Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Review: NHL 13 (360)

With the lock out well under-way, NHL 13 is likely to be your only source of NHL hockey this season. (Check your local paper for alternatives, like the AHL or WHL for very high calibre live hockey!) It's fortunate that NHL 13 is as good as it is about simulating so much of what happens on and off the ice -- it's pretty close to being the real thing, as real coffee is to decaffeinated coffee. Not quite the same buzz, but it will fool anyone not paying attention.

Ironically, it was the simulation aspect of NHL 13 that presented the biggest obstacle to enjoyment, particularly after I flipped through some extra material that EA sent along with the review copy, which alerted me to just how much is going on behind each stride down the ice.

Most of it has zero impact on gameplay and I didn't notice most of it while playing -- Yay! Procedural skate spray! -- but the overall physics might leave non-expert players befuddled until a they have a dozen games on their W-L-T record.

Skating has a big impact on the overall game as it couches itself in that most unforgiving of cushions: Physics. The notion of inertia and momentum is explained before the player even sees a menu screen but it took me a while to acclimatize to it and get a handle on how it works and affects movement on the ice and moving players into proper position. If the handling (and overall game) just doesn't "click" then it might be time to try adjusting a slider or two.

EA Canada has layered more sliders into NHL 13 than can be found at most media events. There are sliders for passing, game speed, hitting, specific player attributes, fatigue effects, and pass accuracy among so many others. Unfortunately for this reviewer, my preferred play style -- sorry, I mention it every year, NHL Hitz 2003 -- can't quite be accommodated but I really do appreciate the option to get in a start twiddling with sliders to off-set the deference to realism. After all, if I wanted to play a realistic hockey game, I'd strap on some skates.

(Note: There are entire message boards dedicated to slider adjustments.)

EA likely tracks this kind of information so I hope they share some of the more sim-like stats in the future because I have a hard time believing that a feature mode like GM Connected gets the kind of play that justifies the amount of work that obviously went into it.

GM Connected allows up to 750 people to participate in a single league, which includes players sitting in the GM seat down to individual players on the ice. It's difficult to fathom that something like this is even possible. Even thinking about it too long makes the back of my eyeballs hurt, especially in light of the fact there's actually a role for the Commissioner. It's like EA Canada wanted to take NHL 13 into the realm of the political and economic machinations of EVE Online. They aren't quite there yet, thankfully. Team Owners are not a playable faction and as far as I know there are no plans for a Real Money Gambling house.

And really, I don't care too much about this. To write anything on these aspects beyond reporting its name and a line about whether it's good or bad, would extend this review well beyond the 3,000 word mark. It's great that stuff is there for people that want to go deep into the numbers -- Be A Pro mode, NHL Moments Live, Hockey Ultimate Team -- and specific defensive/offensive strategies, but my main concern is the on-ice action, which is pretty darn good.

It's a lot of fun to sit down on the couch after a long day and play some virtual hockey with my oldest son; something I can see us doing more and more as the days get shorter heading into winter. There's so much extra built into the game I'm not sure how anyone could evaluate all of it in one go, which is why I'd encourage anyone interested in NHL 13 to give it a rental first to focus on the part of the game that might be of most interest. For me, it's the action on the ice during couch matches, which is my recommended way to play.

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- Great action on-ice
- Looks great
- An incredible number of modes and options, especially for hardcore NHL fans
- Sliders, sliders, sliders

The Bad:
- Some features will be neutered because of the NHL lock-out
- So many modes and options that novice players could be easily overwhelmed
- Still no "NHL Hitz 2003" mode

Score: 8.5 / 10