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Community Spotlight: NHL 13 Review

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

A few days have passed since EA SPORTS released the much-anticipated NHL 13, the latest edition of their exciting hockey video game franchise. We've read a lot of your tweets from around the #CBJ community, and are getting the sense that there's a lot to like about this year's game.

Because YOU (the fans) are the lifeblood of the Blue Jackets community - and because you're much better at playing video games than we are - we decided to reach out and get your feedback on NHL 13.

If you've read the Union Blue blog (@UnionBlueCBJ), you're probably familiar with Dan Edwards. He's a Blue Jackets fan from the Cincinnati area, and has been playing the EA Sports NHL games for years. If you play online against him, you know just how frustrating it can be.

Dan has graciously authored an in-depth review of NHL 13 for us, and we're pleased to feature it on His full analysis can be found below:

By Dan Edwards

I have been a strong advocate of the EA Sports NHL franchise for many years. The introduction of the skill stick proved their ability to be creative and revolutionize the way we play hockey on consoles, and their continued efforts through the EASHL and HUT to produce a powerful online gaming experience have yet to disappoint.

EA has taken another step with NHL 13 to produce a more realistic hockey game. When they totally changed the hitting style in recent years, I knew the shooting and skating would soon follow. Not to my surprise, the skating abilities and style of skating have received a major overhaul in this year's game, and while the learning curve is a bit steeper than in previous years, it was a much-needed improvement to the game from a loyalist perspective.

New to NHL 13 is "GM Connected," a game mode which allows you to play with or against other online gamers in GM mode. This is a feature that I have been anticipating for a number of years, and am eagerly awaiting the production of my first league with a number of CBJ fans. You can play on the same team (upwards of six players) or play against each other with different teams.

"Live Moments" is another quality addition to NHL 13. You are faced with a scenario and you must either accomplish or overcome. Well known to the #CBJ fan base, "clock gate" is a live moment, coined "turning back time" in the moment selection area. You are given control of Columbus on the PK with one minute left in the tied game against Los Angeles.

Your goal is to defeat the Kings rather than losing to the Drew Doughty snapshot with "0.4 seconds" on the clock. You can select your level of difficulty, which when deemed victorious, offers EA pucks that can be used in HUT.

When I got my hands on the game, I was not immediately impressed with the changes. I found the player movements frustrating and troublesome on defense, and felt that the players abilities with the puck were watered down to better differentiate the more talented players. While that remains true to some extent, the first tuner set applied to the game seemed to resolve a handful of issues and made the game much more playable.

Either that, or the newer skating style simply took a bit of playing to get used to.

I would like to point out that while the next section seems a bit pessimistic, it is based on the fact that I think the EA NHL Franchise is an excellent game. These weaknesses are not a definitive 'knock' on the game itself, simply nuances that I feel could be adjusted to better the overall performance of the game:

1 - The new skating style can be sluggish at times, especially when the player is fatigued. While I think the introduction of this concept is great, I think the half-zone sweeping turns made by some players went a bit overboard. The explosive style of play that I've come to know in the real NHL does not translate well to this skating style, especially on players looking to change directions. It will take some time to master, but the changes can easily be deemed improvements assuming the right tuner set is implemented.

One of the downfalls of creating so many player movements, especially ones that take some time to happen like the player turning and skating in a different direction, is the communication between the AI and the person playing the game. Switching to players when playing as a full team forces you to take on the decision making of the CPU and can cause the player to take a second or two to turn in the direction you intend them to.

It can be the difference of getting a breakaway moving up the ice, or allowing an opposing player to walk right by your defenseman for a free shot on net. At times, this can be downright frustrating, and I've begun relying more on my team CPU to make the first defensive play.

Switching from skating forwards to backwards looks awesome, with the burst of speed and the sweeping body motion nailing the motion perfectly. Probably the most enjoyable experience of this game is priming an opponent for a massive hip check. This new skating style opens the door wonderfully for this type of hit, and looks fantastic when executed properly.

2 - Passing through traffic is extremely different.
It seems as though EA has taken into account the receiving players ability to see the puck through bodies, forcing missed passes despite the puck being on line. Often times harder is not better, and it has become more of a finesse decision while breaking down the wing. Further, quick shots off the pass are less likely, and the best one timers are for players breaking to the net who direct the puck more than shoot it.

3 - Loose puck dekes are mostly ineffective when breaking into the zone, unless the defensive player has committed to making contact. While the introduction to this feature allowed players to weave through the opposition, recent adjustments have changed to where an open ice deke offers little deception to the defense, and often times has the player deking directly into the defense. I have almost completely abandoned the button, and replaced it with what I have come to coin the "Nash move" before gaining the zone. Holding the left trigger, your player will turn and skate with possession backwards into the zone, and then depending on your pivot foot, will turn back as you please. I am sure EA will turn up the dials on the loose puck deke once the flair of the Nash deke has died down, but in the meantime, my zone entrance has turned into a one-trick pony.

4 - Deking while on a breakaway has become substantially more difficult to execute, especially in a faster style such as Chicago's Patrick Kane or Philly's Daniel Briere. You can expect to take a more labored approach this year, utilizing only one or two swipes back and forth with the joystick before selecting your shot execution. It will take a while to master easing off on the skating joystick without getting tackled by the approaching defender, which sadly happens at a pretty high rate. This can be frustrating due to the enormous ease placed on checking from behind in open ice in this game, which also rarely gets penalized.

5 - Sprawling saves, especially on one timers, are now the norm. I had an AHL-destined netminder make no less than five sprawling saves on one timers in a pre-season game. While the saves looked remarkable, many were followed shortly thereafter by weak wrist shot goals from well beyond the faceoff circle. EA did a great job making the highlight save look miraculous, but it seems heavily weighted and nonsensical considering some of the scoring I've seen.

6 - Feeding off the last point, the scoring style, or at least the ease of scoring favors the shot from the high slot, especially upon entering the zone. This could easily lead to reduced teamwork online, where one timers reigned supreme over the last few installments of the NHL series. While I can understand the interest in moving away from the barrage of one timer laden offenses, it remains one of the most effective ways to score in the NHL, and it should as well in this game. I suspect a one timer save success rate tuner set will easily resolve this.

In summary, EA Sports has once again pushed the envelope on new and improved. They continue to innovate the NHL series, and while the playability definitely reaches more to the die hard loyalist of the game, rookie mode and cranked settings can turn even the best goaltenders into a floodgate of cannon blasting at Nationwide Arena. I find myself cautiously intrigued to see how the new skating style benefits the online play.

Thanks, Dan! We appreciate the knowledgable insight into this exciting new game. Have questions, comments or want to chat NHL 13 with Dan? Tweet him at @Canadan82 and maybe he'll give you his gamertag!

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