The NFL nearly did it, the NBA semi-did it, and now the NHL might completely do it. It seems the in-thing for disputes in American sports to potentially end a season of play, and who’s left to fill that void? The video-game industry: no-one asks how they feel about all this.
The last time the NHL did this was in 2004 when there were comfortably two hockey games on the market. Now, EA’s NHL series has become so dominant that unlike Madden, it has crushed the competition through excellence rather than money. EA Canada delivers each year, tweaking and honing a working model and hockey fans will be pleased to know that NHL 13 continues this trend.
From the moment you load up the game you are treated to a tutorial showcasing the new ‘True Performance Skating’ – a system that allows more control over your skater: acceleration and sprinting are dependent on the amount of movement on the control stick, but it comes with a price as momentum plays a part. No longer are sharp turns possible if you choose to skate at top-speed, a factor that also affects stamina.
It takes no time at all to get used to the new dynamic and for the most part it is executed wonderfully; so much so in fact that the game itself feels more dynamic and open and the result is a more intense on the edge of your skates kind of experience.
Skating backwards has also been added this year, a feature so obvious and expertly delivered that it’s something that you didn’t even know you were missing until you experienced it.
One of hockey’s selling points is the aggression it allows and arguably promotes, and knocking an oncoming player off their feet is highly satisfying. The issue in NHL 13 however is that opposing player always seems to get back up onto his feet and retrieve the puck before you can take advantage after putting him down. It does make for a more strategic and more realistic approach to defence but it certainly dilutes any sadistic satisfaction.
EA Sports have coupled the removal of big hits with more gifted goal-tenders. In last year’s iteration I felt like I was channelling the retired ghost of Wayne Gretsky as goals came naturally, but this year is very different in that I actually have to work hard to score. The goal-tenders are like giants and deflections are quite often the best route to goal. Often frustrating, highly satisfying, but all these factors together are making for a more realistic game.
Features-wise, this is the most diverse NHL game to date. The inclusion of NHL moments, like in Madden and to a lesser extent FIFA, puts you in memorable scenarios of hockey’s past trying to recreate or change the course of history. The issue of current rosters featuring in games from the 90s as the like of Gretsky and Gagner do their thing is a slight disappointment. I love this feature though, they offer a pick up and play option for times you can’t immerse yourself in career play.
GM mode is still here as you would expect, and the subtle changes to negotiating make it even more immersive. I’m not one who you would call a hockey nerd and it can seem overwhelming at times, so the added information during negotiating makes for a welcome change.
The biggest change to off-rink play is the GM Connected mode. An astonishing 750-man online mode in which you can take control or player, coach or GM. Now whilst that might sound ridiculous, it is. But it also showcases what NHL 13 is all about and that’s the next stage of progression as it readies itself for NHL 14. That’s not to say it is stepping stone as it is an excellent, feature-laden game. But with performance skating adding a dose of realism, albeit with a few niggles, and an expansive online mode never before seen, there were risks taken here that for the most part have paid off and that should be applauded. Unlike other franchises they have not stood still, but rather moved the franchise forward by taking calculated risks and not simply hyped up new features to compensate for past failings. Highly recommended.
NHL 13 is available to buy now.