Electronic Arts invited us up to its annual Summer Showcase event in Redwood City last week, showing off a number of upcoming titles on both the console and PC front.  While you’ll be seeing coverage all this week revolving around games shown at the event, we thought we’d talk about one of the most exciting projects, one that’ll be coming your way in just a matter of weeks – NHL 13.

We’ve previewed this game very briefly before, talking about the changes that EA Sports is bringing to the long popular hockey video game series.  But this time around, it almost seems like the developers really addressed a number of problems that have plagued the series over the years, and have thus created a different kind of puck-shooting animal that even the wiliest of fans won’t be able to contain.  Relax, that doesn’t mean the game’s going to get out of hand.  It just means it’ll challenge the way you normally play hockey – and for the better.

Perhaps the biggest improvement that EA has made to the series is the inclusion of Momentum.  In past NHL releases, players were able to scoot down the ice with the greatest of ease, only to stop short of the goal, with what appears to be very efficient skate brakes, to take the shot.  Not so this time around.  EA has tweaked player motions so that they’re actually unique depending on who you’re playing.  Faster, fleeter skaters will be able to move a little more fluidly, but also won’t have as much control as the slower, meatier players.  What’s more, big guys will also take a little more room to stop, rather than just screeching to a halt.  How their movement goes depends on position, what they’re doing with the puck, and speed.  Just like the real thing.

Over on defense, Momentum plays its part as well.  In previous games, defensive players were able to skate backwards at the same pace as those running towards the goal – an unheard of feat, especially considering they never put themselves into a position of falling over.  With NHL 13, EA tweaked that a bit, so that defensive players have to swivel around and keep position, while at the same time watching the puck carrier and looking for a vital spot to steal or check.  It sounds tricky, but playing through the demo that EA Sports provided us, we could see this practice working remarkably in action.  It feels like a much smoother game as a result, and one that doesn’t work against you in given situations.

In addition to adding Momentum, EA has also done quite a bit of tweaking with the artificial intelligence in the game.  See, instead of taking advantages of the same old offensive players or charges from the certain sides of the ice, defensive teams will actually prepare for any plays you might’ve gotten familiar with.  As a result, you find yourself in need of change-ups, perhaps not riding so often on an offensive strategy and instead figuring out something new with pass plays or goal rushes to score.  And you can still adjust difficulty enough that the AI won’t breathe down your neck if you don’t want them to.  Dedicated fans of the series, however, will certainly welcome the challenge.

Players aren’t the only ones reading the action on the ice.  Coaches will also react accordingly with how you’re playing a team, setting up new strategies and figuring out tactics to weaken your players.  We’ve only seen this on one occasion during the demo, but it’s an interesting approach, one that makes each new match you take part in that much more exciting.

Along with a refined sense of gameplay that invigorates you as you play, NHL 13 keeps most of its rock-solid presentation intact.  The on-ice skaters look just like the real deal, and the arena detail, from the cheering crowds to the boards that wobble when you collide with them, are insanely good.  Likewise, the running commentary and in-game arena effects are worth noting, too.  If you like hockey, welcome home.

The online league set-up is set to go through an overhaul as well, along with the Be a GM mode, which will let you manage team options through an iDevice if you aren’t near a console at the time.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to specifically test these out during the demo, but you can bet we’ll have a full scouting report ready to go by the time the game releases.  It’s just a matter of practicing and learning what strategies fit you best.

Just as it has delivered in years’ passed, NHL 13 should be another puck-slapping piece of goodness.  Be sure to hit the ice with all the ferocity of a champion when the puck drops on September 11 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.