NHL 13 Review (PS3)

Just like FIFA and Madden, EA is slowly turning the screw on its NHL franchise. This latest edition isn't a particularly revolutionary product. It doesn't overhaul last year's formula. Amongst a time of uncertainty for North America's favourite skating sport, it does provide a hint of respite in difficult circumstances. Forgetting the potential lockout, NHL 13 continues to improve on an already stellar product.

If you approach this one looking for a brand new experience, disappointment will ensue. EA has decided to work on the mechanical side of the game, echoing the transition between FIFA 11 and 12.

Physics are once again on the agenda. Skating across the ice has been given a complete overhaul, as players now travel with a sense of realism. Turns are no longer instant, instead focusing on momentum and agility. Instead of speeding your way past the opposition, a sense of teamwork is more apparent. There's little point trying to break impenetrable defences with an individual as support from your colleagues is vital to launching a successful attack.

Much of this is down to positioning. Your peers are more likely to create space and reach vital positions in tandem with your manoeuvres. If you're bombing down the left-hand side, expect to see a teammate busting a gut on the opposite wing. Such an easy route to goal is difficult to unlock this time round and must be taken advantage of if it appears. As much as your team look to exploit minor openings, the opposition seeks to close them down. Bodies are put on the line to stop the puck from hitting the back of the net.

On the reverse, defence is far more intricate than we've seen before. While newcomers are likely to score some goals when moving forward, keeping the enemy from doing the same is a different prospect altogether. If your positioning is haywire, expect the floodgates to open. I've spent plenty of time with the series across the past few years. Even so, I couldn't switch off when the opposition was in my half.

It should be noted NHL 13 doesn't pander to new players. The series has gradually moved away from an arcade experience and into the realm of simulation. If you don't understand the finer points of ice hockey, you'll need to swot up on the rules.

At times, the improved A.I has a tendency to be flawless. Matches can be overrun with unlikely goals and amazingly precise play. It feels as if the game is trying to teach a lesson. After a few thumpings, the only way to improve is by learning. Extra measures could have been taken to help amateurs adjust. That said, veterans will get a kick out of the added difficulty.

Be a GM mode is once again in place. This is largely the same as previous iterations, although player negotiations are far more difficult to pull through. Like the opposition A.I, rival managers are so smart they always feel like they're getting the upper hand. Favourable trades are often rejected for minor reasons that wouldn't necessarily impact the real sport.

Alongside this, the GM Connected mode adds to the excitement. Each league can feature up to 750 players; a number that becomes arbitrary after a while. Connections aren't always up to scratch, but when it works, GM Connected provides players with a competitive avenue of an unprecedented scale.

An Ultimate Team mode also makes the cut. This is similar to the FIFA equivalent, where players must buy and trade cards in order to produce an unbeatable roster. There isn't anything particularly new here if you're familiar with EA's much-loved UT format.

I've enjoyed my time with NHL 13. The franchise is certainly improving its core mechanics, placing an emphasis on the minor details that will get fans excited. Hardly anything has changed on the surface, but beneath the exterior there's a sturdier, sharper and far tougher posterior to break through. Is this enough for an annual update? One thing's for sure: we're certainly heading in the right direction. Next time, the series needs a complete overhaul of game modes to ensure the impressive tweaking isn't forgotten.

Top Gaming Moment: The new skating mechanics feel natural and allow for some impressive play.

Platform Played: Xbox 360