While we wait with bated breath to see if hockey will return this year (labor talks just hit a brick wall with the lockout), fans of the sport can still get a fix with EA Sports' "NHL 13" ($60, Xbox and PlayStation 3). The latest in the company's long-running hockey series, this is easily one of the best entries to date, thanks to a newfound focus on momentum and enough features to keep you skating well throughout the holiday season.
The first change you'll come across in "NHL 13" is the more realistic movements of players on the ice. They'll no longer be able to miraculously stop in front of the net for a goal or keep up with an offensive player skating backward at the same speed. Instead, you'll have to deal with your player's movement on the ice, setting up plays and watching out for defensivemen that come chasing after you. This, along with the retooled player and coach artificial intelligence, make the game a little tougher than before. But after a few rounds of play, you'll get into it and score goals just like Sidney Crosby.
"NHL 13" has options galore that will please hockey fans. Along with casual offline options (and a game mode in which you can automatically play for the Stanley Cup), you can hop online through GM Connected, competing against others and making power play trades to create a true contender for the championship. League options are also included, in case you're up to issuing a few challenges. Just be warned, though – some of these online players are outstanding.
For its latest go-around, EA Sports has touched up the presentation so that it's more lifelike than ever. The player movements and details in each arena offer unparalleled realism, and the camera options make it easy for you to see team positioning and set up a shot on goal. Digital incarnations of long-time announcers Bill Clement and Gary Thorne return to provide more in-game commentary — and while it's repetitive, it's also quite accurate. They even keep track of your team's progress. In addition, the arena music and crowd noises are just about perfect.
As far as the gameplay goes, using the new momentum system requires a bit of adjustment, but many other standards for the series remain intact. You'll use the right analog stick to rattle off both quick shots and slapshots, and also set up some masterful checks on the defensive side. The fighting system could use a bit more work (it's a little too slow and sloppy for its own good), but the rest of the game balances well.
We may not have real hockey to experience if the lockout talks don't improve, so it's nice to know we have a fun alternative in " NHL 13 " to get us through the next few months … just in case. This is as good as video game hockey gets.
RATING: 3.5 / 4