By Steve Wright
Hey, guess what? Stevivor.com likes ice hockey.
It really shouldn't be a surprise to our readers that I love EA Sports' NHL franchise, and NHL 13 is certainly no exception. The NHL games have been highly polished for years, so lately, every new iteration of the game is just more polish and full of new features. Let's get into the differences from last year, shall we?
As per usual, the hockey players in this year's NHL have been given thousands of new animations, and look as great as ever. Most importantly though, the skaters all benefit the "True Performance Skating" system, which really intensifies the realism of the game.
As explained in our preview at E3, True Performance Skating is comprised of three main components: explosive stops and starts, a player's top speed and how physics actually affect your player if you’re hustling down the ice too fast. By clicking down on the left stick while in motion, you can activate the player’s top speed; this isn't a boost, but simply is just a player giving it their all. Players have their own top speeds, so those with NHL skills can really take advantage of this new system if they're using it in the correct fashion. The feeling you get when you stop on a time, take off explosively in the other direction and then turn on top speed to whizz around some defenceman -- just standing still, caught unawares -- is truly amazing.
The first new mode we're treated to is called "NHL Moments Live," which is awesome and strange at the same time. EA gain points for providing us with amazing moments in NHL history to re-create, but lose points at the same time because you'll be cast as Wayne Gretzky, reliving a moment against the Philadelphia Flyers from 1981, but playing with the current Edmonton Oilers roster. There goes the realism. Still, that being said, it's still great fun.
The other thing that really bugs me -- whilst on the topic of "The Great One," Wayne Gretzky -- is that the decision to only have select NHL Legends in the game was a bad move. I'm shocked and appauled at the lack of Detroit Red Wings legendary Captain Steve Yzerman. For SHAME, EA Canada!
Anyways, let's move on to the next new game mode, "GM Connected." Truthfully, it's a little strange to first use, but once you get the hang of it, it has the potential to be great fun. GM Connected mode puts you online with up to 750 players (!) in a single league. Fellow gamers can play as commissioners, general managers and plain ol' hockey players. There are a myriad of settings and options that you can control, and I found myself getting a little bored making my moves, only to have to wait for the other real gamers in my league to make theirs in turn. When more people start to use the feature, it will definitely get better... but those with short attention spans should stick to the offline "Be a GM" mode... or, better still, just play through more traditional "play hockey"-type features.
Sadly, Australians don't get access to the new NHL 13 Companion app for iOS that lets our fellow gamers in the USA work through GM Connected mode when away from their consoles. Which, frankly, is disappointing. I'll accept a full-blown NHL 14 mobile game for iOS next year to make up for this oversight... ESPECIALLY considering Australians didn't get a chance to pre-order the special "Stanley Cup Edition" of NHL 13, either. I'm starting to think you don't appreciate us, EA Sports!
The game is far from perfect (well... it's damn close, actually); the game's menus are a tad clunky at times, and after unpausing (or accidentally hitting the guide whilst trying to pull off an awesome skill-stick move), I notice that my player's input goes wonky for a second or two at times, meaning I change direction randomly for no reason at all. Additionally, the new viewing angle, "Broadcast view," is good on paper, but bad in practice. After spending years getting used to NHL's skill stick -- down on the d-pad to wind up, and up to shoot -- the new, left-right view means you'll have to pull the stick from left to right to shoot as well. I simply couldn't wrap my poor little brain around it. The view itself is damn cool, just hard to play with. Lastly -- though thankfully a bit better than last year -- there really are some stinkers of online achievements and trophies. Unfun.
Everything else that you've come to expect from NHL is still there, from normal scrimmages, to the Winter Classic, Be a Pro, EA Sports Hockey League, Ultimate Team and more. So really, I'm telling you what you most likely already know -- go and get this game. You won't be disappointed... especially in a year where true NHL realism might mean a patch where a new "Lockout" mode stops you from playing any games.