While the real sport of hockey hangs in the balance over several CBA talks between owners and players (c'mon, guys, last thing we need is another lockout), fans have another option to look forward to this week, as EA Sports will be releasing NHL 13 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this Tuesday. The long-awaited entry in the series is the latest – and most improved – to date, with a number of new features, combined with some of the stuff that made us fall so hard for it to begin with.
We have a primer on what you can do with the game once you pick it up. Actually, it's more of a "to do" list for us, as there are so many cool things that we'll need to dig into once it arrives in our offices. We're sure you probably have your own (like thrashing the Red Wings out of the playoffs or making the New York Islanders contenders again), but heed our advice in the meantime as you count down the hours to the game's release…
Work On Your Momentum
In NHL 13, EA Sports has introduced a new momentum feature that really makes the gameplay flow a lot smoother, on both offensive and defensive. No longer are defensive players automatically glued to you and able to miraculously catch up to you while going backwards, nor are you able to speed towards the goal and stop on a dime. It's much more realistic this time around, from what we've played in the demo, especially when you glide toward the goal and use your stick to deke and throw off players, then slam one into the net when the goalie isn't looking.
It will take a little getting used to as it is a slight change of pace from how previous games worked, but there's hardly any tedium when it comes to adjusting to this style of play, and you'll be working out steals and power play opportunities in no time.
Also, did we mention the checks are still awesome? Granted, you can't make Gretzky bleed (those days are long gone, sadly), but you can do the next best thing, slam a player into the wall or send them reeling across the ice as you pick up the puck and dash down the open ice. And not every hit has to be so physical either, as you can use a poke check to free up the puck a bit, then try to go for the quick steal. (But, yeah, regular checking is better, ain't it?)
Get Your Team the Cup – One Way Or Another
GM Connected is a revamped version of NHL's franchise mode, now with more options than ever before when it comes to managing your team and creating a contender for Lord Stanley's Cup. Sure, you'll still need to make prompt decisions when it comes to trades and resting certain players, and setting up strategies that opposing coaches won't be able to read so easily (the AI is at its best with the new EA Sports Hockey IQ), but you'll get the most out of the game by studying up and making the moves you wish to make, then moving into the playoffs.
Also, you don't have to do it alone. You're able to team up with 29 other players in your own league, competing against them, making trades and even throwing out a few offers here and there to keep things interesting. With the other online components thrown into NHL 13, there's a whole lot of potential to what you can do here.
If management isn't your thing, Be a Pro once again makes a return, allowing you to work your way into EASHL Club Captaincy or simply moving along another player through his (or her!) career, learning the ups and downs of being a team player and eventually earning your way into championship – and MVP – glory. No one said the road would be easy, but with this many features, you'll still have a great time getting there.
Relive the Moments, Or Take Them a New Way
With the NHL Moments Live, players can relive – or rewrite – historic moments out of today's National Hockey League. With 26 prime moments taken from the past season, including Gagner's historic eight point night and Sidney Crosby's return to the ice (as well as a few legendary plays thrown in on top), you're able to direct these moments however you choose.
And if you're sitting there thinking, "I would've done it a different way," this is the game to do it with, as you can try something different and perhaps even create your own moment – or crash and burn and restart, should it be the completely wrong thing to do. It's not often you get a second chance to do something right, so we recommend making the most of it.
Ultimate Team – Yeah, You Know It
Finally, if there's one mode that really makes NHL 13 all the worthwhile to dig into, it's the Hockey Ultimate Team. Here, you'll be able to manage, trade and collect hockey players through collectible cards to create your own Ultimate Team, then hit the ice with them to see how they perform under you. Featuring a rich new reward system (with even more cards!) and a playoff format where you can compete against other players' own Ultimate Teams, this is a feature that's sure to bring out some of your most competitive moves to date. What's more, if you snag the Stanley Cup Edition of the game (a mere $20 more), you not only get the collectible Steelbook case, but also a slew of bonus Ultimate Team reward cards to enrich your team with.
Honestly, if these aren't enough reasons to pick up NHL 13, we don't know what is. It's your hockey destiny to slap the puck around when the game drops this Tuesday. Besides, we might not have the real thing…sigh.