engine, it just didn’t feel as good as it should of and that was nowhere near as evident as in NHL 12 where you could take a full run at someone and not knock them down. I’m happy to say that most of these little annoyances have been fixed and NHL 13 is looking very, very good.
The first thing you’ll notice when booting up the demo is the new menu system which really looks great compared to the same menus we’re used to seeing. This menu is based off of your favourite team and although Los Angeles is the only one there in the demo, you really get a sense of how much better it is to see the team you root for than random images. It’s a small change and there really isn’t much to it, but sometimes it’s the little things that make it things seem even better. There were four modes in the demo: Free Skate, Hockey Ultimate Team, Play Now, and NHL Moments Live. This was a nice chunk of hockey to play through even if you only get to play a 5 minute period of each game.
The first mode I tried was free skate and instantly I felt how much better the skating is in the game. No longer could you stop and pivot around like you were running around out there (which made things very easier for the numerous glitchers in NHL 12), you actually have momentum. If you fly into the corner too hard, you can’t turn and you end up bouncing off the boards, go too slowly and the goalie will never be fooled by your shot. This leads me to the next thing I noticed which was the fact that the goalies have been improved immensely. No longer do you have to worry about your goaltender letting you down in the dying minutes of a game, this guy is going to try and get a piece of his body on that puck any way possible. This wasn’t without its faults though as there are still certain spots on the ice where it seems easier to score. Nothing seems to go in every single time that I could tell though, which is polar opposite of NHL 12. Goalies will now dive in desperation, stretch out their gloves to make a timely save, and track the puck better than ever before.
The second mode I tried was NHL Moments Live. This mode is a very different thing in this series and I can’t remember anything quite like it. The moment you get to play is the LA Kings vs. Phoenix in an attempt to re-create the Game 5 OT goal from the 2012 NHL Playoffs. You’ll see a nice video package and then you’ll pick a difficulty (defaulted to pro in the demo) and you’re off. The mode ended pretty quickly for me as I scored within the first 2 minutes and then you get to see the Kings hoist the Conference Championship. The mode is pretty good but, I hope it has a little more depth for the rest of the moments.
Next up was Hockey Ultimate Team which doesn’t look like it has changed much but, this is where I got to see most of the gameplay changes. The first thing I noticed was the presentation which is nearly perfect to me. Every big play has a replay, you get broadcast camera angles during stoppages in play, the faces have never been more realistic, and the game feels as fast as hockey should feel. New additions include little things like the LED ring actually having different animations instead of being static, camera flashes from the crowd, a better looking crowd overall, cutscenes are more acurate (ex. your goalie is shown on the bench after you’ve scored a goal with 6 attackers). Everything flows now and you don’t get those odd scenes that have nothing to do with the play, it all fits. As for the actual gameplay, that’s the bread and butter of this game and it’s great! Passes don’t mysteriously go through players anymore. One-timers aren’t sure goals anymore and actually require some creativity. Shots from the point deflect a lot easier off everything around. Players can also be hit over other players (ex. a player is already on the ground, the other player can be pushed so that player takes his legs out from under him). Shooting seems like it has received an upgrade as snapshots seem to be a lot harder than last year and passing takes a little more effort to connect with your teammate. Breakaways are no longer the easiest way to score as the goalies sometimes pull off some very creative saves. I can see offensive players becoming a lot more creative themselves in trying to thwart the goalies. Play now wasn’t any different than any of the other modes so I won’t even touch on that.
From what I’ve seen of the NHL 13 demo, I can’t wait for the full game. As a guy who has played every game in the series, I am definitely excited to see just how much EA has improved this year’s version.
Don’t forget to come back to check out our full review of NHL 13 shortly after the game releases September 11th.