Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Review: NHL 13 (PS3)

There is nothing more unsatisfying then having to simulate a hockey season, but for the 4th time in my lifetime, we're having yet another stoppage. At least the price of EA's NHL series doesn't go up year to year like our ticket, concession, and parking rates do. Serving as the salve to our bruised egos, we get the chance to live out the season our personal dreams electronically.

The big addition this year is the True Performance Skating System which gives a much more true to life translation of physics to skating. No more stopping on a dime or moving in a new direction without killing your initial momentum – your player actually behaves correctly when skating directly or gliding.

This is much more of a fundamental change to the game than previous versions. Initially you'll find yourself being drawn out of position WAY more often than usual as your player responds differently than you'd expect. People who have skated or played before will be much quicker to adapt than those who haven't. This change may start to shift the way the NHL games are played in the future, now that people are going to have to start adhering to the "reality" of gameplay. If we get people to start playing position and using actual team play instead of just slicing up ice or roving to where-ever they can cause the most carnage... that's for good. It still will need a few tweaks in future iterations as cross-over skating is completely wrong, and I'm sure that the next big addition will be catching an edge and wiping out.

The usual game modes from previous years are all here. From playing free control on your favorite team, running a franchise as a general manager (which now features an online mode too), or the usual career modes where you can work your way up from the minors or just start on a team as a rookie and work your way up the organization.

The new mode for this year is NHL Moments Live where you get you try and re-create some signature moments from history such as Gretzky's two goal game to reach 50 in his 39th game; or more recent ones like Sam Gagner's 8-point game last season. The expectation is that if any hockey gets played this season, we will get some additional "moments" to re-create as they happen. The only drawback on this mode is that the historical ones all occur with the specific player but with the modern franchises… i.e. Gretzky playing on the current Oilers against the Claude Giroux's current Flyers. Not exactly recapturing lightning in a bottle, but some people will just be happy to play again as Gretzky, Super Mario, and Dougie Gilmour.

The presentation of the this year's game is brighter than previous versions. I found it to be a little sharper to look at than last year's game, too; however, I did notice frequent full screen flashing occurring. During a typical full game I would see it happen at least 4-5 times a game; most often while on the bench during Career Mode – but every once in a while mid-action. Other than that, the presentation of the game is top notch as you'd expect from any entry in the EA Sports franchises… beautiful picture, crisp sound, good music… and the usual commentary from Clemente and Thorne (some of which sure sounds recycled from last year)

The teammate and opposition AI has definitely experienced an overhaul from previous years. By making a mistake, you end up paying a much higher penalty than previous years. There is a much higher frequency of turnover goals than I can ever remember from previous games.

That's not to say there aren't your typical AI quirks that are always prevalent; you'll never see anyone ice the puck on a penalty kill, nobody dumps the puck to complete a shift change… as a matter of fact, shifts seem to run anywhere from 3 to 7 minutes when no NHLer would even consider a shift longer than a minute and a half (if double shifting for example).

If the idea was to make the NHL franchise more of a true simulation, these are the tweaks that make it seem more true to form for a hockey game.

In contrast, the penalty calls that I've seen this year have been more off base than before; every game seems almost Jekyll and Hyde for refereeing: either severely over officiated or something from beyond Thunderdome. First few games I was practically able to re-create the scene from Happy Gilmour and take my skate off to try to kill a guy with no interference from the officials. Next few games I was penalized for trivial things such as looking funny at the ref… over dramatizations for sure but it makes it near impossible to figure out what you are and aren't going to be called for.

All in all, NHL '13 is another solid game as we would come to expect from EA Sports; some areas for improvement that I would like to see personally but otherwise not a horrible way to spend the lockout.

- Tazman

The Good:
- Love the new skating system – more true to life skating dynamics
- Very bright animation style

The Bad:
- Weird screen flashes during gameplay
- Penalties have become just plain odd

Score: 7.5 / 10