With NHL fans fearing the worst during this year’s lockout, EA will be looking to capitalise on a fan-base's low morale with the release of its latest Ice Hockey title, NHL '13. Looking to improve on '12, EA has bought a good variety of new ideas and features to the game which they are hoping will result in a winning formula, it is indeed very close to that, but it's not without its flaws.
Jumping straight into a game, you're once again met with some awe-inspiring player models, all stunningly re-created in the image of the characters real-life counterpart. The arenas look perfect with ice that ages throughout a period; the crowds are a little lifeless like many of EA's games, but you're talking a good few thousand characters so you can let EA off on that front.
Once the game gets going like past the NHL title's, you are met with a game which relishes on giving the gamer as true a representation of Ice Hockey as is humanly possible and in '13 we see yet further improvement. One niggle I do have is that the face-offs are very difficult, especially for rookies who haven't played NHL before, but even Veteran players I notice struggle to win against a CPU opponent. That being said the rest of the gameplay is simply superb.
They have almost totally stripped the game down and started from scratch, firstly with how your character skates. In past versions you would invariably find that your skater could turn on a sixpence and you could be sliding at plus 20mph and still pull off a picture-perfect slap shot. Not anymore lads, if you decide that you need to speed up on the ice, watch as your accuracy falls sometimes quite dramatically. You also turn like you're meant to turn on the ice, instead of on a sixpence, think more beachball-esque.
EA have also decided to give the opponent AI a face-lift with both your team mates and opposition being more aware of their surroundings, it also makes a players awareness attribute a whole lot more important in NHL '13. One thing I will say in comparison to '12 is that it is a great deal more difficult to pull off 'slap-shots' instead you will invariably be finding yourself trying to score with wrist-shots.
Once you've done your exhibition match and gotten a good feel for the game, the next step will of course be the franchise mode, or GM Connected as it's called in NHL '13. GM Connected gives gamers the chance to play out a full season with 749 other human controlled players. Every member of a twenty-five player squad can be controlled by you, along with the GM of the team, making online matches a riot... at least when they're not plagued with our old friend lag.
Sadly lagging issues somewhat ruins the general experience when using GM Connected, both whilst using the navigation and in-game which is a shame as it does have a lot of potential. The little pop-up phone that you can use to phone in trades and sort out contracts is quite novel. Sadly trades are very rare as they are simply not fair, you will be offered players who you'll be worse of agreeing to and when you try to organise a trade ninety-nine times out of a hundred it will be declined. It does somewhat ruin that feeling of being a GM.
You can also take to the ice as a rookie in the EA Sports Hockey League. Some will dislike EASHL as you truly are a rookie at the start with a low rating skater who looks like an elephant on the ice. Personally I love it, surely that's how most rookies enter the league, not as good as they can be as they grow into better players and that's exactly how that particular game mode should play out like.
There is of course Be A Pro and Be A Legend where you take to the ice as a pro like Giroux. Again the player characters are quite unique not just in the way they look, but also how they act. Every skater seems to have a different way of skating compared to their colleagues and opponents, it makes each person unique and it's a nice touch.
The game does also have Hockey Ultimate Team Mode following on from FIFA and Madden where you pick a set of trading cards and create a team quite literally from the hand you're dealt with. For previous fans of HUT you will no doubt relish in an all-new navigation and set-up although after a while it can get a little laborious and more often than not you'll find yourself choosing to play out your career via GM connected.
Finally you've got NHL Moments, not something new in EA games but a must for hockey fans as it takes you back to some of the biggest moments in NHL history. Even better is that you get to play for EA pucks, which you can use with the aforementioned Hockey Ultimate Team, perfect for those wanting to upgrade their roster (or hand I guess).
So what have we all learnt from EA's latest game in the long-running NHL franchise, and more importantly is it good enough to keep you occupied during this trying time? The answer is yes it can, EA have done a near perfect job of recreating what it's like to be skating on the various arenas across the Hockey league and it pays off.
You can look past the lagging issues online and in GM connected, you can look past the increased difficulty in slap-shots and face-offs, you can even look past the inability to make serious trades offline all because NHL does exactly what it should once you step out on that ice. It's a great experience, one which will no doubt have hockey fans hooked from the get-go. NHL '13 looks stunning, feels unique and has enough features to keep the NHL fan-base more than happy until NHL '14 is released.