NHL 13 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)The NHL license has been good to Electronic Arts, giving the Third Party the chance to basically monopolise the ice hockey genre from the past twenty or so years, dating back to NHL Hockey on the SEGA Mega Drive. Whilst multi-format releases were always key in achieving mass market penetration, Wii owners only ever got a spin-off in the form of NHL Slapshot and DS gamers were left with nothing. The same is true for NHL 13, which comes on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. With the game being planned for Wii U, though, why should Nintendo fans consider hitting the ice?
Ice, Ice, Baby!Physics is boring, right? Most people that studied it will probably concur, but when brought into the video game realm suddenly watch as it transforms from that painful subject at school into something truly spectacular. NHL 13 accurately captures the speed, creativity, and strategy found in the real world sport, transferring it smoothly to the gaming space thanks to the 'True Performance Skating' system employed for this latest iteration in the long-standing series. Mixed with the 1,000+ gameplay animations added this year, players will seriously feel like they are right in the thick of the action, speeding around, quickly changing direction, pulling off all manner of stunning moves before flicking the right thumb-stick to whack the puck home with pin-point accuracy.
Skating aimlessly without focus might be enjoyable for a short while, but without plenty of options included, boredom would indeed creep in sooner rather than later. This sadly happened in some of the older NHL games, especially those back on the SNES and GameCube, but times have changed considerably and it is all about bending to the needs of gamers to maintain interest. First up is the chance to re-write history with the NHL Moments Live mode, where some of the most thrilling matches can be jumped into with the opportunity to drag teams back from the brink of loss and become a legend in your own right. GM Connected is another stroke of genius, with players able to team with friends and tackle the challenge of a human-controlled league head on. Be it taking part as a player, manager or even a coach, GM Connected can also be transferred to a special App that can be taken along even when the game is switched off. NHL 13 does its best to provide as many reasons to stay glued to the game as possible.
Brawling with StyleIntriguingly, there is somewhat of an emphasis on fighting, with a whole section of training based around mid-match ice rink brawls with members of the opposition. Those unfamiliar with ice hockey on the whole will find this quite an unusual inclusion, but anyone even catching the odd match here and there will realise this is a regular occurrence in real life and something that is a nice touch for the video game version to feature. However, the heart and soul of NHL 13 is in how jam-packed it is with sporting content, both elements rolling over from NHL 12 and the completely new segments brought to the table.
For one thing, the computer-controlled players are hotter than ever, with considerably improved AI that allows for skaters, including the goaltenders, to predict shots and react to make vital blocks and last-ditch tackles. Additionally, players can even add in their own styles for the computer to follow. Player ratings are also now tweaked to reflect skill levels dependent on position, at the behest of fans after finishing up with NHL 12.
More importantly, and in an attempt to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, the highly addictive Hockey Ultimate Team has been revamped, with the general design being improved, new features brought in to make creating a team simpler using player-card collections, and a new reward system added. This is on top of the EA Sports Hockey League options, Be a Pro mode and the aforementioned True Performance Skating. Focusing on three key elements -- explosiveness, top-end speed, and momentum -- the wealth of new animations, changes to acceleration and speed in order to allow for real-life blunders when at full pelt, and the fact that momentum makes it tougher to pull out of erroneous manoeuvres, all makes for a highly realistic endeavour.