DEVELOPER(S): EA Canada
PUBLISHER(S): EA Sports
PLATFORM(S): PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): September 11, 2012
EA is back with their latest installment of their up-and-down in popularity NHL franchise with NHL 13. Fans of years past remember the great NHL 94 with nostalgic fondness, but the 20 years of technological enhancements are on full display and make any hockey or sports fan smile. The bad news for hockey fans is the looming, potential lockout for the upcoming season, so NHL 13 might be the only hockey fans get to see (play) for a while. The good news, is that this game will not disappoint.
There are two brand new modes to go with the familiar Be A GM, Be A Pro and Be A Legend classics; GM Connection and NHL Moments Live.
GM Connection is an online version of Be A GM mode, which allows you to compete against and with up to 749 others. That’s right, up to 750 people can join a single league, controlling each team and player in the whole of the National Hockey League. A player can control a team as the GM, or control a specific player while playing the games as the seasons progress. Leagues can play games on different schedules and with or without fighting, injuries and/or penalties, so you can find the league that fits your style.
The downside to this mode is the lack of leagues currently available, though as a new game this is subject to change. There were already considerably more leagues just one day after the game release. EA is obviously banking on these leagues taking off in popularity to extend the game life.
NHL Moments Live could be considered a gimmick mode, and is short on historical moments (though playing as Gretzky is a great feeling again, even if it is against Bryzgalov, Pronger and other current players), but the challenges don’t take long and can earn you EA Pucks, which can be used to buy upgrades for your Hockey Ultimate Team. It’s as close to a side-quest as you can get with a sports release. Speaking of the Hockey Ultimate Team, the system has been revamped and works a whole lot better. Tournaments are starting up and the rewards and interface both work well and feel smooth and comfortable.
So, while there are a lot of game modes to play through and choose from, the key to any sports game is gameplay, and EA put a lot of effort into making skating and movement much closer to how it works in the real, physical universe. Frankly, skating in this game feels great. The initial shock feeling is much different and could be a bit of a shock, but the adjustment is smooth and natural, and you’ll soon find yourself gliding and cutting with precision to the detriment of those defenders.
Passing can give you some headaches until you master the learning curve there, though experienced players should be able to jump right in, and the shooting system is largely unchanged. Landing that huge hit along the boards feels better than ever and the fighting system (what’s hockey without the occasional scuffle?) works really well.
Commentary throughout the game is mostly natural, doesn’t distract you from the action, and remains my favorite of any sports game. Why Madden can’t get this figured out is beyond me. The soundtrack is rock heavy, as usual, with 16 songs with bands like Thousand Foot Krutch, The Hives and The Offspring featured, but the game also allows you to customize your music playlist by using any audio file you have stored in your PS3 music folder. Adding Muse and AC/DC to the arena sounds was a fun addition for me and can break up the monotony that 16 songs will eventually bring.
NHL 13 looks very much the same as the last couple of years, though it is still a very pretty game with great player models, excellent arena renders and decent crowd animation. But it’s the addition of GM Connection along with the changes to the skating system and Hockey Ultimate Team which make this game a top notch sports title. If online competition isn’t your style, there really aren’t that many upgrades or differences from NHL 12 to make that $59.99 purchase really worth every dollar, but NHL 13 is a great title that will have longevity with all of the different gameplay modes.
The PS3 version of this game was used for the review.