There might not be an NHL season this year thanks to another pro sports lockout, but that doesn’t mean gamers can’t have their fill of pro hockey. This year’s hockey game, NHL 13, from EA sports is almost a complete reboot of the series, bringing what is perhaps the most realistic feeling hockey game to date. But can a simulation of the game create the thrill of it?
To say NHL 13 is a full featured game with a mode for everyone would be an understatement. The myriad of menu choices can be daunting. From the brand new GM Connected, NHL Moments Live, EA Sports Hockey League, to the Hockey Ultimate Team and Season Modes - there are some truly deep and original gameplay modes for any hockey fan. If you can’t find some sort of hockey here to play - well it might be because the menus are so confusing. Remember when you couldn’t even play a season in a hockey game? Now it’s hard NOT to.
I’m not going to break down every single mode NHL 13 has to offer - but want to look at a few standout features. First up is the EA Sports Hockey League which allows you to create a player and join a team online to play against other folks. I joined a team with a few friends and we managed to get a good five on five or six on six match going a handful of times. In this mode every player plays a position on the ice and you’ll be playing ONLY that position. The teamwork and skill required to pull a successful game off is second to none; it’s all the twitch based gameplay of a team based shooter with the finesse and strategy of an RTS game all balled into a true team sport. Play well both individually and as a team and you’ll earn points for your player to upgrade stats and buy equipment. This is a deep and satisfying mode of play that reminds me of a sports MMORPG.
The other large mode is something called GM Connected. It’s perhaps one of the most ambitious features in pro sports games to date. In it you can have a one to one human control of every player and team in the league. What does that mean? A GM Connected League can consist of 750 different human players. How exactly does it play out? Each team gets assigned a GM and the GM is the only person capable of actually starting a game for that team. A GM can trade players, set lineups, and generally manage how the team does. As a season progresses you’ll face off against computer or human controlled teams through the entire NHL schedule.
The whole thing could be a logistical nightmare and there are 100s if not 1000s of these leagues going on with 150 players in them right now. That said - GM Connected does provide one option that makes this co-op gamer happy. You can create a GM Connected league for just a handful of friends and take on an entire season together. So if you want to play an entire season as the Red Wings (and why wouldn’t you) with your two college roommates - go for it. The game will keep stats and track progress throughout the entire season. Up until now something like this was only available in local play - so its a huge step forward.
Besides all these game modes, NHL 13 itself has gotten a huge upgrade at its core. The entire skating and puck engine has been revamped with a physics system that would make Newton proud. It’s simultaneously the game’s best and worst feature. On the positive side, you won’t find a more realistic representation of what it feels like to be on the ice. On the negative? You’ll have to relearn the entire way you play an NHL video game. It breaks down like this - the bigger you are and the faster you are going - the harder it is to turn. It sounds so simple, but up until now its never been this impactful. The puck seems a bit more reactive, there’s no such thing as fishing line passes anymore. The puck can hop, skip, and careen to just about any location on its way to the intended destination. All of these elements help lead to unpredictability in gameplay and frustration when you are fighting physics.
There are a few gameplay elements I think could be improved. Faceoffs are damn near impossible, it just feels like some control is missing from them. As good as the physics system is, there does seem to be ways to exploit it. The game also seems to suffer from something that has plagued computer sports games from the dawn of time - the computer outright cheats - basically when it’s time for the AI to come back, they are coming back. Outside of these gameplay elements the menu system, as mentioned, is downright dreadfully organized and incredibly slow.
Despite these faults NHL 13 is an impressive package for any hockey fan. Even if you didn’t like the NHL itself there are other leagues to play or modes of hockey to experience that doesn’t support a league that is on its second lockout in 7 years. While the game requires a learning curve for veteran players, you can hardly fault it for this. Every year we complain that the sports games are merely rehashes and there isn’t enough value for our $60 again. NHL 13 bucks that trend and gives us the only hockey we may see for a very long time.
The Co-Optimus review of NHL 13 is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game which was provided by the publisher.
The Co-Op Experience: Players can join a GM Connected league and play through an entire persistent season with friends against the computer. Up to 6 players are on the ice at once.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.