NHL 13 PS3 review – Does more realistic always mean more fun?

NHL13 ps3 review

It’s a double-edged sword for EA’s NHL series. The closer it comes to real ice hockey, the further away on the pixellated horizon lies the liquid arcade simplicity of NHL 94. Those 16-bit Messiers and Lemieuxs were ridiculous fun to control, whether you gave a Mountie’s maple leaf about hockey or not. It was about passing, hitting and getting the puck to the net, and it was immediately gratifying.

There’s the option to revert back to those controls in NHL 13, but there’s no hiding that with improvements to AI and a more believable, momentum-laden skating system, the game’s a fairly hardcore hockey sim now, not a puck-up-and-play.

NHL13 ps3 review

Which means for newcomers it’s as daunting as a prostate exam at the summit of Kilimanjaro. The learning curve’s steep, and you’re not given a lot to ease you past the unwieldy initial feel. For those already bearing the virtual black eyes of NHLs past, though, 13 expands and refines in almost all of the directions you’d want it to. Hockey IQ and True Performance Skating (smarter opposition and realistic movement) work really well together. The inertia and momentum while skating creates more odd-man rushes and brings a new challenge to defensive positioning.

Meanwhile, opposition AI has finally learned that dumping the puck in at the blue line where you’ll always reach it first is a rubbish tactic. It means games aren’t the end-to-end lunacy of previous iterations – you and your opponent both set up in the offensive zone, cycling the puck, working the boards just like the real-life sport.

NHL13 ps3 reviewAnd again like reality, the really skilled players (who benefit massively from proper facial scans this year) are difference-makers, using their higher (and more accurate) stats on the ice to inject the odd moment of beauty to a brutal sport. It doesn’t always look nice, or give you the rush of previous games’ mad one-timer goals, but it’s nearly always believable. Big achievement.

Winter Classic games are presented with ultra-geeky authenticity and offer a pleasant five minutes away from the grind of your 82-game seasons as a pro, Hall Of Fame legend, or one of 750 GMs battling in online leagues – but while you’re in the latter modes NHL could work harder to keep you engaged. MLB: The Show ’s presentation and approach to career mode would really help the seasons pass quicker and give some personality to your player. Ditto NHL Moments’ half-hearted historical situations, which pale next to NBA 2K’s.

NHL 13’s a hockey fan’s dream in many ways, pursuing realism and depth at the expense of newcomer accessibility. It’s still a few good ideas away from the elite sports franchises, but I’ll be tweaking tactics, refining rosters and racing against icing calls right up until 14 laces its skates.

Our Score

Score: 8