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Platform

GameCube

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

EA Canada

 

Developer

Electronic Arts

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q4 2003

 

 

- Excellent attention to detail

- Lots of gameplay modes

- More than just NHL teams

- Excellent multiplayer

- Fighting!

 

 

- Better gameplay on other platforms

- Terrible Defensive AI

- Many inexplicable bad goals

- No online mode

 

 

Review: NHL Hitz 2003 (GC)

Review: NHL 2003 (GC)

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NHL 2004

Score: 7.9 / 10

 

Well it was my birthday recently and my ever-loving girlfriend bought me a GameCube for the occasion.  Well, in reality, she gave me the choice between all three major consoles and I chose the GC partly for the cutesy aspect of it so my girlfriend could play games like Animal Crossing and all the Mario games, and partly for the party type games like Super Monkey Ball and Mario Party.  But to my delight the current edition of EA Sportsí indestructible NHL series was to be my first assignment.

 

nhl 2004 gamecube review          nhl 2004 gamecube review

 

EA sports has an excellent track record as the king of most sports games.  Unfortunately, with little competition, over time, their titles have become a little lackluster in their yearly installments.  As with this most recent iteration of EAís NHL hockey, EA doesnít so much wow the gamer with any amazing overhauls, but rather delivers a solid hockey game with a lot to offer that unfortunately has some minor problems that keeps it from being stellar.  

 

Fire up a quick game and any NHL fan will recognize many of the details in the graphics that lend the game an unparalleled authority.  Playerís are wearing the correct equipment and are using the correct sticks.  Playersí and coachesí faces even look like their real life counterparts. 

 

The most significant leap forward in this installment of NHL is the control scheme.  While it still offers the option to play with the traditional layout of player movement and action buttons, there is a new dual analog control scheme that is fairly intriguing.  The right analog stick is for the player movement while the left analog stick is used to move the playerís stick and offers some fairly manual puck manipulation.  While not the most pick up and play friendly control scheme, the option of using more traditional controls is still present and many players who donít read the manual will find themselves using these controls anyways. 

 

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Overall, the entire game has more of a controlled feel.  Players can pass, shoot, and deke in any direction and there is very little assist in helping to get the puck right to your teammates.  This definitely increases the realism of the game, and with controls that include hooking, and the ability to charge up hits the level of control that NHL 2004 affords the player is enormous. 

 

Unfortunately, this level of realism is not mirrored in the level of goal quality.  With the number of one timer back-handed 

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slapshots from the point going in, youíll be howling for mercy.  Also, the strength of shots from some pretty atrocious angles is ridiculous.  A player facing the side boards with his stick behind him will still be able to pull off a laser beam to the top corner.  For the most part the AI goaltending is not bad, but the goalies do let a few tricklers in, and will in some cases kick in their own rebounds. 

 

All this can definitely be forgiven when playing multiplayer with a couple of friends.   The end to end action is best when shared with others.  Thatís not to say though that there are no defensive battles.  The only problem though is that the AI for the defenders is not that great and often times, an AI controlled defender will just stand next to his check in front of the net without tying up his stick.  This leaves you unable to rely on your AI teammates in the defensive zone.

 

This problem is only compounded when playing the single player part of the game.  The computerís AI defense is usually stellar with their defenders blocking shots, intercepting passes, and generally tying up your players.  This cannot be said for your AI teammates as often times, youíll find yourself running around in your defensive zone just going after the puck as your players leave their checks open.  The game does allow you to tweak the coaching strategy for many aspects of the game such as defensive zone strategy, power play strategy, penalty kill strategy, and many others as well.  This does help to some extent, and can change the face of a game.

 

Aside from the standard NHL teams, there also international league teams from the Swedish elite league, and others as well.  There are also Olympic national teams, all star teams, and the ability to create custom teams.  Each team also has their whole storied vault of classic jerseys available to wear.

 

nhl 2004 gamecube review          nhl 2004 gamecube review

 

Apart from the standard season, quick play and playoff modes of gameplay, the game does offer quite a good management game in the dynasty mode.  In it you try to build a Stanley Cup champion team.  Through balancing finances, trading players, negotiating contracts, drafting players, and upgrading your facilities, youíll try to build a cup contender from humble beginnings.  Coaching strategies as well as rosters and lines can also be tweaked right before games to ensure that your team has the best possible chance of winning. 

 

One thing that EA definitely did right was the fighting mode in the game.  With enough pent up agitation built up during the course of a game, players will want to release a little steam, preferably into the face of the most hated player on the other team.  Not just a simple button mash, fighting actually takes some skill with different buttons for high and low punches and blocks for each hand. 

 

Having also played the PC version of this game, I must say that the GC version doesnít stack up nearly as well as the PC version as the gameplay on the PC is much smoother.  The skating and game flow feels much faster and more dynamic than the GC version.  Also, without an online mode and lesser graphics, this port of NHL 2004 seems hard to recommend over the other versions. 

 

If the GameCube is your only access to gaming bliss and youíre a hockey fan, then there really isnít a better hockey game for you than NHL 2004.  Just be prepared to groan when you have your friend trash talk you when they score a back handed one timer from the point.

 

- Mark Leung

(December 8, 2003)

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