NHL 2004 is fun and exciting, no matter how you ice it
**Originally written October 6, 2003.**
Being a sports fan with a Gamecube isn’t as easy as it is for my PS2 or XBOX counterparts, but fortunately for myself and those of you like me, EA Sports has created an impressive game in NHL 2004 that is rather a step up from it’s previous year. NHL 2004 has lost none of its predecessors’ excitement, and when you start this game up, you will more or less lose yourself in the thrill of everything that makes hockey exciting, and then some.
The days of playing a hockey video game just to actually play a game are long gone. The modes Tournament (international competition), Season (an entire season of selectable length, followed by the playoffs), Playoffs (the four rounds leading up to the Stanley Cup), and features like Create-A-Player are as welcome as they always were. The Elite Teams (the top teams from the German, Finnish and Swedish leagues) add a whole lot to fans of European-style hockey, and Dynasty Mode is a gem for anyone who has as much of a fancy to the day-to-day operations side of a hockey team as much as the on-ice side.
As a veteran of EA Sports’ PC hockey games, I’ll admit this somewhat lacks in my mind as part of my tilt, but is actually very good in most cases, such as the fluidity of motion during gameplay and close-ups of players. After a while of playing, you come to appreciate how good the game looks so you can focus more on actually playing it. Camera angles leave something to be desired, but in-game ones work pretty well, and Replay mode allows you to see a recent clip from wherever you want.
It requires a generous learning curve to get everything down, with anything from ten minutes to a couple of hours, but after a while, the easy-to-learn controls are secondary in your mind. The game’s default buttons work rather well, but can be customized to fit a player’s preferences. With five skill levels, this game is right for anyone, from a rookie to Igor Larionov. And in case a player is still unsure of playing, in Beginner mode, the announcers, Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson, will help you with in-game hints, such as how to win face-offs, effectively passing, poke-checking, and what a certain symbol next to a player’s name means.
Hughson and Simpson make this seem like something on Sportsnet, with their play-by-play and colour-commentating true-to-life, although once in a while you may hear the same five comments throughout an entire period, and their comments can range from overly-generous to near-cruel. In-game sounds sound realistic, such as ice scraping, players getting checked into the boards, players yelling at one another, and the crowds chanting and cheering. Also in NHL 2004 is a pretty good soundtrack, with licensed artists such as The Ataris, Autopilot Off, Alien Ant Farm, Jet, Gob and Bowling for Soup, among others. Whether these tracks fit with the game of hockey or not is really up to the person playing.
This game is close to great in all it’s ways. The only real problem with it in passing is it’s use of memory card space. (Saving all features at once requires a staggering 270 blocks!) However, odds are you won’t be saving more than two or three modes at once, and all progress is saved on the 15-block EA Sports Bio, which can also be used with other EA Sports titles. Of course, if you happen to own a 1019 memroy card, this is no problem. When you get down to it, NHL 2004 is a great hockey game for almost any type of hockey fan who is also a gamer. Between buying and renting it, go for the buy, because there’s a very good chance you will spend more if you rent it, because you’ll want to rent it again and again. (And again.)