Review

NHL 13

If It Looks Like A Puck…

NHL 13 might be the only hockey you’ll get this season.

By Drew Toal • September 20, 2012

This was it. This was going to be the year. Ever since the season-long NHL lockout in 2004, I’ve probably watched half a dozen hockey games in total. Hockey was never at the top of my list, but I would describe myself as an attentive, if casual, fan. But when the players and owners couldn’t come to a revenue sharing agreement and scrapped the 2004-2005 season, I thought, “To hell with them.” Neither did I feel obligated to play EA’s NHL series anymore, despite fond memories.

Time heals all wounds, they say, and I’m not one to hold a grudge. So this year, I resolved to make my return. To immerse myself into the league once more, and familiarize myself with the names of various French-Canadian puck assassins and New York Rangers to unreasonably hate. Bad timing. No sooner had I resolved to get back into hockey than NHL players and owners decided it was high time for another lockout. Are you kidding me? What in the blessed name of Tony Twist are you people doing?

NHL 13

So it’s looking like the only hockey this year is going to be the virtual kind. And even though the real league hasn’t shown up, EA sure has. The current crop of hockey-loving AI drones—powered by the new “EA Sports Hockey I.Q.”—are a bunch of goddamn dentured, bemulleted geniuses.

Back when, video game hockey was governed by different rules than real hockey; you could thrive doing things that wouldn’t work in real life. That’s no longer true. Thinking I’d easily steal the puck and fly up the ice, I’d regularly get pinned to the glass and have the puck stolen from me, as the computer players’ hockey I.Q. far exceeds my own. The lack of a basic hockey education in my upbringing has never seemed like such a handicap. But where I dogged the latest Madden for its exhausting drive to complete realism, NHL 13 has done it right. To play this game well, you have to understand hockey—not just how to spread the ice and execute one-timers against a helplessly overmatched goalie.

NHL 13

The fighting, too, has come a long way since first introduced in Konami’s Blades Of Steel. If you drop the gloves in NHL 13, you’d best know what you’re doing. You and the other guy each grab onto each other with your left hand and pummel with your right. Technical stuff, right? But really, if you don’t properly incorporate dodging and pulling your opponent’s jersey down, you’ll end up a bloody pulp on the ice. And how the crowd will boo you. Are you not entertained, Ottawa? Apparently not. If you stand by the boards too long, unruly fans start yelling and banging on the glass.

Skating, too, is much more realistic than I remember. You can no longer just lay someone out, steal the puck, and use turbo to beat everyone down the ice and score. With EA’s so-called “True Performance Skating,” the physics and momentum—you can cut out of a glide down the ice, but can’t stop on a dime in front of the goalie—take some getting used to. It’s no longer enough to just steamroll the guy with the puck, make one or two random passes, and fire wildly at the opposing net.

NHL 13

The strangest adjustment, though, is running the game almost exclusively through the controller’s joysticks and trigger buttons. At first I found myself, in my ingrained button reliance, trying to smear Marian Gaborik into the boards and accidentally calling for a line change instead. Passing, skating, shooting, and speed bursts are all controlled entirely sans buttons. Even punching utilizes the analog sticks. It does provide a whole lot more control when it comes to putting shots on the net, controlling the puck with the right stick and aiming with the left. If this proves too much of a difficulty for us old timers, though, EA has thoughtfully included a preset reversion to NHL 94 controls. Well played.

Perhaps the most unintentionally useful feature of the new game is “NHL Moments Live,” where you can replay iconic real-life hockey scenes from last season and seasons long past. In “Battle Of The Jersey Turnpike,” you replay the Game 1 overtime period of the Flyers-Devils playoff series. There are actually plans to add moments from the 2012-2013 season through downloadable expansions as the year progresses (though in light of the lockout, this might become the least-utilized add-on ever), but the real draw—those long-forgotten shots for glory— help me remember why I like hockey in the first place.

NHL 13
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: $60
Rating: E

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811 Responses to “If It Looks Like A Puck…”

  1. Mike Mariano says:

    “It’s no longer enough to just steamroll the guy with the puck, make one
    or two random passes, and fire wildly at the opposing net.”

    Ugh, well that means I would suck at this game.  I’ll stick with the classics, like the guy from my avatar.

  2. HobbesMkii says:

    There was one guy I knew who was genuinely put out by the 2004 lockout. Everyone else was only vaguely aware there was even a league, let alone that there was a league with labor disputes.

    Anyhow, I’ve long felt that NHL and FIFA are the only two sports games that EA makes that are legitimately enjoyable, although they follow after Madden in that versions are largely interchangeable from year to year, and you’re quite able to skip three or four years at a go. I suspect that it’s something to do with the way both sports share rules and continuous play. Oddly enough, they’re also the two sports that I simply don’t have the patience to actually sit down and watch in real life (well, outside of tennis and golf. But they’re my least favorite team sports to watch).

    • *Cough*  I like that last NBA Jam.

      • HobbesMkii says:

        I would find basketball more interesting if scoring was harder. The question on a drive in basketball is not “will they score on this drive?” but “will they score three points on this drive, or only two?” It’s surely quite athletic and difficult to score, but its regularity cheapens the effect for me.

  3. Merve says:

    Wait, you hate the New York Rangers? Does that mean that you…*gasp* like the New York Islanders? We can’t be friends anymore, Drew.

  4. GhaleonQ says:

    Drew’s irregular interest in hockey/hockey games has tricked him into writing a consumer review on The Gameological Society!  I’m teasing: this was a fun one, funneled through most people’s experience with hockey games.

    I’ll be the one to say it first: this is the best hockey game ever.  It tops Ice Hockey and Blades Of Steel, NHLPA 1993 and NHL 1994, NHL ’09 and ’10.  This is by far the most hardcore E.A. Sports games have been, and I’m amazed and pleased.  I hope that the lockout killing sales won’t dissuade them from maintaining this path while including a 3-button control scheme and casual side modes.

  5. I’m just going to come out and say it: there’s only one issue that needs resolving in this lockout: How can the Leafs become a winning team again?

    The poor performance by the Leafs recently (they’re the only team that hasn’t qualified for the playoffs even once since the 2004 lockout) has really hurt the league financially. TV ratings are way down. CBC has been losing oodles of money. With the Leafs now under the majority control of Bell, the NHL really needs some leverage when it comes time to renegotiate its TV deal.

  6. Effigy_Power says:

    I have zero understanding of hockey, get headaches watching it (who the toss came up with the contrast rating there?) and know not the name of a single player.
    I have however not heard of a lockout and until I see my Canadian friends and neighbors commit suicide en masse, I won’t believe it.

  7. Zaq Haslam says:

    So you’re saying that when HNIC inevitably gets desperate (and Canadians get tired of watching old disney movies on Saturday night), they could air people (Canadian celebrities! Like… Jian Gomeshi and Michael Bublé…) playing NHL 13 and that might suffice?