We don’t have real hockey but, we do have video game hockey! With over 20 years experience making hockey games on pretty much every platform known to man, you would think that EA would run into some difficulty thinking of innovations to put into the series. This couldn’t be further from the truth this year with the additions of True Performance Skating and GM Connected. Are these big additions to the series enough to keep fans happy or is the NHL series finally losing steam?
Since 1993, the NHL series from EA has been a mainstay for me on every console I could get it on. I actually started playing it on PC with NHL ’94 and since then, the series has grown to the monster that it is today. Let’s take a look at what makes NHL 13 a vast improvement over its predecessor.
The team at EA Canada have touted True Performance Skating as one of the biggest innovations to the franchise in years and not just for good measure, this changes everything. Not many people would have said the series was very arcade-like in the past few years but, after 10 minutes of playing NHL 13, you’ll agree that it was. The skating engine was completely revamped for this year’s version and hockey has never felt more fluid. Skates cut into the ice and throw ice shards through the air as you carve your way to the net and speed contributes to how well you move on the ice. Hold down the hustle button and your turns are extremely wide and you don’t have very much control at all. If you’re going at a normal speed, you can perform some great plays that were previously much harder to pull off. It also allows for some thrilling breakaways as players pull away from defenders to go one on one with the goaltender.
EA also improved a very annoying problem the has carried over from past games; the goaltender. Now, playing this game as long as I have, the one complaint I’ve always had is the goalies. The masked men have just never felt up to par for me and have cost me many games with some soft goals in the past. This year, the goaltender’s awareness has been improved as well as the addition of total limb movement. Basically, the goalie follows the puck better than ever before and can move any limb to stop the puck even after committing to the initial save. You’ll still see the odd soft goal but, you would in the NHL as well. These goalies are better than ever and you’ll notice that more than ever when you’re in a tight game in the late minutes of the third period. You either won’t be able to score or will be able to hold the lead better than ever. No more glitch goals, at least from what I’ve seen in my 100 or so games online.
Speaking of online, have you ever wanted to take you Be A GM Mode online? Now you can with GM Connectedl. Players can have up to 750 people in a league simultaneously. Now let’s be honest, no league is going to have near that many people but, even doing this with four or 5 friends is simply amazing. There’s nothing like battling your friends’ teams throughout a season and playing them for the Stanley Cup. While this mode sounds great on paper, there are a lot of problems that plague your fun. Most notably, the problem that I seem to run into constantly is the load times for the menu. The mode seems to have to sync up online every time you move from menu to menu and it is extremely annoying. I can’t help but think that this is the kind of thing that should have been fixed before release. Despite that minor annoyance, GM Connected is a very strong mode with CPUs taking over for teams that don’t have players. You also have the opportunity to allow the CPU to play for you and to coach the team instead, have your friends play on your team OTP style, or play the game yourself.
The standard modes remain in the game, like Be A Pro which allows you to request trades and retire at any time now. Be A GM offline returns with improved trade logic for CPU GMs which makes you feel more like a real life General Manager trying to put together the best trades to fit the needs of specific teams. The Winter Classic also returns with both the 2011 and 2012 version, it was nice to see the 2011 mode remain. EA Sports Hockey League returns with captains and improved matchmaking . Play Now, Battle for the Cup, and all the other standard modes return. There’s definitely no shortage of modes to play through and get your hockey fix in. Legends also return with greats like Doug Gilmour, Jari Kurri and the first female legends, Angela Ruggiero and Hayley Wickenheiser.
The presentation is also second to none in NHL 13. The team really worked hard to get the presentation down. Camera angles and replays are the name of the game and NHL 13 has them in numbers. Everything your teams or the opposing team does triggers different replays and the after the whistle camera angles show what’s actually happening on the ice and not an animation that makes no sense like years gone by. The net cam makes its return after years of inactivity and looks better than ever, anyone will love seeing the puck cross the line as the goalie sprawls all from inside the net. Players fly through the air occasionally on contact and even get caught up with each other if they hit each other in the right way. Disallowed goals return and provide an even closer look with the extra camera angles. Goalie contact has also been toned down so that there isn’t a goalie interference call whenever you brush the masked man. The graphics have also received a bit of an overhaul and there are more player faces in this game than I can ever remember before.
Overall, NHL 13 captures the intensity and feel of an NHL game and that’s what EA has set out to do. The game still has some awful load times and GM Connected definitely shouldn’t sync as much as it does but, for my money, this is the best NHL game ever created and it shows on the ice where it counts. This game is totally worth the 59.99 and will keep hockey fans busy for a long time.