“I went to a fight once and a hockey game broke out!
If only this could actually happen in the NHL right now, what with all the fighting that’s going on between players and team owners, a repeat of the 04-05 lockout season might be avoided. With the pre-season cancelled, lockout talks still dragging on and no sign of a game for at least another month, if at all, EA’s NHL 13 is the best option to get a fix of all things NHL. Not to mention the minor leagues, historical and international hockey.
Not a lot has changed from last year, but what little has will make a big difference to fans of the sport. Starting with True Performance Skating, the controls and animations have been adjusted to better reflect the physics underlying hockey skating. Pushing the left stick down and in a set direction will see your controlled skater sprint that way, whether on the offense, with the puck or getting back to defend. This not only creates a much more responsive play style but also tightens up any defensive demands. While held in, it will significantly decrease turning and hockey stick control (done with the right stick when possessing the puck) but releasing the depressed left stick and returning to a glide will return adequate control to both these.
If Disney hockey movies have taught us anything, it’s that no matter how fast you can skate and how many wacky sound effects accompany your playing, you still have to be able to stop. Bring in the hockey stop, one of the basic elements of hockey skating. By simply holding the left stick in the opposite direction to the one your skater is headed you'll see him grind quickly to a stop. Keep holding the left stick in this opposite direction and he'll slide to a stop and skate in that opposite direction. Couple this with the power skating mentioned earlier and... well you get the idea of how important momentum and speed are in this game.
Another thing you may have picked up from those Emilio Estevez lawyer movies is that throwing figure skating moves into a hockey game greatly expands play and scoring opportunities. Well that was a lie, it doesn’t. If someone tried to do pirouettes and that sort of malarkey in a hockey game they’d get laid flat on the ice by the goon on both teams. The point is, hockey is also a game of agility, part of which means a lot of skating backwards. When playing defense this is a given, but now you can skate backward with the puck, simply by holding the left trigger while directing your skater. Theoretically this opens up all kinds of creative and outlandish scoring possibilities not available in previous releases.
Then there’s the most important part of hockey. Scoring, you say? Nope, it’s checking! Or, to the unfamiliar, hitting a player on the opposite team. One of the most impressive ways to legally hit another player is the hip check, which can now be attempted by pushing in the right stick at the precise time and directing it at the player you've lined up to be taken out. The right stick also still controls all other kinds of hits when playing and if timed right may even break the glass above the boards, which looks great in the replay and game highlights.
These may all sound like minor things to some, but in a game of such incredible pace, these elements all make for a much more realistic gameplay experience and add so much more dimension to controls and playing options.
Once you’ve got got your head around all that then it’s time to delve into the many modes on offer to implement these new and old skills. Of the many that return from last year, it’s still the quick games that offer the most exciting experience. Nothing beats playing an entire game as your favourite team consisting of those great players against any rival team of your or your opponents choice. Whether you do this against the AI, a friend or even online (with the EA Online Pass) it gives that immediate immersive feel in a single, short, accessible period.
If you’re wanting something with a bit more at stake, Battle for the Cup lets you see what it would be like if any two teams of your (and your opponents) choice made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, with you playing as one. Playing the whole seven game series offers all the thrill and excitement expected from a final series. The Winter Cup game from last year is back with the added option of the latest Winter Cup match between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. Both matches played outdoors, giving a welcome variation on setting, but is essentially another set of quick matches with historical value, something the overall game emphasizes a lot.
A series of mini-games made up of historical achievements in actual NHL games are ready to dive into with NHL Moments Live. These moments are mainly from last season with a handful from previous years and gives players a chance to somewhat recreate or change important moments from key games. Objectives vary from scoring a set amount of goals or getting a number of assists as a single player or a whole team to maintaining a shutout as a goalie. Consisting of four levels of difficulty - Rookie, Pro, All-Star and Superstar - and all offering different reward points. Playing a selection in this mode can even mean dropping into any period of a game with the set objective. While the playing styles and difficulty level added variety and took some adjusting to, this is definitely one of the more engaging sections of the game, perhaps even more so than Be A Pro. If the actual NHL season does in fact eventuate this year, we'll also see DLC content here in the form of new moments from this season to recreate or change.
GM Connected offers online league play for the RPG style Be A GM while Be A Pro and Be A Legend return again as the immersive, but somewhat lacking, career modes. Be A Pro, if anything has become harder to navigate with less customisation options. The addition of the Creation Zone in My NHL’13 adds some confusion to where the create a player starts and is edited. It is essentially the same gameplay as previously seen but with options to start in the CHL again, jump to the NHL draft or choose an NHL team all available from the get go. Once in games, the expectations of your player are outlined in terms of shots, goals, points and assists and achieving these will unlock new Be A Legend characters. Player bench shift options can be watched, simulated or text simulated and unfortunately this simulation is still not a smooth process. If you can get into the Be A Player mode and create the player you want it is definitely a great mode and the truest simulation of an actual player.
Having Claude Giroux on the cover of the box, even though he was ranked third in the 11-12 season, as well as the inclusion of a remix of Bassnectar’s Pennywise Tribute, no matter how much Bro Hymn was featured in the NHL, definitely don’t do the game any favours, albeit the small factors they represent.
All the new features with the modes that are available really point out that this game is made for fans of hockey. Those who love the league, their team and their superstars and want to play as these and historical legends of the game. It would be hard to imagine coming into this game uninitiated to hockey and the NHL, which is definitely the game’s downfall. I’d much prefer to see such a great game for an incredible sport reach more people with every release.