With the NHL lockout now in full swing, many hockey fans will likely need to get their fix from the recently released NHL 13 video game. The game is said to bring a lot of new changes and features to the franchise, but how does it stack up to previous games in the series and is it worth buying?
One of the biggest changes in NHL 13, and perhaps the most immediately apparent one, is the new physics skating engine called True Performance Skating. There are over 1,000 new skating animations and skating itself is much more realistic. Players now need to gain momentum and speed over time. They also become less maneuverable when skating full boar as opposed to when they are gliding. Trying to turn on a dime while at full speed is also no longer possible.
While True Performance Skating does make NHL 13 feel much more realistic, it also makes the players feel as if they are skating through molasses. The game is just not as quick as it used to be. This can be somewhat offset by jacking up the "player acceleration" and "game speed" sliders in the menus but overall the movement just feels clunky compared to the arcade-like smoothness of past NHL games.
The biggest problem in the game, in my opinion, is the passing system. Simply tapping the pass button will result in a pass so light, that it won't even make it across the rink. It is almost as if the player simply lost control of the puck. If you want your pass to ever reach its intended target, you have to "charge" the pass by holding down the button for a second or two. The NHL series has used this touch sensitive passing mechanic for a few years now and it just makes the game unfun. I've played hockey and I don't remember having to "wind up" to make passes. It ruins the game because oftentimes you need to make a split second decision to pass to someone who is cutting to the net. It's impossible to hit them when you have to waste time "charging" up your passes!
Another issue that NHL games have faced for the last few years that has not yet been remedied is that you can't do manual line changes with classic controls. I get that EA wants to push the default control scheme on us, but a lot of old school gamers who grew up playing these hockey games for the last 20 years still like classic controls. Why should I be punished for that by no longer being able to do my own line changes? Furthermore, a lot of the advanced controls are "hidden." For example, when looking at the controller settings for classic controls, you won't find how to lift an opponent's stick while on defense anywhere. Yet you can still perform that move by holding LB and pressing X. Why should I have to experiment to find out how to do it? Why couldn't the game just tell me how?
While also on the subject of line changes, there doesn't seem to be a way to switch between manual and auto line changes in the middle of a game. If you start a game and accidentally have it set on the wrong option, you have to restart the entire game. It seems silly to not have that option mid-game when everything else is still adjustable.
The second big change in this year's game is EA Sports Hockey IQ. This makes the A.I. smarter as players can react to everything happening on the ice rather than just what is on the screen. There are also a ton of new customization options where players can customize their A.I. to react differently based on what is happening. There are sliders for difficulty and strategy adjustments which, when cranked up, make the game much harder later on when the A.I. learns from what you have been doing or gets desperate if they fall behind. Another excellent option is a separate slider for the CPU Teammate Penalties. I like turning this all the way down because I earn enough penalties for my team already!
Aside from the expanded A.I. and customization options, another area in which NHL 13 has improved upon is atmosphere. The goal songs and real-looking crowd make it seem like you are actually in a living and breathing arena. A smile crept across my face as I scored my first goal and heard "Bro Hymn Tribute" blaring in my surround sound. The many new player animations make the game feel much more dynamic and there is even a customizable goal celebration feature.
The graphics are also better, as to be expected. Goalies look like they are moving a lot more naturally. They seem to actually react to what's going on rather than just performing a variety of pre-determined animations.
All of the normal game modes are back in NHL 13 with some new ones like GM Connected and NHL Moments Live which require online connectivity. EA seems to be pushing all of their sports games towards online play which can be either a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. It won't affect NHL 13 gamers much because the offline game modes are all still there as well. Nothing from NHL 12 was left out, only added to. Even fantasy drafts are still available, something that was taken out of the release version of Madden 13.
Be a Legend makes a return with some new playable legends including Doug Gilmour, Jari Kurri, and Dominik Hasek. There are also two female hockey legends on the roster: Angela Ruggerio and Hayley Wickenheiser. Gamers can initially only play as Jeremy Roenick with the other legends being locked which doesn't make sense to me. You should be able to play as whatever legend you want right off the bat.
Overall, NHL 13 is the most in-depth game ever to be released in the franchise. That doesn't necessarily mean it's the best, however. The new skating engine makes the game feel more authentic, but it might go a little too far. If you love ultra-realism in your sports games, you'll see this as a positive rather than a negative. Those who would rather have smoothness of movement will not be happy with it though. Gamers who prefer classic controls also got jobbed once again. Everybody else will love this game.
Final Score: 3 / 5
(This review was based off a review copy of the game).