Gaming: Madden 13 and NHL 13

It is that time of year for avid sports gamers: the extraordinary few weeks when most of the major titles are released. Hayden Meikle casts his eye over the first two offerings.

Madden 13

From: EA Sports

For: Xbox 360, PS3, Vita, Wii, Wii U+

The sport: American football.

The cover boy: Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson won a 64-player fan vote. He hasn't yet succumbed to the infamous Madden Cover Curse.

Glossy bits: The game immediately socks you in the face with an intense video featuring fearsome Baltimore Ravens veteran Ray Lewis. The presence of leading commentators Jim Nantz and Phil Simms - in virtual form - adds to the television feel of the presentation. A radically overhauled menu quickly settles in. And, while the graphics are virtually identical to last year's, the game does feature a much broader variety of cut scenes and animations.

New feature: The big change is the introduction of something called Connected Careers, which effectively replaces the old Career and Superstar modes. Choose to be a player (created or real) or a coach, and embark on a journey to the Hall of Fame. There are weekly and season challenges, and experience points can be used to upgrade whatever skills you like. Those who prefer to game online can join one of thousands of created leagues, or set up their own. It's a deep, addictive mode that fuses RPG elements with classic sport simulation. Oh, and there's a neat fake Twitter feed that reports on the big in-game news.

Gameplay: Mostly the same as last year - and no complaints here.

But it seems the passing mechanics have been tweaked and improved. You now notice receivers looking up and around more, and the buttons floating above them are greyed out if they are not in a good position to take the ball. The whole look-pass-catch package seems smoother.

Kinect-ability: For the first time in Madden, Xbox 360 gamers can use voice commands for "audibles", or changing the play at the line of scrimmage.

Grizzles: There is no fantasy draft option for those of us who liked seeing what sort of super-team we could assemble for a season.

The verdict: It is honestly getting to the point where it is hard to see how Madden can get much better. Madden 13 looks good and feels great, and the Connected Careers mode is a fantastic idea.


NHL 13

From: EA Sports

For: Xbox 360, PS3

The sport: Ice hockey. Or, as the North Americans know it, hockey.

The cover boy: That would be Philadelphia Flyer forward Claude Giroux, also chosen based on fan voting. The Canadian was third in the NHL in scoring last season.

New Zealand link: Claude Giroux shares a name with a midget wrestler who, as "Tiger" Jackson, teamed up with our beloved Bushwhackers in the WWF in 1992. Thanks, Wikipedia.

New bits: An epic, online-only Be a GM mode that frankly looks quite scary. Otherwise, it's mainly tinkering with AI and the physics engine. I missed NHL 12 so have no immediate comparison, but it seems there has been a lot of work done on how the skaters feel, look and move. You can skate backwards now, and the days of flying around at full tilt, turning on a dime, are over.

Real-life physics now apply.

Girl power: NHL 13 breaks some significant ground by including two (real-life) playable female characters. There is now significant pressure on the Fifa series to include some female footballers.

Gameplay: Ice hockey is a bit like football - pass and shoot is the name of the game - so it has always translated well to video games. The action is fast, but not intimidatingly so, and smooth. And there is an extraordinary range of modes.

Grizzles: Still no Ice Blacks among the international teams?

Come on.

Bonus: Part or all of the coming NHL season could be lost to a lockout. Look for the game to sell like hot cakes among fans desperate for their hockey fix.

The verdict: It doesn't have the global appeal of Fifa, or the sheer pull of Madden. But NHL 13 is a slick sports game and takes no time at all to get you looking good on the ice.

• Next week: Meikle's impressions of Fifa 13.


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