Glenn Wigmore: Overall, I'm liking the change in pace to the action of NHL 13. I think the power skating provides the perfect risk-reward aspect needed within the game, as you have to sacrifice turning radius and control for sheer speed. This will be especially apparent in online competition. I'm finding that there is more inertia in how the players move, as demonstrated by the gliding after a speed boost and the movement of the players on defense. Passing and shooting seem a bit less accurate, which is a good thing, and you'll see more missed nets, bobbled and batted pucks, and just a bit more randomness.
I'm also finding the poke-check to be much more deliberate, as the animation seems slower but more accurate, which I think is a fair balance. The addition of the two-handed puck chop is a smart idea, as it allows you to swipe the puck to a defensive partner when racing for the puck on defense (or on the forecheck, for that matter).
The range of movement provided by the revised back-skating feature is indeed fun, but I think that there could be plenty of room for exploits. We'll have to see how it handles human competition. I have found that the one-timers and angled slappers of last year's game aren't nearly as effective, and the goalies have definitely been buffed to stop more challenging shots (with added save animations, aggressiveness and quickness).
I'd also like to commend the revised presentation, as the game now includes the net camera for certain highlights, which is a welcome addition, as well as more dynamic movement of the players after they go to the bench, skate around the ice, etc. The replay packages have also been altered slightly, with new camera angles and different focus points (Brodeur letting in three goals, for instance).
As always, I remain wary of certain exploits against the AI as well as online, but the new pace and added variety is sitting well with me so far.
Kelvin Mak: So far so good.
First and foremost, the new skating engine is a definite success. And the thing about it is that the engine doesn't just change the way a player skates, it also sets off a chain reaction that affects a whole slew of other gameplay elements-- most of them in a positive fashion.
In and of itself, the new skating engine looks, and more importantly, plays great. The players feel weighted, and they behave in a much more realistic manner. No longer will they (especially fourth line scrubs) be be able to turn sharply or pull off intricate dekes at full speed. The biggest benefit from the new skating engine is that the game becomes more methodical as a result. You have to put more thought into your play and think ahead as, unlike previous years, you can't recover as quickly when you get caught out of position, and offensively you can't just blindly fly down the wing and cut inside at the last minute with a fancy-schmancy deke. In fact, it was great to see my player lose the puck as I tried to zig and zag at full speed, or having to actually stay in the passing/shooting lanes and, you know, play defense. And because of all that, it looks like a team's identity will be a lot more pronounced. Offensive teams with a heavy forecheck will, no matter what, be exposed a few times during a game, while defensive teams will have to be even more patient. Compared to the NHLs of previous years, where in hindsight it seemed like you can have it both ways, this year that doesn't look possible.
In other areas, like Glenn I've noticed more instances of missed passes and shots. In general, the puck feels looser, and that's great. However, the passes, especially hard ones, still "stick" too much upon reception for my liking, so here's hoping that some slider tweaks in the full game can clear that up. Sticks, especially with with the new stick swat, are more active, and I've seen more deflected passes/shots than in NHL 12. Meanwhile, the goaltending-- backskating cheese goals aside-- also look improved, both cosmetically and practically. The new range of animations look pretty, and the goalies anticipate plays a lot better than in previous years.
The one negative that stands out from the demo is the AI. Yes, they've definitely been improved, but it's still a bit rough around the edges. AI teammates will try to move a little more down low, but the standing around and the puck watching isn't totally gone yet. It means that, often, cycling the puck is still more arduous and risky than it should be, and on numerous occasions I've found myself choosing to take a low percentage shot from a bad angle instead. On defense, while the CPU's gap control has been improved on the whole-- the teams are definitely more aware than in previous years-- it's perhaps still not as hard as it should be to gain the zone. Again, comparatively speaking, these issues have been improved upon from NHL 12, just not as much as I had hoped.
Overall, a lot more positives than negative. After the last couple of years' releases where it seemed like just a tweak here and there, this year's new skating engine is the big one we've been looking forward to.
Jayson Young: Aside from the goofy automated push-puck feature, NHL 13's redone skating engine feels like an accurate representation of Canada's pastime. Unfortunately, upping the skating realism has further exposed many of the series' long-running AI deficiencies. Skating around the CPU defense has historically been too easy in EA's NHL games, but it now feels easier than ever since one false move -- or even a lack of movement -- can leave AI defenders completely out of position.
Throughout the NHL 13 demo, the CPU defense will step up at inappropriate times or simply stand flatfooted while the other team's offense breaks up ice, leading to excessive breakaways and odd-man rushes. Additionally, the CPU still makes no effort to protect its own blue line, allowing skaters to enter the offensive zone freely. The only reason I'm not lighting up the scoreboard in this demo is the array of offensive tweaks like increased pass reception difficulty, decreased shooting accuracy for off-balance shots and slower skating speed while deking. Collectively, these welcome gameplay additions should force online players into a more simulation brand of hockey and less of the outlandish one-on-one dekes and laser-like one timers that have dominated online play since the inception of the skill stick in NHL 07.
However, I fear that the new backwards skating mechanic will become a popular online exploit in the offensive zone, as the goaltending AI seems perplexed whenever the user skates in reverse. There's already a money goal in this demo where the player approaches the net holding down the left trigger then quickly spins around to fire a wrist shot into the open net. EA Canada plans to address back skating exploits in their launch-day tuner update, but still, I can't shake the feeling that NHL 13's netminders are going to have major trouble adapting to the offense's new skating abilities.
Offline loyalists will appreciate NHL 13's expanded team strategy settings, which successfully capture the playing personalities of the two demo teams. When controlled by the AI, Los Angeles tend to dump the puck into corners and behind the net to start their offense, while New Jersey prefer to enter the offensive zone with possession, even to the point that they will circle around the neutral zone and make lateral passes to ensure they are crossing the blue line with the puck under control.
As for individual goalie tendencies, I've yet to see Jonathan Quick leave his crease, while Martin Brodeur fearlessly skates out into open ice to play loose pucks to his teammates. All goaltenders have access to a variety of new diving save animations, which unfortunately, seem excessive and overpowered in this build. While playing the Hockey Ultimate Team mode, I watched a no-name, 70-overall goalie from the AHL make multiple cross-body diving saves like he was Tim Thomas in Vezina form.
While it's disappointing to see series sore spots like board play and faceoffs remain untouched, I think for the first time this generation, offline players will be getting an EA hockey game that provides good variety on a game-to-game basis. There's still room for EA Canada to better distinguish skaters' individual skill sets, but seeing teams collectively utilizing unique gameplans is a huge step forward for a franchise that has made few meaningful changes since 2K Sports left the ice.