An NHL lockout may be inevitable, but the cyber season doesn’t have to miss a beat. NHL 13 was released on Tuesday, and many fans may flock to the game to get their hockey fix.
EA Sports has had a pretty solid year with the release of Tiger Woods 13, NCAA Football 13 and an epic version of the Madden series (Madden 13). It has been a strong year for sports games overall, and it seems only right that NHL 13 would follow suit with a strong release.
However, nothing is automatic.
I’ve played the game for at least three hours per day since it became available via EA Season Pass on September 7. Here is my detailed take on the game and its wealth of features.
Release: September 11
Formats: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii
Publisher: EA Sports
Graphics & Animation
This game has looked polished and sharp for years. The detail in the facial mapping and overall player models remains stellar. The skating animations have improved slightly, but they too were already high level.
The crowd still looks the same, but this wasn’t a concern for me.
The stands are filled with three-dimensional fans, and yes the models are scaled back from the player models, but that is customary with this generation of consoles. Making each fan character model the same quality as the models on the ice would affect the action.
Too many fully rendered models in action can slow the frame rate, and that would kill the gameplay.
As long as the fans aren’t two-dimensional (sheet people), I’m fine with them as they are. The new ice spray is a nice visual touch as well.
On the negative side, the physics are a little off. This is to be expected in the early stages of implementing real-time physics on a major scale. NHL 12 employed this animation concept, but I expected NHL 13 to take this to the next level.
Physics has become the new standard in sports video games, and hockey is one of the best sports to showcase it. In many sequences it works fine, but there are some where the reaction doesn’t seem to accurately match the level of impact.
It’s similar to some of the small issues with Madden 13 in this regard, yet with 22 player models on the field, it isn’t always as noticeable as it is in a hockey simulation.
This isn’t terribly over-the-top in NHL 13, and it doesn’t give the visual package a black eye that ruins this entire aspect of the game. However, it does prevent it from being perfect and making strides from the previous versions.
The game still looks great, but the physics engine didn’t progress as much as I would have expected.
Graphics & Animation Rating: 7.95 out of 10
Gameplay & Realism
This is one of the areas where NHL 13 slams its skate through the ice—in a good way. The addition of True Performance Skating and Hockey IQ are two of the biggest enhancements to the overall game this year.
Here are two examples of gameplay:
This is an example of gameplay changes that you can actually see and feel. The weight disparity of players can be felt as you skate around the ice.
There seems to be a slight tweak to momentum, it creates more of a challenge, but I like it because it adds more realism.
The Hockey IQ aspect of the game is huge, in my opinion. The CPU-controlled players on your team and your opponents adapt to your tendencies—seriously. I’m not just saying that as it reads off the back of the box.
They literally will key on certain strategies you’ve used early in a game in an effort to shut you down.
If you’re paying attention to that aspect of gameplay, you can’t miss it—especially on the higher difficulty levels. The stickhandling, shooting and passing mechanics are largely the same, but again this is an area that was already properly done.
The biggest boons in this category are clearly the improvement of the A.I. and the enhancements to the skating engine. Both are done excellent and they make an already awesome gameplay engine even better.
Gameplay & Realism Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Sound and Presentation
There are some new elements of commentary, but many of the same lines from previous versions are still there. Gary Thorne and Bill Clement don’t necessarily need to be replaced, but getting them in the same booth to record conversational voice-overs would be ideal.
It is the pattern many sports games are taking with their commentating. It drastically improved Madden 13 in that area, and I think it could do the same thing for the NHL series.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how spectacular the 2012 Winter Classic looks. It was an awesome idea to include both the 2011 game and this year’s version, as it highlights the different feel from both games and stadiums.
Check out this awesome presentation:
The 2012 game feels more open, the daytime lighting looks superb and it is an overall treat to play. It is also great that you can choose any two teams to play in the classic.
The crowd noise, sound effects, etc. are done very well. I love the on-ice chatter that can be heard at various times through the game. The new cut scenes are nice, and the game offers a ton of alternate uniforms to play in.
There are some small equipment inconsistencies, but nothing that should make you lose your mind. It is a little overdoing it to cry foul because one player’s visor is slightly longer than it is in real life.
It is a major plus if that sort of thing is spot-on, but not as big of a deal if it is slightly off.
Major issues like wrong skin tone, height or weight would drive me crazy, but not the minute issues with uniform details. The major things that make each player recognizable are well represented.
One area I do still find fault is in the pregame, intermissions and postgame. As usual, there is no pregame show, intermission breakdown or postgame show.
I always mention this with every EA Sports title, as it appears to be the most neglected aspect of the presentation. I’m not sure if it isn’t seen as a major aspect of the overall quality, or if it is a situation where the concepts need to be fleshed out more.
In either case, this aspect still has some room for improvement.
There’s no major leap forward in this area, but no regression either. However, the plethora of uniform choices and the awesome rendering of the Winter Classic environment is a plus.
Sound and Presentation Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Game Modes & Options
This game is absolutely jam-packed. There is nearly no stone left unturned. Fans of the NHL series probably won’t have the same gripe that some Madden fans had with Madden 13.
NHL 13 debuted their own mode made to mix Be A GM, Be A Pro, traditional franchise mode and online play together. It is called GM Connected, and it is conceptually awesome.
The major difference between NHL 13 and Madden 13 in this instance is that the NHL series retained all the original modes separately. If you’re not an online player, or the vastness of GM Connected doesn’t grab you, you can still play Be A GM, Be A Pro or a simple season on NHL 13.
That is a major plus for the game from the very beginning.
That said, GM Connected is the most spectacular online concept ever created for a sports video game. You owe it to yourself as a hockey and video game fan to at least give it a look.
At its apex it can include up to 750 human players in one league.
That includes a commissioner, 30 general managers and a host of players at the various positions for each franchise. It is truly an amazing mode.
At the early stages, it appeared the servers were taking a pounding so things were moving a little slow. I was able to join a league and play a few games, but there is still a little work to be done on the servers. It primarily affected the menus in my experience.
My online games were very smooth, here is a video of one of them.
The mode does have some functional differences from Be A GM. GM Connected structures the draft differently. The draft is automated, but you do have the opportunity to pre-rank and scout players.
Think of it as being in a fantasy football league where you have to pre-rank and auto-draft your team.
As a GM you don’t have complete control over this aspect, but considering the amount of human players that can occupy roster spots, it is understandable.
Free agency and trades are enhanced with the GM Brain feature.
If a franchise isn’t controlled by a human player, this new feature takes intelligent player personnel moves to the next level.
Through this mode you also receive tons of scouting reports and information to make solid decisions for your franchise. It is a completely engrossing way to play the game.
Ultimate Team and EA Sports Hockey League also return. Ultimate Team wasn’t available during Season Pass, but the enhancements are nice.
Career length and salary cap restrictions have been removed, and the player pool is over 4,000 per EA Sports.
The interface has been redesigned to be more intuitive and attractive as well. It appears to be more of a touch-up than an overhaul, and that is appropriate.
The concept wasn’t broken to begin with, so the tweaks should be sufficient.
EASHL is a solid idea, and EA Sports has addressed matchmaking issues from NHL 12. They have also put measures in place to penalize those lames that back out of games or whole leagues to avoid a loss.
Real sports gamers can’t stand those guys and girls. Any change that discourages or eliminates that behavior is great. You can read the details on these changes on the EASHL information page.
The Be A Pro isn’t just being brought back, it is also receiving a small enhancement. The video below is the creation of my 6'6", 250 pound center, Donovan Xavier. There is also one period of Be A Pro gameplay included.
You can now chose whether you want to start your Be A Pro career in the CHL, at the NHL Entry Draft, or if you just want to join a NHL club from the start. It gives great flexibility to gamers by allowing them to start their journey at different stages.
The Be A Legend mode has expanded with the additions of players like Jarri Kurri, Doug Gilmour and more. One small but cool tidbit is that when you start a Be A Legend game the rosters will mirror the saved roster you have loaded.
This is a video of a human-controlled Jeremy Roenick playing with the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks:
For example, if you’ve traded Evgeni Malkin to the Blackhawks and you chose Jeremy Roenick to use in Be A Legend, then Malkin will be Roenick’s teammate for Chicago.
It is easy to miss things like that, but it’s cool to stumble upon.
NHL 13 also features NHL Moments Live again this year. The mode includes the best moments from the 2011 season, some historical moments like the one featured below, and if there is an NHL season, new moments will be uploaded.
Check out my attempt to get 50 goals in 39 games with the Great One:
The one and only thing I miss in this mode is the Game Face create-a-player option. There are limited facial options when creating a player, but this is really just nit-picking.
With GM Connected and all of the old favorites, this is the most complete package of options on any sports game.
The only thing that could derail this aspect of the game is poor servers associated with GM Connected. If things function properly on that front, this is as close to perfect as you can get in terms of options.
Game Modes and Options Rating: 10 out of 10
This is a quality game that will be known for it’s A.I. improvements and the introduction of GM Connected. Both are awesome innovations and they don’t take from the positives that were already present with the series.
In short, I’m feeling this game.
Overall Rating: 8.75 out of 10
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