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Playstation 3 Review: NHL 13

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Downtown Los Angeles was a busy place this June with the E3 Expo and Stanley Cup Finals occupying the same couple of blocks.  In case you forgot, the hometown L.A. Kings did end up winning the best of seven series a couple of days after the Expo ended and may end up as world champions for two years in a row without ever playing another game. 

With the players currently locked out, there doesn’t seem to be much movement towards salvaging the season.  There may be no NHL hockey to watch this year but that doesn’t mean the fans can’t live vicariously through video games.  Of course, EA is there to fulfill that need with NHL 13.

Leading up to the release of NHL 13, EA put a lot of effort into making sure no one forgot there was a new NHL game coming out in 2012.  First, there was an open online vote to decide which player would be on the NHL 13 cover, starting in March. The voting was closed in the beginning of June just before the E3 Expo, where EA demoed the EA Canada-developed game.  Then, on June 20 2012, Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers was named the winner at the 2012 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.  Apparently it’s paid off, as NHL 13 is reported to have outsold each of its predecessors in its first week out.

This is the third year that EA has the whole hockey videogame market to itself for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.  The more arcade-style NHL 2K games are done and you might think that would mean little would be added to EA’s hockey game.  That’s not entirely true, though as NHL 13 does offer some new wrinkles.  The biggest change players will notice in NHL 13 is the new skating physics model.  Following the EA NHL model of trying to create more of a hockey sim, NHL 13 has moved away from arcade-style skating.  Just as the stick control was moved to the analog stick to offer more realistic shooting and passing, momentum and speed now play a much larger part in skating.

With the new controls, players can now skate backwards but apparently that comes at a price.  As you change direction while skating, you will now lose speed and players will have to choose angles of attack much more carefully, if they intend on getting to the puck in time. 

You can sprint but it’s only effective when skating in a straight line.  Anyone who has ever been on skates or is familiar with inertia will understand how this works.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, it’s another step toward marginalizing sports games.  I still remember when anyone, whether they were a gamer or not, could come over to your house and pick up Madden or any other sports game and it would be a fun game.  To be fair, however, the game does offer NHL 04 controls, which simplifies many of the controls to button presses.

Now of course, no one needs to come over to your house to play a sports game with you.  Despite EA’s insistence on “Online Passes,” there are still plenty of people on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live to play with.  As the demographics of gaming continue to skew towards older gamers, online multiplayer is a necessity.  NHL 13 offers the standard online matchmaking and for hardcore hockey fans, a new GM Connected mode. Though previous NHL games had GM modes, they were offline.  Now the GM mode is online and can accommodate up to 750 players in a single league. If you’re a fan of other brands of hockey than just the NHL, NHL 13 does include a total of seven professional leagues, including the Canadian Hockey League. 

Some of the extras in NHL 13 are somewhat baffling though.  There is a NHL Moments Live mode which is subtitled as “Can you recreate history?”  This mode allows players to re-play great moments from way back in the 2011–12 NHL season and promises new, upcoming moments to be uploaded in the future.  The “Be a Pro” mode adds the exciting feature of allowing you to retire and the “Be a Legend” mode is historically inaccurate with regards to the rosters.  While I’m complaining, the AI can still be gamed, particularly in the GM mode.

It is nice to see, however, that even in the absence of competition EA is working on improving their NHL franchise.  There are of course gripes but many of them have to do with EA more than the game.  The Online Passes are a pain and to further cut costs, EA sports games no longer include physical manuals.  How many people really buy used copies of sports games in the launch window?  After a couple of months, nothing depreciates like sports game and it would be nice to be able to glance at a manual without having to turn on the console. 

NHL 13 is fairly easy to pick up and play particularly when using the retro control scheme and the physics, while a new addition doesn’t take much adjustment.  For the hardcore hockey fans, the RPG elements are robust but still lack some polish.  If you’re looking for some pick up and play or local multiplayer hockey action there’s not much of reason to recommend picking this game up right away.  However, NHL fans with the shakes from hockey withdrawals that live and breathe the game will probably appreciate the additions to the NHL 13 and more than likely already own the game.

NHL 13 is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Mild Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360.

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About Lance Roth

Lance Roth has over 10 years experience in the video game industry. He has worked in a number of capacities within the industry and currently provides development and strategy consulting. He participated in all of the major console launches since the Dreamcast. This videogame resume goes all of the way back to when they were written in DOS. You can contact Lance at RPGameX.com or rpgamex@gmail.com.