NHL 13 might be the only game in town this year for hockey fans. The threat of an imminent lockout leaves the latest addition to the long-lived EA Sports franchise as the lone outlet for puckheads through what could be a long and lonely fall and winter of listening to talk about salary caps and revenue sharing instead of the more agreeable slap of stick against puck. Thankfully, neither Gary Bettman nor Donald Fehr is in the game, despite what EA Sports’ famous tagline claims. But things are in a holding pattern here just as in the real NHL’s labor negotiations. This is a bit of a stay-the-course release, although there are some impressive additions under the hood, such as a superb new skating physics engine and smarter artificial intelligence. Some issues with the AI and the lack of noteworthy new features are disappointing, however, making this something less than a revolutionary improvement over NHL 12.
With all that said, it can’t be denied that NHL 13 is a great hockey game when taken strictly on its own merits. Realism is the cornerstone of just about everything that happens on the ice. Players skate, shoot, slash, and brawl just like they do in the real NHL. Playing positionally sound hockey is a necessity, as is some sort of understanding of the actual game and the ins and outs of the NHL. If you need to Google what a diamond is or have no idea that cycling here does not involve wearing really tight shorts, you might want to do some reading before picking up a gamepad. This looks like an arcade hockey game, but it plays a lot like a simulation when the puck is dropped.
Features and frills are so numerous that you expect the game disc to bulge out of the box. There are modes of play for every taste. You can play single games, tournaments, and full careers, with most options being available online and off. As in NHL 12, you can take over franchises, set yourself up as a GM, create a player to lead from the junior leagues to the big leagues, take over a legend and try to lead him (or her–two female stars have been included this year for the first time alongside male greats like Gretzky and, um, Roenick) to greatness again in today’s NHL, and much more.