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September 2003



- Great new fighting system
- Refined controls over last year
- Slick graphics
- Elite League and Dynasty Mode



- Where’d the fun go?



Review: NHL 2003 (XB)

Review: ESPN NHL Hockey (XB)

Review: ESPN NHL Hockey (PS2)



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NHL 2004

Score: 8.0 / 10


nhl 2004 xbox review         nhl 2004 xbox review


If you know your games, you’re probably aware of the so-called EA Sports Cover Athlete Curse. This is how it goes (according to some): whichever athlete is selected for the cover of Madden NFL usually has a crap season due to some debilitating injury. If the Curse is to be believed, it has spread to EA’s other sport franchises, such as this year’s NHL 2004, featuring Dany Heatly of the Atlanta Thrashers.

If you remember, and you should if you’re into hockey, Dany Heatly was at the wheel of his Ferrari when he crashed, injuring himself and killing teammate Dan Snyder.

Is the curse real? If you’re superstitious, maybe, but while you’re playing NHL 2004, it’s not a point you’ll ponder for long. No, you’ll be pondering where the fun went.




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For all of NHL’s advancements and polish, I just couldn’t get over the fact the fun factor has dropped way off in favor of realism – my biggest problem with NHL 2004. You’ll notice this immediately with the absence of Don Taylor doing the color work, and any amusing banter whatsoever between John Hughson and Craig Simpson. Say what you will about Taylor’s glibness, it added a level of “arcadeness” that made


play more enjoyable – you are, after all, playing a game and a game should entertain. Of course, the more serious hockey fanatics will probably thank EA for dropping him, as it’s a sign of the simulation bent of the latest NHL iteration.

Fighting is back in a big way this year with a completely revamped fighting method. It’s a fairly simplistic fighting system, but it feels and looks completely “organic” except for the “twitching like a landed fish” when someone gets knocked to the ice. Of course, the fighting is a small aspect of the actual game.

Besides the extensive Dynasty Mode (and Exhibition, Season, Playoffs, and Tournament) where you can leap into the boots of the General Manager, which should be a fans dream (where you can manage rosters and take part in the entry draft) you have access to 39 elite league teams. The elite teams are a welcome addition as they offer a variation on hockey without deviating too far from the NHL style. Of these two modes, I spent far more time skating in Europe than scrambling around the front office in Dynasty Mode. I always wonder how much attention GM and Dynasty modes actually receive from gamers, but those that enjoy the minutia will surely appreciate it and be able to poke holes in its shortcomings. I am not one of these people so forgive me for not attempting to poke holes. (Besides I liked creating my own team.)


nhl 2004 xbox review          nhl 2004 xbox review

But on the subject of poking, you can do that too! The developers managed to pack a lot into the controller, and you have practically every real-life hockey action at your disposal. Spins, dekes, shot fakes, and, yes, poke checks, are all accounted for. It does take a while to learn everything though as some of the moves require button combinations. For example, diving requires you to hold the left shoulder button and Y at the same time. You can also call out defensive and offensive strategies on the fly. Gone are the days of button mashing! Even the hitting gets an upgrade. Without the puck, you have body check control with the right thumbstick. Besides getting a handle on the control, you also have to master the passing, which is tough. Magic stick-to-stick passing is completely absent. It’s very easy to send off misdirected passes, and is more common than one might expect.

The on-ice action is very good if somewhat heavy on offense. This is somewhat mollified when playing with human opponents/teammates (tons of fun!) and the skill level can be tweaked when playing solo, but even so, the AI is more than competent – and frighteningly prescient at times – which leads to appropriate (i.e. normal) final scores.

The graphics and overall presentation is top notch – should we expect less? NHL 2004 is a great-looking and great-sounding game. 'Nuff said!

NHL 2004 is an extremely good hockey game but has one major failing in my eyes: lack of fun. For simulation fans, this (subjective) problem won’t be viewed as a failing. It’s loaded with everything that a hockey fan could want (especially the Play Now option, which gets you playing quickly and painlessly), and should definitely please those that felt a little let down by last year’s edition.

- Omni
(November 2, 2003)


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