EA Sports’ NHL 13 Marks Further Progress Towards True Realistic Gaming
By: Mike Luciano (@THG_MikeLuci)
On Tuesday, EA Sports released its latest installment of the NHL video game series. NHL 13 is taking the hockey world by storm, and with the looming inevitability of a work stoppage projected to keep the 2012-2013 season from making its timely start, this game is likely to be the primary fix for the fan bases of the league’s thirty teams.
As a Devils fan, I will admit I was iffy about purchasing the game because of the upcoming lockout. The fact that Claude Giroux of the rival Philadelphia Flyers is on the cover of this year’s edition didn’t help sway me either.
I liked the tutorial that Giroux hosts when you first start the game. It informs the player of some of the game’s new features, and explains the new physics-based game play system, which I’ll get into more detail about shortly.
To get the obvious out of the way, the quality of the game’s graphics continues to impress. The menus are basically recycled from the last few NHL installments, which serves as a convenience to the player for navigational purposes. You get to pick your favorite team, which becomes the theme of your menu background.
One feature I like is how they cycle through your favorite team’s roster in the menu background. My primary concern is how this inadvertently serves as a constant reiteration of how badly butchered and out of date the rosters are but a simple roster download (if you have online access) is all that’s needed to address the majority of these discrepancies.
If you are as compulsive as I am and want rosters that reflect what teams currently look like as accurately as possible, you might have to make a few changes manually. Most of these changes are minor tweaks: Who should or shouldn’t be in the minors, correcting jersey numbers, captains, a few depth players still in free agency or on their former team, etc.
Like every new NHL game, the game play will require some getting used to. EA Sports has taken strides for NHL 13’s game play to emulate real life as precisely as possible. Despite the impressive quality of the graphics, you’re still very much aware that you’re playing a video game but the new physics-based system is currently as close to real life as you’re going to get.
NHL 13 indirectly brings back the “speed burst” that previous games once had. Instead of pressing a button that makes your player take off like a racer in Mario Kart that just acquired a mushroom, you have to keep the left joystick moving in the same direction that the player is skating to generate speed. To stop your player, simply move the joystick in the opposite direction they’re skating. You’re probably going to wind up making a few wide turns the first few times you attempt this but it’s an easy feature, and comes in handy during games.
One realistic characteristic of the game play is how they make it apparent that speed kills. Although NHL 13’s new physics-based system is a notable step forward towards realistic gaming, the principles of physics apply more to this game than any other that I’ve seen. It’s very difficult to make tight turns…or any turns for that matter, especially in the midst of a breakout. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about NHL 13, it’s that timing is everything.
The CPUs are a lot smarter and alert than previous NHL installments, especially on the opposing team. The players on your team may be prone to bunching up at some points but the frequency of occurrences like that is relative to your management of the new game play style and how you set up plays and breakouts.
Although the goalie physics have notably improved as far as their movements are concerned, you can basically import your scoring methods from NHL 12 after enduring the transitional growing pains.
If I had to make one improvement on the game, it would have to be the passing. I’ve already lost count of how many odd man rushes I’ve had where I’ve attempted to make cross ice passes only for the player with the puck to take a light shot on the goalie instead, or pass it behind him, resulting in a turnover or getting it to a trailing player that isn’t in a position to finish a play.
There have also been several instances where I’ve tried to make passes to the players at the point, only for the player with the puck to dump it back in my own zone or to a player I had absolutely zero intention of passing it to.
The CPUs on your team have inherited some shortcomings from NHL 12. Aside from the occasional bunching that I’ve mentioned earlier, CPUs tend to be out of position in your own zone, or skate away from open pucks to get back in position. The goalies love (a word I would put a ton of emphasis on if this was a verbal conversation) to come out of the net to play the puck, which tends to be problematic. Some of these minor shortcomings can be addressed by modifying your team’s formations in the offensive and defensive zone and their breakouts; some you just have to work around.
There are two new features this game has that I’m very excited about. The first one is NHL Moments Live, a feature that challenges you to recreate past hockey moments controlling a single player (it’s basically another version of be a pro mode). Some of these moments include Game One of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals between the Flyers and Devils when Danny Briere scored in overtime, and playing as Wayne Gretzky when he scored five goals against the Philadelphia Flyers (you have to score two more goals as Gretzky). Unfortunately, you just play with the current rosters. They could have gone the extra mile and use the exact rosters that played in the moments you’re trying to recreate from several years ago, but the concept itself makes it worth exploring.
There are numerous scenarios you can attempt to recreate and from what I saw, NHL Moments Live has at least one for each team. NHL 13 offers a section of this feature to recreate moments that would have occurred in the 2012-2013 NHL Season, which would update as the season progresses, but the way things look now, I find it highly unlikely that we’ll be able to utilize this part of the feature any time soon.
Another new feature NHL 13 offers is GM Connected. It’s basically Be a GM Mode in an online league you can set up with your friends. You can play against each other, make trades, submit offer sheets, and sign each other’s unrestricted free agents. I haven’t gotten a chance to fully explore this feature yet, but it’s definitely something I intend on looking into more to occupy the time I would normally spend watching actual hockey.
A few other notes about NHL 13:
So far the soundtrack sounds promising. I seem to find at least one or two songs on each NHL game that I wind up becoming addicted to the point where I’ll add it onto my iTunes playlist. The soundtrack left a good first impression.
The arenas look a lot more realistic, although the cheers and chants of the crowd have been recycled from previous NHL games. The same goes for the announcers and their dialogue.
The fighting system in NHL 13 is slowed down. Instead of feverishly moving the joystick back and forth to throw punches, you actually have to make attempts to dodge hits, know when to tug on your opponent’s jersey to throw them off, and time your punches accordingly.
The game includes some new camera angles, particularly side views before faceoffs. The camera also focuses on certain players and on goalies after goals are scored or play stops. One minor detail I noticed and truly appreciate is when a player is skating in one direction, he’ll continue skating in that direction when the camera angle changes if play is stopped. I think it makes the game that much more realistic, and it wasn’t featured in any previous NHL installments.