The NHL franchise is one that’s seen a wave of small changes since 08. See, it was NHL 07 that introduced the skill stick to the world of hockey. Since then? It’s been years of slight changes and additions.

That’s the problem with the sports game genre. Every year sees marginal tweaks and additions; that is, until a revolutionary new mechanic comes into play.

From the EA Sports rep delivering the hands-on, the team feels NHL 13 is just as revolutionary as 07.

Does it feel “revolutionary,” or does it feel new?

New is the right answer here, folks. The skill stick was a revolution because it changed the way hockey games are played. It made them instantly more realistic, noticeably more dynamic and more fun to play.

The change has to be on that level in order for this game to be revolutionized, and I just don’t see it happening anytime soon.

It does, however, feel new.

The skating engine looks and feels a lot more realistic. Players will actually pump their skates for speed like NHLers really do, and they’ll not be able to stop and make cuts on a dime at full momentum.

Where the skating in previous NHL titles may have felt rigid and flakey, the skating here has a certain fluidity to it. Movement is smooth and transitions in open ice look fantastic. It looks like NHL skating. That fluidity translates into a feeling of weight and momentum, something the NHL franchise has never completely nailed.

It works really, really well.

Everyone’s a bit smarter.

This one comes thanks to what EA Sports is calling “Hockey I.Q.” The company hasn’t gone all out on explaining this one by way of trailers or media, but what we know generally is that everyone on the ice is a bit “smarter” than they were before.

The EA Sports rep talking to us during our demo explained that every skater has a sense of what every other player is doing on the ice. That dictates their movements and decisions, and those decisions translate into a more realistic hockey experience.

The goalies, too, are part of this change. Rather than only being able to make saves by committing their full body, goalies now have the intelligence to control all four limbs. That mean dropping for a low shot and getting a high one won’t necessarily guarantee a goal. Goalies can react and get one hand up to make desperation saves. It looks great, and really makes them seem much more like NHL goalies.

Not quite a revolution.

It’s better. It feels newer. The AI is smarter. But to call NHL 13 revolutionary based on the preview we saw today would be a mistake. It’s a healthy upgrade, but it’s not quite a revolution.

Still, NHL fans should be pumped. The game will launch for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on September 11th of this year.

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