The Stanley Cup playoffs are in full swing, so we figured we would take an early look at NHL 13, the pre-eminant hockey game by EA Sports.  The game is slated for release on September 11 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (three days later in Europe) and will be available in both a standard edition and a special collector’s Stanley Cup edition.  The collector's edition will include Hockey Ultimate Team packs, amongst other extras which any diehard hockey fan would need in their collection, but both versions will feature all the hard-hitting hockey action you’ve come to expect from the developers of the critically-acclaimed NHL 12.

Like FIFA 13 before it, NHL 13 will take advantage of trying to make players perform better on the ice with True Performance tweaking.  This time around it’s focusing on skating and a new physics-based engine that is just entering the picture.  

This add-on provides to deliver the “explosiveness, momentum and top end speed displayed by today’s NHL players,” according to EA Sports.  Over a thousand new animations will also be included, making quite the impact – especially when it comes to checks.  You’ll be able to manipulate player movement in a number of ways, bringing the realism of the sport to life better than ever.

The Be a GM mode is where you can take control of your ideal hockey team and will also feature a great new change.  Now you can pit teams against one another in a full 30-team online league, competing with players like never before.  As expected, you’ll still make decisions that shape the direction and momentum of your team, just like a real GM manager would.  EA Sports is also working on a coordinating mobile app, so players can track their progress wherever they go.

NHL 13 will also introduce NHL Moments Live, a feature where you can rewrite or relive history as you replay some of the most thrilling moments from today’s league action.  It introduces each scenario with real-world NHL footage to get you familiar with the situation, taken from the current 2011-2012 season, and then let you take control.  

In addition, moments as they happen will also be added from the forthcoming 2012-2013 season, including slap shots heard round the world and the opportunity to make key saves with a rookie goalie.  We can see ‘em coming now.

Finally, if you really want to see how far hockey has come in video games, look no further than one of the better additions for the game - EA Sports Hockey IQ.  While it sounds like a huge quiz event, it’s actually a set of AI improvements to help players react much more quickly to situations, both offensively and defensively, on the ice.  

According to EA, last year’s game had situations where “players were only aware of skaters in their immediate proximity and goalies could only react to the player in control of the puck.”  But with this new feature, they’ll “read the whole ice”, reacting better to real-time situations.  Let’s see if we can successfully pull off a breakaway now.

As for the rest of the game, well, you can pretty much expect it to be on the same level as last year’s.  The dynamic analog control once again makes a return, so you can feel every shot as it’s made across the crossbar, and every check as it pulverizes players.

Several other components should be introduced over the next few weeks, especially with E3 presenting a prime opportunity to see the game in action.  We’ll have more of NHL 13 coverage for you as it unfolds!  In the meantime, get ready for the return of hockey this fall.  (Oh yeah, and enjoy the playoffs.  Go Rangers!)