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Q4 2003



- No other hockey game has as good a dynasty mode or as many teams to choose
- Excellent fight system
- Well-designed online capabilities through EA Sports Nation



- Graphics aren't top-notch without a high-quality video card
- Playing with a keyboard isn't much fun



Review: NHL 2004 (Xbox)

Review: ESPN NHL Hockey (Playstation 2)

Review: ESPN NHL Hockey (Xbox)



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NHL 2004

Score: 8.8 / 10

What has to be the hands-down single greatest video game moment ever captured on film happens in the movie Swingers. Sue and Trent are battling it out in some fiercely competitive Sega Genesis NHL hockey gaming. Trent is beating the hell out of Sue's Kings. When Mike comes over to the apartment, and the conversation turns to the game-in-progress, Trent wants to show Mike how he can make Gretzky's head bleed, since the "best part of the old game," fighting, had been eliminated from the game. After Sue pauses the game to pay for the food being delivered, Trent unpauses the game in Sue's brief absence, does in fact make Gretzky's head bleed with a vicious hit, and touches off a mini-brawl on the couch when Sue returns and sees the damage.


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It's a classic moment in a classic movie featuring a classic game. The NHL series has not only been the longest-running hockey game but the consistently best hockey game, a feat unmatched by any sports game ever not named Madden football. In a franchise that has always been on top, NHL 2004 may just be its best incarnation yet. If you're a hockey fanatic, NHL 2004 has everything you could ask for in a game.

EA's NHL franchise is known for its true-to-life representation of the sport and NHL 2004 is another example of that. Every possible facet of what NHL hockey is all about is represented in NHL 2004. All the players and all the teams are here. Jumping on the global reach of the NHL rosters these days, EA's even gone a step further this year and added a plethora of European teams, because you don't have to be Canadian to play good hockey anymore. Covering the leagues of Germany's DEL, Finland's SM-Liga, and Sweden's Elitserien, 39 new teams are now in NHL 2004.

What's becoming the norm in sports gaming is to have not only a great season and playoff mode, but also a deep franchise mode, and NHL 2004 has that covered with an involved Dynasty mode. You are placed in charge of an NHL franchise as its general manager, and for 20 seasons you are directly responsible for the operations of your team including personnel moves, salaries and contracts, television-rights deals, coaching decisions, and the team facilities as you try to build a Stanley Cup team. This is an addicting feature that will impress even actual NHL G.M.'s in its attention to detail.





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But if you would rather skip the G.M. shirt-and-tie routine and get down on the ice for some good old hockey, NHL 2004 has more than just a season mode. You can partake in international play and a national tournament. Making the game a real depiction of the game of NHL hockey is the sheer amount of playing moves that NHL 2004 has. Practically any type of defensive, offensive, and skating move you'll see in an NHL hockey contest is included. And for fans like our Swingers friends, fighting comes back with a vengeance in NHL 


2004. An all-new fight system brings NHL fighting back to the level it should be. There's simply nothing more primitively savage in the world of team sports than two ice gladiators squaring off in one-on-one brawling. With a nod to the Midway NHL Hitz franchise of old, overall NHL 2004 is a lot more brutal than its predecessors. Shattering arena glass, harder checks, and tough play along the boards are part of generally bigger-hitting gameplay.

But the biggest addition to the NHL 2004 experience is the same that is found in all PC and PS2 EA Sports titles: the all-encompassing umbrella of the EA Sports Nation, EA's new online network that intertwines all of EA's sports games. EA gives you your first season of NHL 2004 for free with a debit card included with the game (a harbinger of pay-for-play probably facing gamers with next season's batch of EA titles). Once you register and set up an account and player tag, you can start playing NHL 2004 online right away.

With a cable connection, I didn't experience any lag playing NHL 2004 online, a big must for sports titles these days. Roaming in the match-up lobby, it's up to you what type of online hockey you want to play. You can customize individual games you host, join other player's games, or compete in league or tournaments for prizes. I had some Internet Explorer script error issues that prevented me from getting online or even just playing offline without lock-ups early on, but once I fixed the problem, NHL 2004 lived up to and exceeded my expectations for a PC sports game.

I prefer my sports games on a console. Always have, and one of the biggest reasons for that preference is playing a sports game with a console controller. NHL 2004's default setup is on a keyboard, and while it's certainly possible to play the game with a keyboard, due to the complexity of NHL 2004's move configuration, it isn't easy. Considering how many keyboard keys are necessary to play a simple game of NHL 2004, I definitely recommend using some sort of console-type of gamepad to avoid frustration on ice.

Having only a middle-ground video card on my PC, I wasn't expecting too much at all from NHL 2004's graphics, especially compared to the console version of NHL 2004. But even with lesser-than-console graphical quality, NHL 2004 looks pretty spiffy, more than I was prepared for. NHL 2004's sounds are simply amazing, such as goalposts clanking from frozen rubber hitting it, crowds cheering their team on, and a decent announcing crew. The atmosphere enveloping the whole NHL 2004 experience really pulls you into the belief you are actually at or watching a real NHL game.

Hockey enthusiasts will absolutely love NHL 2004. Be careful though, because it has so many realistic features and modes packed in to keep you sitting in front of your PC, it'll be difficult making time to watch your favorite team's games on television. But enjoy NHL hockey gaming while it lasts, because with a player's strike looming large, this unfortunately may be the last NHL title for a while.

- Lee Cieniawa
(November 11, 2003)


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