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NHL 13 Review: Revolutionary skating, frustrating goalies and another solid edition

Sean Leahy
Puck Daddy

It all came together on one play.

Marian Gaborik intercepted a pass in the neutral zone and start striding toward my net. Switching to my nearest defenseman, Brooks Orpik, I thought I had a good shot of either slowing Gaborik down or knocking him off the puck.

Within a split second I realized this wasn't the same skating I was used to in previous incarnations of the NHL series.

I was foolish to believe Gaborik, at top speed, could be slowed on his way to the net as Orpik was trying to line him up. He breezed right by Orpik and hunkered down on Marc-Andre Fleury on a 2-on-1 with Brad Richards. Fleury cheated to his left anticipating a pass and was left to watch Gaborik go top-shelf over his blocker.

There was a serious learning curve to be had; and when I finally got the hang of it, it made for a better NHL 13 experience.

True Performance Skating is one of the changes brought to NHL 13 and it makes the feel of controlling your player completely different than in the past.

The Skill Stick was introduce in NHL 07 and gave the user a new type of control in regards to shooting. True Performance Skating takes that up a notch by allowing your player to stop a stride, quickly gain top speed and shake a defender with a good first step. The consequence, however, is that the physics-based skating doesn't mean you'll be stopping on dimes and able to fire off perfect shots in stride. The faster you're skating, the less control you'll have if you change direction. Your shot will also be altered depending on your momentum. You'll need to judge when you'll need that extra speed and when you need to settle yourself down to be in a good position for a shot or pass.

Because the skating is now physics-based, you won't be able to skate your player all around the ice without the potentially falling out of the position. Gaining top speed straight away is good for blowing past defenders, but moving left or right will slow your player down. Sometimes that's helpful if you're entering the offensive zone and waiting for your teammates, other times it allows the defense to catch up.

Backwards skating with the puck is available on both offense and defense in NHL 13. This allows for some creativity when you're trying to set up a scoring chance. The same physics apply here and it'll take you a few games to get used to not finding yourself out of position.

• The I.Q. was bumped up in NHL 13, making the players around you smarter when they aren't controlling the puck. Breakouts are more efficient and defensive-zone coverage is more effective because your teammates are reacting to what's going on in places on the ice where the puck isn't. Want to play Guy Boucher's infamous 1-3-1 neutral zone forecheck? Have at it. Just make sure you're not playing against Peter Laviolette.

Remember when cross-crease passes would result in a goal 100 per cent of the time? Well, sorry. Your percentage of success just decreased using the former go-to play for many. Goaltenders are smarter and are now aware of players other than the puck-carrier. If you're coming down on a 2-on-1, the goaltender will anticipate a pass and put himself in better position to make a save. Same thing for defensemen in that situation. Play the pass or the shot, but still be aware of the second player on the ice there.

What might get you frustrated is the new Full Limb Control given to goaltenders in NHL 13. With anticipation comes desperation and with more animations of that variety could see many "should be" goals turn into saves. Depending on your experience, goaltenders might make those types of saves on you far too often for your liking.

GM Connected gives you the opportunity to take a dynasty league online and allow up to 750 to take part. It's modes like this -- along with Be-a-Pro and Hockey Ultimate Team -- that up the replay value. If you're going to be paying $60 every September for a new game, it can't just be a roster up any longer. Replay value in video games has become vital and EA Sports has been sure to stuff their titles with various modes and online features to keep you entertained and playing until their next release.

One-timers

• Players tend to be knocked to the ice often and very easily. Does Douglas Murray even feel a Travis Moen hit?

• The new "GM brain" in franchise mode makes the ability to fleece other teams in deals tougher. Will you still be able to find a way to make potentially lopsided deals? Yes.

• The addition of five new Legends, including female stars Angela Ruggiero and Hayley Wickenheiser, is great until you realize Ray Bourque, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Borje Salming, Patrick Roy and Gordie Howe are gone. Licensing agreements change every year, but it was still disappointing to see the number of Legends decrease in NHL 13.

• The Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers Winter Classic jerseys are available if you play the Winter Classic mode, but not in any other mode like Franchise or Play Now?

• The new broadcast presentation is a nice touch for a well-rounded experience. Storylines, net cam replays and in-game highlight packages can distract you during breaks in the action. Gary Thorne and Bill Clement are back as commentators; and while Thorne is known for his mispronunciations, no one caught errors during his recording? Since when is it Kyle Two-reese?

• Will NHL Moments Live, where you're given to chance to relive great feats in NHL history and notable highlights from the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, turn into AHL Moments Live if there's a prolonged lockout? "Relive Darren Haydar's hat trick against Lake Erie" doesn't have the same "cool" factor as trying to replay Sam Gagner's 8-point night.

• There are plenty of menus to navigate through which, at times, can be slow. Speaking of slow, simming games in your franchise or Be-a-Pro seasons will take longer than they have in the past.

Overall: 8.5 / 10

There's only so much at this point in time with the current technology for EA to do to improve upon the NHL series. The game is still solid. The replay value is off-the-charts. And they've done a good job making the game more and more real. From the Skill Stick to puck battles to True Performance Skating this year, the authenticity of the game continues to rise.

The online modes, especially the popular EA Sports Hockey League, might need to fine tune, providing a better experience for users. And the first-year GM Connected mode will likely feature hiccups of its own.

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy

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