EA Sports is touting many new features in NHL 13, and even Associate Producer Ben Ross admitted in an interview with us that this might be the biggest year-to-year jump for the franchise in a long time. The first major new feature is called “True Performance Skating” which adds physics-driven skating and over 1,000 new animations. It authentically replicates momentum and top end speed while skating. The next major new feature is “EA Sports Hockey I.Q.” which is a new A.I. system that handles the behaviors of players, goalies and team systems. In previous editions, players were only aware of skaters in their immediate area but now all players are fully aware of all other places on the ice. There’s also the new “GM Connected” mode which is your traditional Franchise mode on steroids. You can play this mode either offline or online with your friends and take complete control of your franchise. Finally, there’s now NHL Moments Live which lets you relive historical moments in hockey and try to replicate the feats of heroes playing in hockey games of historical note.
GraphicsThe graphics aren’t revamped but NHL 13 is all about the subtle differences with the visuals. There’s a new layer of presentation that looks totally authentic and really adds a nice dimension to the title. However, the physics look great as collisions, hockey moves, jukes, saves and all the other hockey movement looks totally authentic to the real thing. What’s new with this year’s edition in the physics definitely translates over to the graphics. You won’t see bizarre slap shots or guys being able to cut on a dime after being in an immediate sprint. Now, you’ll see a much more realistic transition from sprint to cut and much wider turns that reflect what it’s really like to play in an ice hockey game. This really adds to the realism of watching a contest. In terms of graphics, while there aren’t revolutionary new graphics at play, there are new physics involve that definitely add to the realism of how the game is presented.
Is there a better play-by-play team than Gary Thorne and Bill Clement? All hockey fans miss these guys ever since ESPN dumped the NHL but it’s wonderful to hear them live on in NHL 13 and as always they call a fantastic hockey game each time. Considering the speed of the game, the play-by-play might just be the best in the industry and all the other hockey and ambient sounds during the game are totally authentic to the real thing. The soundtrack, as it usually is, absolutely rocks the house and blows away what most other games have to offer. NHL 13 does a great job, as always, in terms of Sound production.
GameplayThis year there’s new A.I. and new physics to get used to and after playing more than a dozen games we can say with ease that both are welcome additions. The caveat is that we suggest that you play down a notch in terms of difficulty because the game is definitely that much harder this time around. Hockey gamers are going to have to rethink how they attack the zone, how breakaways and one-timers will be setup and overall just reinvent themselves as NHL players. Why? Simple – the physics are much more realistic to playing the actual game of hockey as some of the “video game elements” have been stripped out completely. While it’s not a revolutionary experience, it feels like a million little things have been course corrected to make the game play much truer to the real-life experience. No more super on-a-dime cuts to the net at full speed is a prime example of changes in the way the game operates.
While it might be very frustrating at first, realize that NHL 13 is a step forward and while it might not seem too different at first, all the subtle differences are going to add up very quickly. You might lose a lot more often at your regular difficulty setting, which is why its recommended to take it easy at first to get used to all changes in gameplay dynamics. Nevertheless, it adds up to one of those elements where you might be frustrated and angered at first but over time will really win you over.
The gameplay in NHL 13 is deceivingly different in the sense that your first few games will look and feel like NHL 12 but after a while you’ll notice the old tricks don’t always work and the A.I. is extremely adaptive. The new skating physics make a huge difference on both offense and defense, playing much truly to real life NHL action. While video game nerds might not like the changes at first, they’ll catch on quickly while those of us that actually played ice hockey will really appreciate the new physics and A.I. that’s been put into the game. NHL 13 plays as the most authentic ice hockey experience ever made and fans will love this evolutionary step forward.
The GM Connected mode is a more robust version of Franchise mode that the franchise saw in earlier incarnations. This version allows you to play with friends in your own version of the NHL. This mode offers the ability to totally control a franchise, from managing your players, playing or coaching and making sure you make the right trades and draft picks to ensure your team wins the Stanley Cup. This mode allows a whopping 750 players to play in one league at a time and roles vary from being a Commissioner, General Manager of a team or as a player. You can set the max users per team, the schedule strength, allowing simming of games, skill level and a ton of other customization like all the rules and league settings to make sure your league is set up just the way you want it. There are five ways to play games in a league, you vs. the computer, user vs. user, Co-Op / Online Team play, AI, or coach mode. One of the cooler things with this year’s edition is the addition of the NHL 13 Companion App which lets you dial into your account so you can see your league and information. Inside the app you can see player stats, standings and more. This gives you access to your league 24/7 from your mobile device.
NHL 13 is a fantastic hockey game and a great step forward from NHL 12. If you’ve been on the fence for a while with the franchise, now is the time to jump back in. The new skating physics are excellent, although best appreciated by those of us that actually played the game. The adaptive new A.I. is definitely a step forward as well and makes this one of the more difficult sports games made because there’s just no cheesing your way to a win against the computer anymore. The GM Connected mode is a definite step forward for the franchise mode and allowing so many real-life people to participate and coupling that with a handy mobile app is simply brilliant. There’s a lot to love with NHL 13 and if you are a sports gamer, definitely pick this one up.