I’ve loved hockey since the Minnesota North Stars came to Dallas in the early ’90’s and I’m still a die-hard fan. It’s with that fandom in mind that I have to report that Petr Sykora and Sergei Fedorov of those dastardly Ducks of Anaheim can score practically everytime they’re in your zone in NHL 2004, the latest in the long running EA Sports franchise. If you keep that in mind, then you should be able to enjoy a pretty fun hockey game.
Bear in mind that I haven’t played since NHL 2001 many moons ago, so if there have been significant alterations (save the graphical improvements) then I can’t tell what they are. I do know that NHL 2004 is a lot of fun when you sit down and game with your buds, and getting to trash talk your friends is what sports games are all about, right?The graphics are pretty good overall. I didn’t notice too much clipping, though whenever I would run someone into the boards while using the overhead view, they seemed to have body parts slightly disappear. The jerseys and helmets all look perfectly authentic, the stadiums are really nicely done (save for Detroit, but nothing could help there) and the deterioration of the ice as the periods wear on is great. I loved how the ice at the start of the period is so different than at the end, especially in the drawn-out 20-minute ones. Things are very nicely done in fights too, but I didn’t notice significant damage done to the models. But maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough. The menus all are nicely drawn as well, and the faces look about as sharp and realistic as I imagine the PS2 will allow.
The music is really a collection of current songs that may or may not be your bag. I’m a big Alien Ant Farm fan, but not so much for Cinder. The placement is what counts really and they’re in all the right places, between intermissions and right after play ends. The announcing isn’t bad, but I’m spoiled by Stars’ announcers Ralph Strangis and Daryl Reaugh. In NHL 2004 there just doesn’t seem to be much variation beyond the announcers talking about one team getting a goal early in a period, or how hard a hit was, or whether a pass was blocked or not. Yawn.
On the flip side, the crunch of bodies during a check against the boards, the hollow ring of the puck hitting the post, the skates on the ice, and the puck rolling across the boards are all captured perfectly. If I closed my eyes and just listened to it, it sounded just like a true hockey game on TV, which is all I could ask for. Actually, I could ask for a sound system, because I have a feeling this game rocks the house if you’ve got a surround setup.If you’re like me, and usually skip reading the manual, it’s pretty easy to pick up and play. You hit Triangle to check, Square to do a saucer pass, X to do a flat pass, and Circle to shoot. Holding down Circle for a couple of seconds will put some serious power behind the shot depending on who’s got the puck. If you’re looking for an arcade feel then look elsewhere as players do not turn on a dime (regardless of how hard I tried to make them), the goalkeeper will stop you cold if he’s standing on his head that night, and even on easy NHL 2004 will make you bring you’re A game to the ice. It’s imperative that you remember the R1 button as your speed burst, and the L2 button to hook your opponent. Very, very critical these two buttons. I seem to remember the games in previous NHL games to be faster on the ice than in NHL 2004, but maybe that’s just me. As it stands, the feel and the speed of periods in NHL 2004 is just about right to me. I had a lot of fun with NHL 2004, and once I get my brother into it the fun is only going to be kicked up further. He and I have a pretty big hockey rivalry going, so playing against him is what it’s all about for me. But getting past the multiplayer (online mode is also available in this year’s model) and looking straight at the other game options, I wasn’t too blown away. Going the Dynasty route is okay, but I never noticed much difference in the players who weren’t the power shooters to begin with. If Modano is slapping home wrist shot after wrist shot, I’m not surprised. Jacking ticket prices into the stratosphere is fun at first, but there’s no catastrophic results like in Sim City where people would riot and things burn. And then you get a TV contract renewal and fans love you… joy. I’d rather put my nose to the grindstone, and play through Tournament mode with full 20 minute periods on and earn my Stanley Cup without having to worry about signing bonuses. There’s a lot of fun to be had with NHL 2004 as most every team plays differently (expect Detroit, who seems ridiculously overpowered, and Anaheim, who seems ridiculously lucky) but I guess you can’t have everything you want. I can’t wait to get some other people in my place and crank this up. It’s a pretty strong hockey game, and with the attention to detail and amount of pain one can dish out in 20 minute periods, it’s a solid game to have on.