I can still remember the first hockey game I ever played during my childhood. My father picked up NHL 94
for the Sega Genesis
as I was just starting to get into sports at the age of 13. In that game, being born and raised in suburban Chicago, I took great pleasure in using the most unfair team in the game, the Blackhawks. Jeremy Roenick was practically unstoppable at center, while Chris Chelios and Steve Smith were the perfect pair of defensemen. Between the pipes was Ed Belfour, so just in case I wasn’t great on offense that night, I had the best goaltender in the league to help keep the damage to a minimum. While the world of hockey has evolved in the last 20 years, so has the gaming industry around sports titles, especially hockey. EA Sports
, sticking with the theme that is to start from scratch with several of their sports franchises, has given to us a revamped hockey title in the form of NHL 13.
It’s important to note right away that the overall feel of NHL 13
is geared more toward strategy and less about one-on-one play. In past titles, if a player had one star player, he or she could simply use that player to knife through defenses and make plays on the goalie with little resistance. The game has slowed down in comparison to past titles. Now, True Performance Skating
takes center stage within this title. Skaters aren’t going to just stop on a dime and change direction now. Everything is based on true physics. For example, if a player is controlling a skater away from the puck and is attempting to make a sharp turn while going full speed, it’s going to take a much wider arc in order for that player to do a complete turn instead of just being able to stop on a dime and change direction. The movements feel far more lifelike this year, making cuts to the net much harder than before. This is a very welcomed addition to the franchise, as the past few titles have felt very arcade-like and seemed to be all about getting those one-on-one opportunities with the goaltender.
The controls are about what a player would expect in this generation of gaming. Skaters are controlled with the left analog stick while the right stick controls shots on offense. A quick flick of the right stick forward will give a wrist shot towards the net, while holding back on the stick and then firing forward will unleash a slapshot or simply fire the puck out of the zone that it is in. The beauty of the shot control system, however, is that a player can truly decide where to aim their shot by using the left analog stick while the shot is being attempted. Pointing towards any direction will direct the shot towards that portion of the goal, so timing is everything when attempting to score a goal. There is a bit of a learning curve with this, especially with wrist shots since everything happens quite fast and the transition between skating and aiming a shot is extremely quick. One-timers can be very hard to pull off, but the game seems to reward a player for having the patience for creativity on offense. In addition to this, many of the situations that a player would see in a hockey game have been added to improve the realism of the title itself. Fighting is a first-person point of view and adds the true extra element of the sport itself, and it is quite difficult to actually win a fight against the CPU in this mode. On top of this, subtle additions such as being up against the boards to freeze a puck will truly make a player feel that everything was included in this title.
Many of the controls on both offense and defense are easy to change over to and truly are not very complicated. Practice is going to be needed to learn how to make quick cuts, time big hits, and perform good pokechecks in order to become an all-around great player. Tutorials are built into the game itself in order to allow a beginner to practice anything that needs improvement. A perfect example for this is the tutorial on how to win a faceoff. I have found this to be one of the most difficult aspects of the game itself and, when facing the CPU, it’s more of a guessing game early on as to how to time winning a faceoff if a player is using the center exclusively in Be a Pro mode or when playing as a team in regular gameplay.
An issue that I have with the in-game controls, however, is the coaching aspect when it comes to line changes, strategy, and defensive pressure. When it comes to executing these commands, there is almost always a definitive lag period in which it becomes obvious that the team has taken on these changes. Line changes are still frustrating to me, even though the game acknowledges when a change is ready to be made. Certainly, a puck has to be dumped in order for the change to take place, but even when attempting to execute the change, I felt as though I had to select the proper line more than once in order to get the change completed without any issue.
truly shines in the way of presentation. When simply picking up to play the game, the immediate surroundings of the rink are stunning and, in short, near flawless. Logos on the ice pop out on the screen and player models and motions are smooth, crisp, and very accurate when it comes to the actual players. The generic player models for Be a Pro mode are a little limited and, on top of this, it’s disappointing that EA Sports Game Face
has not been included for the NHL
franchise yet. I expect to see it next year, though, given that Madden 13
included it for the first time in that franchise’s history.
During gameplay, players can enjoy the voices of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement
, arguably my favorite duo in all of commentating. The commentary can be a little repetitive at times, but there is plenty of changes throughout the course of a game that gives plenty of chances for Thorne and Clement to change up their thoughts and opinions on the game itself. At no point did I feel like the words spoken were clunky or forced. It truly feels as though a player is watching the game on television rather than attempting to score a goal in a video game.
The menu system for NHL 13
is very clean and easy to navigate, opting not to go with the completely new layouts of the previous sports titles of the year that Madden
and NCAA Football
went through. As is becoming a staple with many of EA Sports’
titles, NHL 13
is sporting a Hockey Ultimate Team as one of the premier game modes. Just like other titles, gamers have been pushing for more of a fantasy aspect to their sports titles and enjoying being able to use players from the past. Players will have the chance to participate in auctions, earn new packs along the way, and play against players around the world with their Ultimate Team. Participation is a must if players want to get the best players for their squads.
While the game modes in NHL 13
haven’t truly changed from the ground up as a whole, they have been revamped and improved upon. With sports titles making the major transition towards online play, NHL 13
brings gamers exactly what they want with an online career mode called GM Connected.
Being able to connect with up to 29 other GMs online makes for a far more interesting franchise mode, especially considering how much longer a season is for hockey. The real bit of news to include on this one is that up to 750 players can technically take part in one online league, considering that anyone can be a GM, player, or coach. One has to wonder just what the quality of play would be like in an online match that featured every player on a team being controlled by a user.
Speaking of online play, I had a chance to play a match online against one of our friends over at Polygon
, Samit Sarkar. While Samit wiped the floor with me as the Rangers pummeled the Blue Jackets, 3-0, both he and I talked about how there was little to no lag time in our match and how smooth the game truly operated even over an internet connection. While the rematch with him will probably have to wait, the most important factor here is that the online experience is a good one, though the standard suggestion of having a solid internet connection has to apply.
Be a Pro, GM, or Legend
Moving into offline modes, these three modes are almost forgotten about in the opening menu for the title itself since they are listed under “Other Game Modes.” Don’t be fooled by this, however. A lot of the replay value for this game will come from these three modes. Starting with the Be a Pro/Legend modes, the opening list of legends is eight names long, including the likes of Jeremy Roenick, Mario Lemieux, and the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky. Roenick opens up as the only playable legend from the onset, making a player earn his way to unlock the other legends on the list. Just like in the standard Be a Pro mode, a player inputs the legend onto a team of his or her choice and plays as that player exclusively. The difference between the two modes is that, as expected, the legend will have a much higher rating to start out with than a regular created player. While I enjoyed the legend mode as Roenick to start out, I find it to be far more gratifying to use my own created player (Sean Cahill on the Columbus Blue Jackets sounded good at the time) throughout the career of a player. The player models, as previously mentioned, leave a little to be desired in the creation mode, but that’s a minor flaw that can be forgotten considering just how good the mode itself is.
In these modes, I found myself actually watching the simulation portions of the game in between shifts. My created player was on the first line of the Blue Jackets, so he saw a lot of ice time. However, shifts in the game only last between 30-60 seconds, so when prompted to make the change and head to the bench, the view goes to that of a player actually sitting on the bench, waiting for the next change. There were times that I would go ahead and use the simulation screen to move on to the next line change, but it’s nice to know that the game really doesn’t suffer at all in the terms of presentation even when just watching the computer in between actually playing time. Experience points are earned throughout the course of a game, based upon grades that include Position Score, Team Play, and Statistics. The better the letter grade, the more experience points a player can expect to earn. These experience points are broken down into three categories: Offense, Defense, and Athleticism. A player can decide what is the most important to build up, so if one chooses to be a hard hitting slapshop artist, putting points into Slap Shot Power and Accuracy makes the most sense. It is fully customizable, but the experience has to be earned in order to build up a player to where he becomes a true superstar on the ice. This mode is what makes me come back to the game for more. It’s a great change to the overall hockey experience and, just like the Superstar mode in Madden
and Campus Legend mode in NCAA Football
, the replay value is incredibly high.
I truly believe that this is one of the best hockey titles I’ve played in recent memory. Only minor flaws in the new skating system really hinder the gameplay, but those are incredibly small to poke at. The beauty of the game comes in the perfect mix of online and offline modes as well as the somewhat easy ability to just pick up and play a game. I was impressed with how simple, yet deep, the GM and Pro/Legend modes were, showing that a game can give someone everything that they want without making it incredibly complicated. Add in the fact that the Hockey Ultimate Team forces a player to earn the best possible squad for online play, this title proves to be a fantastic title for the NHL franchise.
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