EA’s NHL series has remained critically acclaimed for many years now. The franchise, much like 2K’s NBA franchise, has consistently out-performed its competitors and has set the bar for all future titles set in the hockey rink. NHL 13 continues the trend by refining its skating mechanics, upping the player physics, and adding a robust online component, creating the most complete sports-simulation to date.
With each passing year EA Canada has made subtle changes to the aesthetics and feel of NHL; and this year is no exception. A newly implemented mechanic is Performance Skating. Players now have the ability to speed around defenders and really go after the puck. This may not sound like much, but what makes it noteworthy is that the league's fastest players finally have the advantage. For those that identify hockey as “dump and chase", speed is a huge part of the game, especially during a power play.
Face-offs have received a slight face-lift as well. Now you can set your hand positioning and where your body will move when the puck drops. The only misgiving of us is that when playing with any camera angle aside from the default it is difficult to tell where you are setting up. Left doesn't always seem to be left; sometimes it is up. Sometimes it is up and slightly to the left. It’s a minor gripe, but a gripe nonetheless. It's hardly noticeable when the controls are exceptionally tight.
Everything about how the player moves and feels is right. Everyone's favorite hockey stars now move smoother and more responsive than ever. Nothing happens by accident when it comes to your input and the results that follow. Playing defense is better than before with poke checks being much more useful. If you know how to play hockey, the game rewards you for that. Keep this in mind, though, the game knows the game too…so bring your A-Game. And this brings us to NHL 13 most unfortunate missteps: it's difficulty.
A sports title by no means should be an easy one. A computer-controlled opponent should be challenging yet ultimately beatable. NHL 13 however makes you feel like you are being beaten into submission, as if you never stood a chance. Think of it like David and Goliath, only Goliath is wearing a steel helmet. Perhaps I'm just not playing the right way - making the right shots, taking away shooting lanes, leading in face-offs, hits, shots, etc. – but when L.A. King’s Drew Doughty takes a wrist shot from the blue line and it just…goes in… like it's not even a tough shot, something is apparently up. It seems like this happens more and more as you play the game, as if the game is making things harder because you are playing better. I get that I shouldn't be able to coast when I reach a certain skill-level, but don't cheat me either.
Another issue with NHL 13 is the first-person fighting. The game makes so many strides towards a genuine, TV-style form – going as far as to fade out to spectacular commercials – but then completely breaks the mood by switching to a first-person perspective when a scuffle breaks out. The fighting itself works out fine, but the camera switch just ruins the illusion.
The all-new GM Connected Mode is quite simply…RIDICULOUS. Here's how it works in a nutshell: Start a league complete with GM’s and Players…all controlled individually. Theoretically you can have each team’s GM and each team’s players…all of them…individually controlled. All this spanning and ENTIRE LEAGUE. Now, think about that for a moment. Let that sit in. Gave it some thought? Good. Now let me ask you this: do you know that many people you can play NHL 13 with? Me neither. The GM Connected Mode is a great idea, but I can’t really see it being utilized to its full potential. I have not seen many large leagues, but having a GM Connected league with 29 friends is perfectly reasonable. The other way to take advantage is if you have four friends and want to play as your favorite team in one of the leagues starting up.
If you are anything like me, Career Mode is where most of your time will be spent. It was here where I was able to make my Goaltender (the position I played back in my day). The mechanics are simple to learn and not so hard to master. Making saves is easy and earning XP to improve stats is a joy. And milestones keep you wanting to improve more and more. It is a pretty simple mode, but fun to play. There are other modes to dabble with, but nothing again, nothings sports fans haven't seen before.
On a final note, one final issue I had with the NHL 13 was its menus. This is something that plagues EA’s sports' games every year. NHL 13’s menus are a clunky mess. There, I said it.
Overall, NHL 13 is an incredible feat in sports simulation. The new tweaks to gameplay, and the added details in presentation create an authentic NHL experience unlike any other. Good thing too, because it looks like we won’t be having any other form of hockey in America this season.
Fun Factor: If you like hockey, then this is for you. The fast paced action and realistic presentation make this a blast to play.
Difficulty: The default "Pro" Mode is a bit tough for newcomers, but toning it down makes things easy and fun.
Length: From Exhibition to GM Connected, you can easily spend an entire year playing this game.
On the Negative Side: Getting into the robust GM Connected Mode is easy…if you have a crap-ton of friends to spare. The controls while great, are a bit hard to get used to. The menus are also an eyesore.
Bang for your Buck: For the hockey enthusiast, this is a must-have. And $60 for a game you'll play for 10+ months, sounds a whole lot better than paying $60 for a game you'll play for 10+ hours, doesn't it?