Review: NHL 13
The EA Sports NHL series has received a lot of success throughout this console generation. So much so it drove any and all competition out of the market and took its’ place as the sole leader of all things hockey. Yet EA Sports is looking to change the way people play the game again and give the franchise some new legs to skate on (literally). With the league currently under another lockout, NHL 13 may be the only source of hockey goodness that fans will be able to get this year, unless they like watching reruns on the NHL Network.
One of 13’s biggest additions to this year’s game is the brand new True Performance Skating engine. This gets rid of the tight turning, quick stopping, and non-momentum based skating that has been around for the last few years. It really changes the way players move around the ice and it feels really good. Players will have to build up speed when going straight and they have to reduce their speed if they wish to make specific turns. A player’s weight will even shift accordingly when they have to stop and go in a different direction. Overall it makes the game feel like a true hockey simulation. You’ll easily tell who the quick players on the team are compared to the slow, but the slow ones will often times be the ones with the best balance. Which you will desperately need when facing off against the overly aggressive AI.
With EA Sports Hockey I.Q, the AI defenders forecheck better, have very active sticks, and are well positioned in the neutral zone, but unfortunately, there are issues. Problems from years past are still present with the AI and have yet to be corrected. For example, the defense will pinch when they don’t need to, they don’t cycle the puck properly, and more times than not, the defense will get flat footed going into their own zone. This forces them to catch up to an attacker who’ll just end up getting a clear shot at the net.
Players also can’t be as physical as they used to be. They have to be patient. They must wait on the skater to enter the zone and decide if they can pressure the puck carrier. You can hope that one of your forwards comes down fast enough to cover you in case you fail to obtain the puck and the attacker gets around you. Luckily the poke check has been tuned so you can clog the shooting/passing lane pretty quickly.
What makes the AI overly aggressive though is in the hitting. I don’t know what happened within the last few years of introducing the new hitting engine back in NHL 11, but it does not mold well with the new skating engine. Players with no momentum will knock a player down hard to the ice; while other times skating with actual momentum will just be more of a shoulder bump than a hit. The computer also loves to hit from behind a lot and they cause your players to fall very awkwardly to the ice as if they were hit by a running bull head-on and in full speed.
You can try to hit as aggressive as the computer, but for some reason it doesn’t affect them as much as it would for you. Expect to be abused when in front of the goaltender and expect to possibly get frustrated when you start turning the puck over after a hit that should have never affected you the way it should have. I have adjusted the sliders to try and change up their aggression and hitting power, but it honestly did nothing. On Rookie, and sometimes even Pro difficulty, you should be fine. Once you step it up beyond that, it’s like a game of pinball.
Now tag in the aggressive hitting AI with problems that have existed the last few years, and you’re lucky if you don’t throw your control at the screen. Passes are still tape to tape, they love to figure skate around with the puck when you try to pressure them, they still suck you into the boards when inducing board play, and they’re faster than you. I understand the computer has to be difficult to play, but they rarely make any errors at all and if you try to do anything they do, like board play, nothing happens and they skate away while you look like a fool humping the glass.
Goalies have received a much needed upgrade in NHL 13 as they move around the crease faster, get good views of the puck when screened, and make some ridiculous desperation saves. Sadly though, it happens too often. You will not go a game without seeing four or more of these types of saves. It does make scoring a lot more difficult and after 10+ games, I think I scored five goals in one game at least once. The game also has a hard time rewarding good plays into goals.
What I mean by that is, I’ve seen goals let in off a silly wrist shot from the top of the blue line or even by shots that the goalie had clear views of. Yet if you manage to get a clean 2 on 1, or even 2 on none break, and pass it to the player driving down on the opposite side, that goalie will make the save 8 times out of 10 due to desperation. You can even set up an amazing play that ends up into an out-of-nowhere one-time opportunity, only for that goalie to come across the crease faster than the puck and save it. Though the most random of shots or even ridiculous puck bounces, will more often than not get them out of position and give you or your opponent that deciding goal. It’s odd. While I understand anything can happen in the NHL, players who play the game the way it’s supposed to be played will have to work very hard to get just one goal, only to see a completely random shot that should have been saved, go in.
One of the two newest additions in terms of game modes for NHL 13 is GM Connected. It has everything the traditional Be a GM mode has to offer except you’ll be able to coach a team, join a team and play alongside five other friends, enjoy the traditional versus games, or build an AI to compete against your opponents while you work on all the GM duties. Everything looked great on paper as this has been something fans were looking forward to for some time, but the execution is seriously lacking. GM Connected is constantly refreshing with the EA Servers which ends up making the user experience very slow. Even if you’re just going through the menus, it takes almost 5-15 seconds just to exit out of the menus that took the same amount of time just to get in. To be honest, you’re better off finishing two seasons with Be a GM offline before you finish simulating one in GM Connected.
Speaking of Be a GM, it’s still the same mode as last year, except the trading block and trade logic got an update. The new trading block screen lets you adjust to specifically what you’re looking for and what you want, while also telling you what other teams want in better detail. Star ratings and interest levels help you determine whether what you’re offering the opposing team is good or not, but it won’t always work as well as you would hope. Often times you’ll have specific players highlighted that the other team would want to inquire, only to say it’s not enough and ask you to heighten the deal. Then when you look at what they are asking for in terms of the trade, you feel completely ripped off. The biggest issue with the trade logic is the AI. They don’t care about what they have on the roster and are just making blockbuster trades for the heck of it. In one instance, Buffalo traded their first round draft pick for Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg. In other words, New Jersey, at the start of the pre-season, traded away their starting and back-up goaltender to a team that already has an amazing goaltender in Ryan Miller? Really doesn’t make sense and you’ll often see this at the start of the preseason. By the way, it always involves a first round draft pick.
Editor Note: Playing through a season with the St. Louis Blues, I noticed something pretty odd in the injuries department of Be a GM. I normally keep it on to make things more realistic, but I noticed that a lot of injuries occur throughout the season, and I mean a lot. What’s stranger is that all these injuries only occur to all of the main players for each team. Sometimes it’ll just be day-to-day type injuries, while other times it’ll be a week or more. I took a picture so you can see for yourself, but if you’re like me and like to have injuries on, I would suggest you turn it off for now. I honestly don’t think it’s working the way it should be, so I would wait for a possible update.
As for other new modes, EA Sports finally gives players the opportunity to play through past games with NHL Moments Live. This mode brings moments from the 2011-2012 season in which you re-create or re-write history. They’re pretty challenging depending on the difficulty you choose, but it’s enjoyable. I just wish they kept the introduction videos showing off the moment like the one in the demo because it gives it a more dramatic feeling. Though what will take away from this mode is the fact the NHL is in lockout mode. The slot that says “2012-2013 NHL Moments” is going to end up empty and we don’t know for how long. It’s a great debut for the mode, it just suffered some bad luck.
After that, every other mode is pretty much the same. You can request a trade in Be a Pro. Hockey Ultimate Team uses your favorite team as your starting pack which includes logo, jersey, and a few players from the team. For EASHL, players are given a lower overall rating, which makes skating a bit slow to start. Players will have to either buy boost packs or play with other smart users who don’t hog the puck if you wish to reach better stats later on. Speed and acceleration will be a main slot you try to boost obviously, but more so then last years with the new skating engine. There’s also regional matchmaking and performance-point multipliers.
An area of the game that looked improved at first sight is presentation. There’s new lighting, player models look a lot better, the addition of the new broadcast camera, and cutscenes have been placed in some areas for a more live feed making it look more real-time. When you look beyond this, especially if you’ve been following the series for a long time, you see things that are still the same and are literally copy and paste. Score a hat trick, same scene from years past. Win the Stanley Cup, same scene from years past. Announcing team, aside from adding a few new lines, has been the same since 2007. Even arenas are still copy and paste.
Play a game in Carolina. Press pause and go to instant replay. Position the camera to view the team banners at the top. Team logos have not been changed, and it seems Atlanta is still part of the Eastern Conference while Winnipeg doesn’t even exist. Same exists in Florida and they don’t even have team banners. I know that because I go to the games! They haven’t had them in years. Also, we have red seats, not green. I know gameplay is what makes the game playable, but when you see other sports games like MLB The Show, NBA 2K, or even Madden have this spectacular and real life presentation to go along with their gameplay; you look at NHL and you just sit here and ask yourself, “Everyone else has upgraded the way the games looks and sounds to accompany the stellar gameplay, why haven’t you?”.
Editor Note: I’ve been encountering a freeze issue with NHL 13 that happens as soon as I win the game and enters the cutscene where you see the team celebrating. Out of my first seven games, it froze on me five times. It’s something I’ve looked up on the forums and some users have complained about it. This could be a custom soundtrack issue, or something else. Maybe my disc is defective, who knows?
It’s very hard to sit here and say that NHL 13 is better than 12, because the fact is, it plays better then 12 but it’s not exactly better, or worse for that matter. All a player can do is adjust to the problems and find a way to enjoy the game. For hardcore fans, they notice the same issues from before and remember the promises made by EA, only to scratch their head and feel like they were lied to. For fans who haven’t been into the series in years, NHL 13 is now their favorite hockey game of all-time. All I know is that for next years installment, a new hitting engine will need to tag team with the new skating engine if it wishes to work properly.
NHL 13 is fun, but only when you look past its short comings and minimal additions. Only then will you have a great game of hockey.