Benzel's Blog: NHL '13 beefs up user experience
Written by Blake Benzel
Wednesday, 22 August 2012 10:45
The demo for NHL ’13 dropped on Tuesday and was available for download on both the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. While I can’t speak for everyone, I can tell you all that I was glued to my Xbox for as much as I could stand of the day taking in every slap shot and every game mode that I could to give you the best first impression that I could give you.
How do you continue to follow up one of the most successful sports video game franchises in recent history? If you’re EA Sports, you re-invent the wheel adding an authenticity and realism that, despite a couple misfires, works quite well.
What stood out to me when I fired up the game was the upgrade in presentation. Not only did the graphics get a significant upgrade – there were times that, occasionally, I could forget that I was playing a video game and just take in the atmosphere – but the presentation on a whole did as well. There are different camera angles and improved transitions between the replays and the action.
There’s more interaction between Gary Thorne and Bill Clement and the action on the ice as well. For example, shower the opposing goalie with snow upon the end of the play and they might mention that in a replay.
Another addition to the presentation that was novel, but I didn’t really get into that much, was the addition of a “broadcast” camera angle. With this angle, the camera is set exactly as it would be in the arena – on the side of the ice, high up above the penalty boxes. While it’s a cool concept, it completely changed the control scheme which really screwed me up.
The in-game atmosphere has improved as well. Along with the on-ice sound – which has been spectacular for the series over the last few years – you also get the sense that you’re actually there, too. Flashbulbs flash from the crowd and you can even hear the inebriate in the cheap seats screaming, “SHOOT!”
Once I dove into the gameplay, I was immediately confronted with the differences in the way that the game played. The most noticeable was the change in movement – EA Sports has brought in what it calls True Performance Skating, which boasts improved real-world physics and over 1,000 new gameplay animations. For those who aren’t quite sure what this means, let me put it to you this way. It’s going to leave you screaming, “Unhitch the plow!” at your TV screen quite a bit.
No longer can you go from a standing start to top speed in one stride. As in real life, it takes a few steps for the players to truly get going. What this leads to is something that I found to be unbelievably special – a video game experience that felt authentic. Skating is now, as it is in real life, everything.
The goalies are also much improved in the game. Very much improved, in fact. There are so many new animations and, coupled with the True Performance Skating, the goalies move more realistically than ever before. Their lateral movement is unbelievable and they hug the posts like never before. They do still have the occasional brain fart, but even so, it’s as good as it’s ever been.
The demo was also filled with game modes. You could choose “play now” to play the last five minutes of a third period between the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings – the quickest way to get yourself into the action. The second available game mode is the Hockey Ultimate Team. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, it is essentially a game where you purchase decks of cards to fill out your team, then take them to the ice – a fun mode to be sure, and the mode in the demo that offers the most gameplay.
The third available game mode is one of the new ones called NHL Moments Live.
In this game mode, you can relive certain memorable NHL moments. Sam Gagner’s eight-point game and Sidney Crosby’s big return from injury are a couple that are mentioned.
In the demo, you take over as the Los Angeles Kings, trying to clinch the Western Conference Finals in overtime. The game does a great job of setting the stage and putting you in the moment, then letting the atmosphere of the in-game presentation to do the rest.
Overall, my first impressions of NHL ’13 were very favorable. It’s a much different game than its predecessors, leaning more towards realism than ever before. The new physics engine makes it feel like you’re really on the ice, while all of the added presentation extras make it seem a lot like you’re watching a broadcast on TV, which is always a good thing. It’s definitely a good way to get you chomping at the bit to play NHL ’13 and, if the demo is any indication, this year’s offering from EA Sports should be the best yet.
You can follow us on Twitter @HockeyPrimetime and Blake @HPTbcbenzel.
Photos by EA Sports