Poor NHL fans. You get a great game from EA and that's about all you're probably going to get for the season. As the NHL is trying to sort out its priorities, and obviously didn't learn a healthy, financial lesson from the last lockout, EA Sports has quietly released another year's version of their hit NHL series.
What can you expect with this year's version? Come find out.
The gameplay in NHL 13 has changed and tweaked in a more positive way. The first thing you'll notice is the bevy of options that lay before you in the menu. While not taking a direct note from Madden NFL 13, NHL some things that work really well for the football franchise. For example, one of the new modes in NHL 13 is the GM Connected mode (hmmmm, that sounds familiar). This puts you in the role of GM on an offline and online situation. You'll be able to make decisions from the GM box and interact with players and build a championship team. This doesn't mean that you're falling back into 1986 and playing some awful coaching simulator where you get to watch dots play games and manage stats. Rather, you will be either hands on with the games or watch them play out; it's completely your choice.
In addition to this in GM Connected, you'll also have the opportunity to play with up to 750 friends/strangers in a created league. Can you believe that? It's absolutely nuts, but for hockey fans who are trying to pass the time until the NHL can get its problems worked out, this might be just what the doctor ordered.There are far more things to do in this mode, but it's basically on the same scale as Madden NFL 13's Connected Career mode. There is so much depth here that you'll be occupied for quite some time.
Another mode to expect this year is the NHL Moments Live. If memory serves me correct, and some times it does, NCAA Football had a similar mode where you could relive great moments in NCAA Football history. I think the concept is always neat, but with hockey it might be lesser known moments for folks who have never dived into the sport before. Some of the moments are from recent NHL seasons, while others come straight from the 80s or before. The concept is neat, but I didn't spend much time in this area before heading back to GM Connected. This just isn't something that excites me as a non-hardcore fan of hockey. I'm somewhere in the middle when it comes to being a fan.
Other improvements in gameplay include the upgrade to player controls and true body reactions on the ice. Again, going back to Madden NFL 13 there was considerable amounts of time spent on the animation of Madden QBs. It helped things quite a bit, as you had more steps in the drop back, better play action passing opportunities and other positives that improved gameplay. The same goes fro NHL 13, which EA Sports has pretty much revamped the entire animation system and referred to it as True Performance Skating (so sophisticated). The player movement in NHL 13 is now closer to that of real hockey. You won't find 'stop on a dime' type of movements that seem quite unnatural to the real sport. Out with the arcade feel and in with something more accurate to the real game. For example, when you can build momentum in the game that creates speed, which allows you to turn fast and to move your player as natural as possible. It will seem odd at first, mainly because of how older NHL games worked, but after a few games it will work like it should work. It's a wonderful attempt at bringing in true hockey to a video game. It works for the most part.
Also improved, though you couldn't tell by my score in the first game, is better AI from teammates and from the opponent. Looking for challenge? Well, NHL 13 provides that with smarter opponents that do their best to break your strategy and take control of the game. With that said, your teammates are a helluva lot smarter in NHL 13 than in previous years. Your goalie, bless his heart, will do his best to keep the puck from getting to the goal. Although my first game was a horrible loss to the Devils, my goalie must have stopped 100 pucks before giving up five. Yes, I was that bad at the beginning of this game, but as stated in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "I got better." Much like the animation, there is vast improvement in the AI to make the overall game experience better.
Speaking of better, whoa-boy you're going to get a visual and audio treat with NHL 13. The lighting, stadiums and fans have been improved. One thing a few editors in the office noticed right off the bat is how well the fans look in the stands. As sports gaming progresses, eventually developers are going to look at something to improve when they hit a wall with the actual players/stadiums, and fans will be that one thing. NHL 13 takes a step in the right direction and makes the fans look and sound relevant to the action. From a guy yapping on a cellphone to cheering/jeering fans in the stands, you'll get a bit more depth in this department. Laugh all you want, but the idea of fan support getting better in sports games seems like a natural fit. NHL 13 does a good job with this.
Other improvements are the improved scripts for returning commentators Gary Thorne and Bill Clement. Whilst I was getting pounded by the New Jersey Devils in my opening game, they both chimed in during the third quarter to explain how disappointed the fans were with me, but also how disappointed my players must have felt. Good lord, who says that? Well, it was a change of pace and a welcomed one, as I didn't hear much repeated dialogue from the duo. Sure they've got a finite amount of lines to spout out, but it seems like this year they've expanded their script for the better. People who didn't like them in the previous game will most certainly appreciate them this time around.
The final improvements of the presentation can be seen in the players. Smooth skin, defined facial features and just awesome free-flowing costumes makes for a realistic looking player. I really enjoyed watching cutscenes and the other team celebrating goals at my expense. It's all very pretty stuff. You won't be disappointed on how this game looks.
So is this game fun? Yes, it's a blast. Again, since the NHL lockout seems to be inevitable it will be nice for hockey fans to have a solid game in their hands for the long absence of their favorite sport. EA Sports provides a nice outlet through NHL 13 and it should satisfy the hockey fan in anyone.