Saturday, September 8, 2012

NHL 13 Review: A-

After playing the NHL 13 Early Release until about 4am on Saturday, I think its safe to say that this is the best hockey game since Blades of Steel.

As I've said in an earlier post when the demo first came out, I've been playing the franchise since 2008, and those games have all been a build-up to this.  More realistic, more fair, more accurate puck play and more beating up on the Canadiens and Canucks.

When you start the game, the first thing you'll notice is the ability to choose your favorite team for the menus.  While it doesn't affect the game play at all, its cool to see your team's logo with the team lines flashing in the background.

Onto the real stuff, now.  The game still offers basic modes like "Play Now," "Be a GM" and "Be a Pro."  It also has the popular "Hockey Ultimate Team" mode, which I have never been a fan of (too much thinking), and the new "GM Connected" mode.  I'm most anxious to try out the GM Connected mode, because it let's you and virtually as many friends as you want play together or against each other in a giant league.  You can play with up to 25 user-controlled players on a team -- the entire roster of an NHL team, front to back -- or you can simplify it and just make it so each one of your friends has a team and you go head-to-head through the 2012-13 season.

You no longer have to play meaningless "Play Now" games against your friends or the computer, instead you can log into the league, set everything up the way you want it, right down to your breakout strategies, how aggressive you want your third line to play, and how cautious your goalie will play even when you simulate a game.

Another awesome new mode is the "NHL Moments" feature, when you can play the best performances from NHL history and either re-create them, or completely re-write them.  The NHL franchise had been missing a mini-game-esque feature, and they completely nailed it here.

The graphics have definitely improved a lot, as well.  It seems like last year, the developers didn't even spend time working on character models, and instead just threw a random face on a player.  This year, they spent more effort, at least on the more popular players, to make them look realistic.  The skate sprays, the visible breath when you're playing outdoors in the Winter Classic mode (which you can play at either Heinz Field or Citizens Bank Park this year), and the improved animations on checking and goalie play makes this game stand above the rest.

As far as sports games go, its tough to get a game that's truly realistic to the sport.  In NHL, poke checking the puck may cause it to appear spring-loaded at times, or checking someone might result in them flopping around with what appears to be a dislocated neck, but all in all, its very easy to overlook these things.

The explosiveness and the turning capabilities have been completely revamped to give skating a much more "real" feel.  You can no longer blast down the side boards, and slam on the breaks for an easy spin move (like my roommate used to do), because you'll fall flat on your face, or send yourself into a long slow turn where you'll meet a hungry defenseman.  Instead, the new physics-based skating will slow you down when you are turning, and account for speed in your turns so that the faster you go, the tougher it is to cut.

Of course all of these new features give the game a slight learning curve, even if you are very familiar with the franchise.  It makes for a much more even game among friends, but accounts for a lot of frustration when you are expecting to do things you knew you could in earlier NHL's.  Still, I can't get enough of it.

Overall, I would give the game an A- rating.  A tough learning curve and not enough time for fighting are about the only blemishes on this game, and I would highly recommend it to anyone.  Especially if anyone would like to join my GM Connected league... just let me know.  Game comes out on Tuesday.  Good luck.

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