September 11, 2012
Without a shadow of a doubt, the NHL series is the undisputed king of the ice, and has been for some time. Consequently, the competition has pretty much given up, leaving EA Sports lording it over its virtual representation of ice hockey, like Madden NFL is top of the food chain where American Football games are concerned. EA Canada could have rested on its laurels with NHL this year, so honed and refined was NHL 12, but once again, NHL is bringing a host of new touches, improvements, features, modes and other additions to NHL 13.
Right off the bat (or rather hockey stick), NHL 13's main menu has a dizzying array of game modes to choose from. In fact, there are so many that some have had to be consigned to a sub-menu entitled 'other modes', where you'll find Be a GM, Be a Pro, Be a Legend, Playoff, Season, Tournament, Practice and Shootout modes. In past iterations, that little lot alone would have been more than enough, but the sheer wealth of modes and content on offer in NHL 13 is simply staggering. NHL's Hockey Ultimate Team provides the backbone for a great deal of this content, which is every bit as deep and involving as it's always been, but this year's most substantial new addition, GM Connected, is yet another sprawling online mode that hardened ice hockey fans will no doubt be completely swept up in.
Supporting up to 750 players together in the same league, GM Connected takes the offline Be a GM as its core and builds an online mode around it, in which you can play with and against friends. Consisting of your own 30-team NHL league, GM Connected is unfathomably deep and involving, and like Be a GM, you have control over almost every aspect of your team. Building your team's legacy to grow into a dynasty is the ultimate goal, and you can play or coach your way through the action, while checking in on the move via the mobile companion app. Playable in co-op, you can band together with friends to ultimately win the Stanley Cup, which can effortlessly keep you hooked for hours on end. GM Connected is pretty damn comprehensive as modes go, and as a new addition for NHL 13, it's yet another component that'll keep you coming back to the game again and again.
Also new to NHL 13 is the NHL Moments Live mode, which enables you to relive and rewrite various moments from the previous 2011-2012 season, with additional moments from current games to be made available to download throughout the 2012-2013 season. Each of these NHL Moments scenarios opens with real-life footage from the actual games themselves, setting up the action in the same way that similar modes have in games like the WWE or UFC series. Then there's the Winter Classic in the 'Play Now' menu, which offers an atmospheric outdoor match-up between two bitter rivals like the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. NHL 13 really isn't short of modes in any way, shape or form. If anything, there's almost too much stuff here. Online doesn't begin and end with GM Connected either, of course. There's online versus play (as you'd expect), online shootouts, Battle for the Cup and all of the other online modes and in-depth fripperies that easily make NHL 13 the biggest game in the series yet.
On the ice itself, EA Canada has been hard at work tuning up the action with physics-based movement that falls under the all-encompassing banner of 'True Performance Skating'. Using the left stick, NHL 13 has your skater gaining momentum as you travel in one direction, whereas clicking in the stick gives you a burst of speed at the expense of control. Holding down the left trigger, you can now skate backwards, and you're able to use the Y button to not only start fights but also press opponents into the boards to harass them for the puck with improved board play. Beyond these newly introduced control mechanics, the other controls remain largely, if not entirely untouched, with the right trigger still used for passing and changing players. The right analogue stick is your slap shot and quick shot, and it's still every bit as gloriously intuitive and immediate as always.
There's a whole new AI system too, called 'Hockey IQ' which informs the behaviour and tendencies of players and goalies. In a nutshell, both the goalies and players are better at decision making and are more aware of other players on the ice. All of this is customisable too, with the 'Customize AI' option in 'My NHL' enabling you to tailor the AI to suit your individual play style. All of this stuff adds up to the best game of virtual ice hockey you'll have ever played, and while EA's NHL franchise is only really in competition with itself each year, it's safe to say that EA Canada has beaten last year's effort hands down.
NHL 13's achievement list is a little less of a grind this year too, with more achievements devoted to scoring goals in a variety of ways and under a variety of different conditions. It's one of the most interesting lists that EA has come up with in recent years, displaying a bit more thought and effort than usual. That said, while the grinding aspect might have been reduced, it's not gone entirely, so expect to dig in and prepare to grind through Be a Pro, Be a GM and Ultimate Hockey Team to completion. You'll be playing for ages to gain the full 1000 Gamerscore here, but at least there aren't quite as many online achievements this year. A definite improvement over previous NHL achievement lists for sure, encouraging you to explore all of the new modes and engage in rediscovering some of the old ones all over again too.
NHL 13 is an immensely playable and hugely intuitive ice hockey title that amazingly (and surprisingly, given how great NHL 12 was) improves upon its excellent predecessor with an array of refinements and new modes. It still feels odd, even after several years, using the right trigger to pass and change players, but it all makes complete sense. As a sports package, NHL 13 not only represents unparalleled value from a content standpoint (GM Connected and Ultimate Team are massive on their own), but it's got enough new touches on the ice itself to make this the best NHL game yet. Which is something we find ourselves saying every year.
As ever, the menu music is blaring rock, but the on-ice audio has all of the sounds and atmospherics of the real sport accurately represented, with a typically excellent commentary providing the icing on the cake.
Utterly superb in every conceivable department. Player likenesses are right on the money (for the most part) and the ice is as shiny and reflective as it should be. Yes, this is the best-looking NHL game we've seen to date.
There's really no faulting NHL 13 in the playability stakes. All of the improvements from past iterations, with the new customisable AI and True Performance Skating system all add up to make NHL 13 an unbridled joy to play. The controls still take some adjusting to if you've been away from NHL for any extended period of time, but there's still the NHL '94 control option for those afraid of change.
There's an insane amount of modes and game types to delve into. As we've said in previous NHL reviews, there's almost too much stuff to wade through, but it's all good. Suffice it to say, you'll be playing NHL 13 for the rest of the season and possibly even far beyond. Chances are, you might not need NHL 14...
An improvement on lists gone by, with less grind and a little more invention in each of its achievements. There's a decent spread dedicated to some of the new modes, and there's even a few that demand scoring goals in a variety of different ways, which is interesting. A better list than usual, but there's still ample room for a bit more creativity here.
Yet another masterful entry in the world-beating series, NHL 13 is an exemplary ice hockey game and the perfect example of how a sports game should be done. The presentation is second to none, the gameplay is nigh-on perfect and the wealth of content on offer is genuinely mind-boggling. NHL 13 is pucking fantastic.