Timing for the release of NHL 13 couldn’t come at a better moment. NHL can be as exciting both on and off the ice. With a new lockout threatening the 2012-2013 hockey season, what is a fan to do? How about sink your teeth into NHL 13 by EA Canada. This year’s version promises some big changes to skating controls, lighting elements, and virtually everything that might help the fans through the lockout.
Saying NHL 13 is packed with content is such an understatement. The only position I could find unplayable was the Zamboni operator. You can play as any skater on the ice, either as a current roster, legend, or you can create your own. Off the ice you can run the office as General Managers or Commissioner, taking control of salaries, trades, and other behind the scene calls to run the show both online and off.
There are many similar features that all EA games share and with games like Madden 13, you start by selecting your favorite team. Selecting them allows you to jump into a quick game with them, but it doesn’t mean you’re locked into them when you start a franchise or play through a season. There are 30 teams to choose from, and plenty of jerseys to select for gametime.
Another similar feature is playing the role of legends. Although most levels focus around last year’s season, some legends extend back to Gretzky and Lemieux. In Gretzky’s challenge, you need to score 2 more goals to send the Oiler’s on. It sounds like an easy feat, and yet it took me over a half hour. The key is to get the job done quickly before your legend gets tired and needs to take a break. Oh, and try not to get yourself ejected or put in the penalty box. If it’s hard to get 2 goals in 5 minutes, taking two minutes out to admire the penalty box doesn’t help.
Another option is to play an entire season as a Pro. Here you need to match or exceed goals set forth like making 26 goals in a season, and assisting in over 200. Like Madden 13, you only play one character, and only when they play. If they take a break, you sit on the benches and watch the game from their perspective. At any time you can skip to your next time on ice. I found I could skip my time in the penalty box the first time, but after about my third penalty I had to sit the entire two minutes in the box and watch the game from the player’s perspective. With the game set to 20 real time minutes to match an NHL game, those can be some rather long and lonely two minutes.
With a new iteration means improved controls, followed by enhanced controls. This means you can not only deke in multiple directions, but you can also skate backwards at any point, allowing extra dekes, like spinning to get around defense. All this comes with the heavy price of a steep learning curve. Any person picking up the controller without any hint to controls will surely hate this game quickly. EA isn’t oblivious though. They want you to have fun and get good at the controls. Right after you start this game, you are welcomed to a video tutorial, explaining the new True Performance Skating controls. After the video, you go into an interactive tutorial on how to aim and shoot, how to skate, how to deke, and how to play the face-off.
Let’s get our hockey on, right? After the tutorials I jumped right into my first game and although I’ve yet to master a face-off, the controls are just as shown except for one major oversight. It wasn’t but two seconds after I got the puck, I realized I had no idea how to pass the puck to a fellow player. Thumbing through the in-game manual revealed there’s a page worth of information on passing alone. And none of it was easy. For my entire first game, I kept skating up to the defense and passing it away to them. It would have been nice if somewhere in the first tutorials, there was a hint to simple passing.
Again, EA understands that the game can be hard, which is why you can find a trove of options under the My NHL section for tutorials and practices. There’s information not only for the skater, but goalie too. The goalie can be an entire game by itself if you really want, but if the controls are still too hard for you, at any time you can change the control set up, even mid game. If the passing, shooting, deking, skating backwards, and goalie controls are just way too much, go through the settings and change the controls to NHL 94. The controller will simplify down to two buttons; pass and shoot. Although this makes the game instantly feel more like an arcade game, it feels just as rewarding when you score.
When it comes to the graphics, EA has outdone themselves. In fact it almost looks like they outdid reality. Everything looks too perfect. The ice looks great, and you can see when the blades dig in and leave lines. You can see when turning hard, the skate spray comes up, even if the goalies hate it. The reflections off the helmets and protective glass looks amazingly realistic. Any person walking by would have to do a serious double take to spot the differences. I think the only thing that gives the game away is how no one ever looks dirty. Jerseys never get bloody, and never get sweaty. But let’s face it, that’s nit picky at best. When they can boast self-shadowing, multiple lights accurate to arenas, film grain to match the quality of a real broadcasted game, you deserve a giant pat on the back.
NHL 13 doesn’t limit the fun to just one person. On the Playstation 3 you can have 7 people play locally, basically allowing each person to control someone specific on the hockey team. If that isn’t enough for you, like Madden 13 you can take everything online. You can play under GM connected with other franchises over a season together. You can actually create a league where every hockey player, General Manager, and Commissioner is controlled by real people, making the claim up to 750 people connected to one dynasty online. If that’s too much, you can just jump online for some quick games against other online players.
NHL 13 keeps delivering too. If you manage to play everything, you’re still not done. NHL 13 from week to week gives you new challenges to play through NHL Moments Live. Most challenges come from last season, like changing history as you try to shut out the LA Kings on their road to the 2012 Stanley Cup. The game promises to also update with new challenges from the upcoming season, but I’m not sure what will happen if the lockout keeps the season closed.
Other online experiences include Hockey Ultimate Teams is like fantasy football, ala Madden 13 style. You get a deck of cards and can buy, trade, and keep the cards. When you’re satisfied with the deck, jump online and go head to head with other online players. Instead of just watching the cards duke it out, you get thrown right into the game and take control. There didn’t seem to be any wait times for me. I jumped into a game so fast I thought I was playing AI at first.
NHL 13 is the definitive for hockey games. If you’re a returning fan, there are plenty of new features to enjoy and master. For newcomers, be prepared to be blown away. Sure, there’s no Zamboni, but all is forgiven by your first goal. When the crowd throws their hats on the ice by your first hat trick, you’ll be mopping the floor.
This game was reviewed on the Playstation 3.
Uncanny realistic graphics. Unlimited controls.
Big learning curve to controls.