If one genre of games is regularly attacked for preferring to iterate as opposed to innovate, it’s the annual sports simulation. While that may have been somewhat justified in the past, the developers of the NHL series have continued to erase the distance between ‘game’ and ‘the real thing’ with each new release since the jump to next-gen.
After delivering one of the best sports games of 2011 with several new gameplay additions, some may have thought that the push forward with NHL 13 would be somewhat less of an impact. According to the official details, the team at EA Sports is just getting started.
The existence of NHL 13 has been anything but a secret, along with the assumption that the developer would once again be adding something new to basic gameplay. The implementation of their Full Contact Physics Engine finally brought player size and strength into the mix with NHL 12, and let the player put the opposing team’s goalie in his crosshairs. The sales showed that the fans loved it, but the list of gameplay elements left to reinvent again dwindled.
Now EA Sports has revealed what they’ve got in store for their ‘next gameplay revolution,’ and the groundbreaking True Performance Skating is expected to make a hockey fan’s dreams come true….digitally:
“Bringing more realistic skating to this generation of video game hockey has long been a goal for the NHL development team…Being able to cut to the outside and speed past a defenseman was something missing from the game, as was the trade-off between top-end speed and control.
“With the introduction of True Performance Skating, a physics-driven skating engine with over 1,000 new animations, we’ve captured the explosiveness, momentum and incredible top end speeds that today’s NHL stars have. True Performance Skating also brings a whole new level of creativity to NHL 13 players, giving them as much control over how their player moves as the Skill Stick gave them over the hockey stick.”
The way the players propel themselves has been receiving flourishes and extra details with each new game, but this is the first time the developers have made skating their primary focus. The announcement of a brand new, refined approach to skating is enough to get fans looking forward to the game (imagine the developers of Madden NFL saying they were ‘redesigning how players run’) but that certainly won’t be the only new element.
Fans of the ‘Be a GM Mode’ who have long argued that they were a better tactician and businessman than their friends can now put their money where their mouths are, able to take the competition online with ‘GM Connected’ and find out once and for all in a simulated season. To expand on the mode the team is also releasing a companion app – will it receive text messages every five minutes as the trade deadline approaches? Hopefully.
The ever-popular ‘Be a Pro Mode’ is also receiving even more choices, allowing the player to request a trade from their own club or even “hang-up your skates and retire when your virtual knees begin to grow stiff.” Whether this comment from EA is hinting that persistent injuries or health issues will be introduced isn’t clear, but we wouldn’t be surprised.
Fans of the online EASHL will also be in for some improvements, with a new interface, region-based matchmaking to reduce lag, and new incentives to keep players from leaving games before completion. Also available for those looking to challenge themselves beyondlocal play is ‘NHL Moments Live,’ a list of the actual season’s best plays (constantly updated, we might add) for players to attempt themselves. These are all changes that should make any player’s overall experience better, but a sports game lives and dies by its artificial intelligence.
Luckily, EA Sports is also looking to make computer-controlled characters think – and predict plays – like actual hockey players. the introduction of ‘AI Learning’ helped to keep players from relying on a single trick or play to find success, and the newly announced ‘Hockey I.Q.’ is taking things on step further. Instead of merely watching the puck or the opponent closest to them, players and goalies will now be keeping track of every other player on the ice. Especially useful for players who are most dangerous without the puck.
It’s all in the name of more realistic AI decision-making, but will also be adjustable for players who feel like their players aren’t as defensively or offensively aware as they should be. The ‘Hockey I.Q’ may seem somewhat similar to the on-the-fly aggression and coverage settings already available, but the chance for far more depth is promising.
More extensive details are sure to be revealed over the coming months, but how do these new systems and game mode tweaks strike you? Does this sound like the innovations you had hoped for next, or do you still have doubts that they will only be cosmetic?
NHL 13 will be released on September 11, 2012 for the Xbox 360 and PS3.
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