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NHL 13 preview and hands-on

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With all the talk surrounding EA Sports’ Madden NFL 13, which is coming later this month, a lot of folks may have forgotten a sport where the publisher has made real progress over the past few years – NHL.  Last year, NHL 12 proved how dominant EA was when it came to representing the sport of hockey, complete with solid gameplay, a life-like presentation and plenty of options, including online league.  But it isn’t resting on its laurels and just updating the roster with its forthcoming NHL 13.  Nope, this time it means business.

The company recently invited us down to the EA Summer Showcase in Redwood City to give its forthcoming hockey sim a shot – literally.  Though there was only one arena and two teams available for play, the general focus for this demo (which should be available soon on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network) was to get us comfortable with the gameplay tweaks.  And this isn’t just a matter of “board play”.  It almost feels like a natural new experience.

NHL 13

This is due to the new True Performance Skating, something the team is quite proud of – and for good reason.  NHL games in the past have been a little too perfect when it came to stopping in front of the net and taking a shot, or having defensive players be a little too perfect about skating backwards.  But not NHL 13.  Here, you’ll actually have your momentum work as a positive and negative.  On the plus side, you can go into more realistic speed bursts, depending on the size of your player, or make checks more meaningful when you slam into a player.  On the other hand, you’ll have to contend with your speed as you skate down the ice, or deal with a missed check and try to swivel back around to keep tabs on the defensive player.

As for defense, AI reads the plays that are happening better trough EA Sports Hockey I.Q., a system where goalies read your familiarities pretty solidly, prepping for fast breaks down the ice or even faraway shots, forcing you to change up your strategy.  Those of you comfortable with familiar plays might be irritated, but it’ll also motivate you to change things up and become a better-rounded player.

NHL 13

For that matter, the coaches from visiting teams also get into the action, changing up team strategies depending on your play and forcing you to either adjust or even top them with your own.  It’s not an impossible game, as you can still adjust the AI to your liking, but those of you itching for a real hockey experience will like what NHL 13 has to offer.

In addition, the defensive players have better rhythm.  They can still skate backwards, but have to put a little more majestically to get there, swiveling around to keep tabs on whoever’s carrying the puck.  It’s a great system, and adds to an already deep game, with its analog stick shooting (optional if you prefer buttons) and simple passing options.

Not many improvements have been made to the presentation, but it’s still as (pardon the pun) cool as ice.  The player animations are truly splendid, complete with folds in their uniforms, and even though we only saw the one arena, it’s realistic to the point that you feel like joining in with the virtual fans, cheering or booing your teams.  The commentary sounds good too, though we barely heard much of it from the noise at the event.

NHL 13

As for other changes, EA is also adding some new features to Be a GM, as well as Online League.  You can now use an iDevice to manage your team options if you aren’t near a console, making sure you keep up with your buddies through a supplementary (and free) app.  We can’t wait to try this out.

NHL 13 is feeling just like a good hockey champion should, and its new momentum should really carry it past last year’s impressive outing.  We’ll see how it fares in a final review when it slaps the puck into retailers on September 11th.

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Robert Workman
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