NHL 13 Review: New Physics makes EA's latest in the NHL series a must-buy game

The best chance we all might have for seeing any NHL hockey between now and the winter of 2013 might be on your PS3 or Xbox 360.

NHL 13, developed by Electronic Arts and the yearly update in their long-running NHL series, is where hockey fans will have to turn for their NHL--for the time being, at least. Like any good series, the folks at EA have done their damnedest to make NHL 13 fresh for anyone who will be swapping out NHL 12 for this year's version.

The new big thing is Total Control Skating, which takes physics into account more fully.

Bravo, EA.

Gone are the days of zipping around the back of the net, cutting in hard and not losing any momentum. Cutting on tight angles slows the player down and the speed at which the player goes into their turn has a pronounce effect on the radius of said turn. Attributes like agility figure in heavily.

Alexander Ovechkin can cut in from the wing fairly quickly. Joel Ward can't turn as fast. Roman Hamrlik is nearly physically unable to turn.

The result is something closer to the real deal. Wiggle around defenders with your first line, press with the second, defend with the third and hold on for dear life when the fourth line hits the ice. Big, slow defenders seem even bigger and slower, but the beauty part is that they're simply won't be knocked over by a shrimpy winger. 

It makes positioning on defense much more important. Get it right and the opponent's forward is sprawled out on the ice. Get it wrong and you're toast.

There's a learning curve for sure, but not one steep enough to make you want to embed your controller in your drywall. Being mindful of what line you have of the ice and what that line is capable of is necessary. The end product is so worth it in terms of realism.

Passing is still a little wonky but time and practice will make the odd, unforeseen pass less shocking. Your console can't read your mind, so don't be too shocked when it picks the shorter pass for you. 

Goalies seem to be closer to the real thing, too. Blocker side high is still pretty money--teeing up near the blue line with a lefty defenseman against a righty goalie through traffic is simply cash--but other vulnerabilities and strengths show through. Some netminders have better glove hands than others and some get down faster. Other problems will pop up here and there, like missing an easy cover, but the play is generally a step up.

The classic game modes are back like always--GM mode, Season mode, Be A Pro/Legend modes and the like. Ultimate Team mode is back, where you assemble your own team by purchasing packs of player cards with currency you earn through playing games in this mode against other players online or by dropping your own hard-earned cash (don't) to purchase packs. It's not on par with FIFA's Ultimate Team mode because of line changes.

The really weird game mode making its debut in NHL 13 is GM Connected mode. You take the reins of a franchise and play online with your friends as the General Manager of an NHL franchise. You play online with your friends with up to 25 teams and go at it over the course of a season.

What's odd is that other friends can join in on your games and take control of individual players. The maximum number of people who can play is 750 players. Yes, 750. Imagine you and 749 of your closest friends going at it over the course of an 82-game season and playoffs. Really. You can do this.

Online play is a little laggy and the new phyiscs of the game probably hurt that unless your internet connection is fast. Some menus aren't perfect either.

Forget the online play and learn the tricky menus. NHL 13 is schockingly realistic and a whole lot of fun, even with the learning curve.

Gameplay: 10/10. EA worked hard on the new physics and the result is fantastic, realistic hockey.
Sound: 9/10. Stadium noise is very responsive based on what's happening on the ice--wait until the crowd chants your goalie's name. Menu soundtrack is appropriate.
Appearance: 8/10. No vast improvement on NHL 12 but it wasn't necessary. It looks fine.
Online play: 5/10. Laggy but it could be fixed in the future. Not the main draw here.
Fun Factor: 10/10. You'll play until your thumbs are raw. This is not a bad thing.

Overall: 9/10. This is the best from EA in their ongoing NHL series. Fun and real, a must-buy for NHL gamers.


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