It's shaping up to be a long, cold winter for fans of the National Hockey League. The owners have locked out the players, preseason games have been cancelled and the 2012-13 regular season is in real jeopardy. The news isn't all bad, though, as EA Sports' "NHL 13" is here to give fans an authentic hockey experience - albeit on a virtual rink.
Indeed, with a new physics-based skating system and drastically improved AI, the on-ice action in "NHL 13" is as intense as I've ever seen. Combined with a plethora of game modes, including a deep GM Connected mode that allows for a staggering 750 users, "NHL 13" should help ease the pain felt from what is shaping up to be a lost season.
The changes to the core on-ice gameplay are immediately evident. The new physics-driven skating engine, dubbed True Performance Skating, fundamentally changes the way you approach a game. Taking into account a players' momentum, speed and explosiveness, True Performance Skating forces users to control their players in a realistic manner. No longer can you simply stop on a dime and change directions on the ice - now it's all about gliding and maintaining control over your player at all times.
True Performance Skating and the returning Skill Stick (used for controlling a player's stick on the ice) give users all the tools necessary to perform just like a true NHL great, though there is a definite learning curve here. Once you get the hang of it, though, you'll never want to go back.
Working in tandem with the new physics-driven skating engine is a revamped AI system that seeks to create smarter players and more realistic results. Computer-controlled players are now aware of everyone on the ice, not just the person with the puck, and the AI recognizes and reacts to how the user is playing, adjusting its strategies on the fly. "NHL 13" also gives the user unprecedented control over the AI of every team in the league, allowing you to customize strategies, plays and lines. For all the AI improvements, you'll still see the occasional odd decision, such as a goalie firing the puck straight into a group of opposing players, but those moments are rare and don't take away from the impact the redesigned AI has on the overall game.
The improved on-ice product is on full display during the multitude of game modes in "NHL 13." The most ambitious of these is undoubtedly GM Connected, which lets up to 750 players compete in one league as players, the general manager of a team or the commissioner of a league. Leagues can be fully customized and players can compete with or against other users or AI-controlled teams. The amount of flexibility in setting up your league is almost as staggering as the sheer number of users supported, but even those flying solo can appreciate what GM Connected has to offer.
The other notable new mode in "NHL 13" is NHL Moments Live, which lets gamers recreate some of the most memorable moments from the league's history. These moments range from highlights from the 2011-12 season to classic moments involving NHL legends like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. The popular Hockey Ultimate Team mode returns, as do Be a GM, Be a Pro and the traditional season modes. There may not be a real NHL season to keep fans busy this winter, but "NHL 13" offers more than enough options to satisfy diehard hockey lovers.
From a presentation standpoint, "NHL 13" truly shines. Everything from player models to the arenas, themselves, look amazing, and the post-play interactions of the players add to the immersion. New highlight packages, a slick front end and great commentary from the duo of Gary Thorne and Bill Clemente also deserve mention.