NHL 13 review

Your controller should beware, because things are going to get a little nasty. Thanks to the introduction of True Performance Skating in NHL 13, most of the tactics for success you’ve used the past few years won’t work anymore. While the controls are the same–move with the left stick, shoot with the right–the way that players interact with the ice is dramatically different. The results are, too.

Check out the review for NHL 13

Gone are the days of speedy forwards and hulking defensemen matching each other stride for stride. Due to the new skating physics, the combination of player abilities, mass, momentum, and weight dictate that guys like Alex Ovechkin or Ilya Kovalchuk will blow by bigger, slower guys such as Zdeno Chara–so you’ll need to adjust how you defend your zone. If you’re letting slapshots loose in full stride like you used to, the puck will go flying off in different directions nowhere near the target. It makes complete sense, since real-life NHL players always come to a glide before shooting from the wings; you’ll have to do the same thing now in order to get the puck on net. However, it’s dramatically different than previous versions, and some training and patience are in order to learn how to be successful.

Even when you get the new skating controls down, there are plenty of other controller-endangering changes afoot. Goaltenders are smarter than ever and their bodies are now fully animated, so those cross-ice passes for easy tap-in goals you’ve been doing this generation will hardly ever work. If you’re setting up shop in the crease, be prepared to be beaten into a pulp; countless attempts to feather a pass to an awaiting teammate were fruitless, as he’d usually wind up on his back or have the puck kicked away by a defenseman draped all over him.

While all this may sound like a complaint, it’s not. NHL 13 feels more realistic on the ice because the players can’t cut on a dime without taking a moment to wheel and recover, nor can they execute crisp passes and shots while skating at top speed. It takes a lot of getting used to–and some series vets are likely to get extremely frustrated–but the payoff in realism and flow is worth it. Bringing True Performance Skating to life was a winning move.

It’s a good thing, too, because NHL 13 is massive. There are a staggering amount of offline and online options, each aimed at different types of players and each with its own pluses and minuses. The most impressive mode is the all-new GM Connected. Long overdue, it’s an online league that allows potentially hundreds of people to compete together in a league as GMs and individual players. Traditionalists can have their own teams, but the opportunities for creativity are boundless, such as co-op seasons with groups of friends on the same team–something that’s never been done before. One big drawback has been the menu load times, though; they’re frightfully long.

Take a deeper look with our NHL 13 Developer Demo

The traditional GM and Be A Pro modes are back and, with the exception of a few new Legends such as Doug Gilmour and Dominik Hasek, are much the same as they’ve been for a few seasons. While Be A Pro felt fresh and exciting when it was introduced, it’s showing its age and could use a makeover to get players that’ve been through it all before excited again. A significantly updated Hockey Ultimate Team takes custom team-building in a different direction, giving players the ability to assemble their own squad by earning card packs from players spanning leagues across the world. Thanks to the elimination of individual player contracts–a set amount of games each person can play for your custom team–it’s eminently more accessible and fun to try out than in the past.

It’s also obvious that the emphasis on creating a new skating engine and online leagues prevented some freshening up in other spots. Gary Thorne and Bill Clement haven’t called an NHL game together in years but remain in the commentary booth; it’s long past time for new voices to liven up the action. In addition, the uninspiring fighting engine is back for another go-round. You’ll occasionally see brief framerate drops when the puck gets into the bottom corners as well as some glitchy visuals such as the close-ups when guys get on and off the bench.

It was risky for the NHL 13 dev team to reach under the hood and modify the core gameplay to the degree they did. It takes time to learn, and the smarter defenders and goaltenders will make scoring extremely difficult at the start. As we’ve recently seen with other stalwart franchises like FIFA Soccer and Madden NFL, though, getting the fundamentals oh-so-right can make something that’s already good spectacular. There may be a few rough edges, but the overall package delivers a heck of a punch.

This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

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