You hit like… a hockey player?
Back in June I had a rare opportunity to be in the presence of the Stanley Cup; standing side by side with that platinum trophy, in all its glory. Okay, I didn’t actually get to see it in person, but I did get to see 20,000 fans in town for the finals at the Staples Center. It was quite incredible how many LA Kings fans there were. Considering that the Lakers had already been eliminated from the NBA Playoffs, hockey was definitely in full swing in Southern California. Not to mention E3 was going on at the same time, so you know the area was a ruckus.
Through all this craziness, I was reminded that though hockey season is almost over, soon a new season will start. If feels like yesterday I was sitting here talking about NHL 12. Sadly, in many ways I wish I were talking about ’12, but I will get into that later. Right now it’s all about how NHL 13 isn’t quite as fantastic. Not to jump off on the wrong foot, but this year’s edition has taken two steps forward just to take three steps back.
The game hasn’t changed tremendously—it’s just that the small changes have made a huge impact on the gameplay dynamics. Most game modes are back again and have been left unaltered, such as Be a Pro/GM/Legend, season/playoff mode, and shootout/practice options. And I must say it’s great to see these game modes back, as these simple options should be a standard in sports games. Unlike EA’s Madden franchise, NHL 13 wants to keep fans excited about what we’ve come to expect through the years, rather than attempting to have “a new look” every year.
Of course, updating and refreshing things is always a great idea, as long as the developers don't get too caught up in going over the top. It’s not always about the bells and whistles. The product has to be able to speak for itself. Up until recently, EA Sports has been speaking my language, but lately it’s been talking a lot of gibberish. To keep game production easy and probably a little cheaper, they have been implementing many of the same game modes and menu options from sport franchise to sport franchise. A couple of modes in particular that have shown up in more than one title are Ultimate Team and the new Connected Careers.
In NHL 13, connected careers has been dubbed GM Connected but basically plays just like Madden’s version of the mode. You can form or join a league online and play against your friends, computer, or any other competitor available to be challenged. You also have the option of being commissioner, general manager, or hockey player. Up to 24 players can assemble on your team so that you can take on the world. It’s a lot like Be a Pro, except now you are able to bring friends and enemies into your league.
Hockey Ultimate Team is back and has been slightly updated for more fantasy shenanigans, where you can play through a season collecting items such as player cards and rating boosts to add to your list of achievements. Basically, this is a game mode for people who enjoy building up teams and watching them come up through the ranks.
Another new game mode to NHL 13 is NHL Moments Live, which once again is something that fans of Madden have seen for the last couple of years. Here, you can relive some of the most exciting moments from the 2011-2012 hockey season, like when the Rangers had to rally late to beat the Capitals in a thrilling overtime match-up. The cool part about Moments Live is that it is an updating feature that will have moments from the 2012-2013 season available to play as they happen throughout the year. However, it is a bit of a shame more than half of the game modes need online capabilities even just to look them.
NHL 13 isn’t just about what game modes there are to play—it wants you to feel the atmosphere of professional hockey. The presentation is still very much alive, at least once you get to the ice. Players look amazing. Everything is smooth and vibrant. Skaters skate with a flow that no other physics engine has imitated.
It's not just about looking good, but true skating mechanics have been added. “True performance skating” has created new animations and has focused much on speed vs. control. No longer will you be able to have your skater sprint down the ice and simply turn on a dime without losing any control. Now you will have to monitor your speed and at what rate to make curtain moves. If a guy is flying down ice and suddenly turns, his skates will begin to chop and most likely lose control of himself and the puck if he has it. Dynamically, it brings on a realness that was lacking from last year’s model.
My favorite addition this year has to be the ability to skate backwards! More effectively, that is. This little tweak has made coming around corners and changing positions so much more efficient. I can’t tell you how many moves you can come up with incorporating skating backwards. Real-life players don’t just skate in one direction and it’s finally nice to see EA agreeing with that.
Of course fights are still present, so there will be plenty of haymakers being thrown. But what about the truly big hits? I’m talking about in-game major collisions, guys throwing bodies into the stands, forwards being smashed through the glass. Well, folks, I’m deeply saddened to say that there will be no colossal body checks this year. NHL 13 has toned down with these animations and you can now expect a little less violence. There are still body checks but nowhere near the hits you would see last year. To many, myself included, this takes away too much of the fun in playing. Not saying it isn’t exciting to score goals and make incredible plays with teammates. But it’s just unfortunate I can’t constantly lay guys out to let them know that there are no easy shots here.
In the case of the good, the bad, and the ugly, NHL 13 has it all. It's not award-winning but it's still plenty of fun to go around. Just don’t trade in those NHL 12 copies just yet. If complete roster updates and fancy new game modes don’t have you jumping for joy, you’re plenty fine sticking with ’12.