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Game review: NHL 13 rocks

If you are like me, you are beyond angry at the NHL, which is in a lockout and may not play games this season.

The copy of NHL 13 that had been mocking me from the top of my entertainment center for a couple of weeks only seemed to worsen the feeling.

Knowing that the EA Sports video game would be the closest thing I would see to NHL players on the ice made me uncomfortable even unwrapping it.

Boy, was I wrong.

This game should have been opened, enjoyed, marveled at the minute I brought it home for my Xbox.

As a matter of full disclosure, I should tell you that I skipped the last cycle of hockey games. I kept finding myself underwhelmed.

But this year, that's not the case.

The graphics are amazing. The game play is very good. But what makes NHL 13 so good is they way is lets you do the little things.

As a fan of battling along the boards, and someone who believes forechecking is the key to success in hockey, I was rendered almost speechless with what I can do in this game.

I can fight off opponents, while I'm pressed against the boards, before kicking -- kicking! -- the puck to an open teammate.

Or, as a defender, I can keep my opponent smashed against the glass and poke away at him until he concedes the battle.

My jaw dropped when my player broke his stick, kicked the puck all the way through the neutral zone, then grabbed a replacement stick from a teammate at the bench. I may not see a play that good in the ECHL all season.

Faceoffs also amaze. No longer is it just a bunch of button mashing and luck. You actually have to decide if you will go in forehand or backhand, then you can try to win the puck back, tie up the opponent, lift his stick or try to take off with the puck.

Even the official dropping the puck looks real.

It sounds like there must be a lot to keep track of when you are playing the game, and there is. Be ready to get dominated at first -- I know I did -- but once you get the hang of it, the control systems aren't too overwhelming.

The biggest change to the game this year is the True Performance Skating, a physics-driven engine that is meant to make it feel like you are really skating. It works like a charm. If you go too fast, you will lose control of the puck. If you don't time things correctly, you will wind up offsides. You actually have to dig your skates into the ice and make crossovers on a dime, if you want to turn well.

The way they have handled backward skating in NHL 13 is terrific. Hold the left trigger and you will be in better position to defend and dole out an awesome Niklas Kronwall hip check.

The only complaint I had with the skating related to computer-controlled teammates, who were too prone to going offsides and robbing me of a good play.

The functionality of the shooting and passing is solid -- and I do like how you can get foiled by an opponent if you are lax with your slapshots -- but there are a few quirks. Using the right trigger to pass is cumbersome, just because it's not as responsive as using a button. Pressing the left stick for extra speed is nice in theory, but can also be a little finicky. And having to press two buttons to block shots can also have you lose focus on what you are actually trying to do.

Defensively, things are even more tricky. You have to click the right stick to get a true big check, and that can be tough to time. And if there's a way to just hook your opponent to slow him down, I haven't figured it out.

But these are relatively small gripes, especially when you are considering all the things your players can do.

One of those things is easily start a fight, which I did with Jordin Tootoo in my first period playing. You fight from a first-person view. You can tie up your opponent, block punches, and really throw some haymakers, though you are pretty much limited to using one hand. The best part is, if you're a wimp, you can turtle.

Graphically, the arenas are great. Joe Louis Arena was spot on, right down to the crappy, old red seats. They could have been a little more faithful with the music played at various arenas, though.

And the announcers are Gary Thorne and Bill Clement, which is very nice, though I would have preferred "Hockey Night in Canada" presentation.

There are tons of modes and features for you to use in NHL13. The new GM Connected mode allows you to play with 750 people in the same league online. There is even a mobile companion app to let you make transactions and keep up with stats while away from your console.

There is a NHL Moments Live feature, allowing you to recreate great moments from last season. It also promised moments from the coming season -- if it ever comes -- and I hope they feature more teams with those.

I will warn you that the menus in some of these modes can be cumbersome. If you are wanting to enact a trade with another team, it's not as intuitive as it can be; there is a lot of backing out and going back in. Simply dropping a player is either impossible to find or not available. And they could have done a lot more with the sliders for penalties.

But there is so much that you can do in the different modes, this game could keep you occupied for a very, very long time.

For you Komets fans, the bad news is there the ECHL didn't make it into the game. However, the American Hockey League did, as well as European leagues and national teams. I wish there were more options to change jerseys among the various teams, but you do have some.

You can always create your favorite Komets, as I know many of you already have. And I spotted Komets defenseman Daniel Maggio on the New York Rangers' roster, which is cool but also speaks to the rosters being a little bit dated. I couldn't find any other current Komets.

So, yes, I'm bummed that the NHL is nowhere to be found right now. But I'm ecstatic that this game delivered.

Unlike with Madden, massive strides have been made by EA Sports over the last couple of years.

If 10 were the top score I could give this game, I give it a 9.

Have you played? Let me know what you think.

Justin A. Cohn, pro sports coordinator for The Journal Gazette, has been covering the Fort Wayne Komets since 1997. His reporting includes game stories from home and away, features about the players and personalities associated with the Komets, plus coverage of issues affecting hockey at all levels. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Cohn graduated from Emory University in Atlanta. He can be reached at 260-461-8429 or by email at jcohn@jg.net.

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