With the NHL hockey season beginning play last night, EA Sports’
NHL series returns with all the bells and whistles in place to
continue the mystique created in previous installments.

Mira Levitan

The presentation is altered to make it more streamlined with the
other EA sports franchises. Rock and punk tunes fill the menu’s
soundtrack as images of your designated team run across the screen
(Go Wings!). The graphics have been refined and the audio upgraded.
Instead of a comedic approach to the announcer’s play-by-play, the
developers include more authentic color commentary.

Including all 30 NHL franchises and the All-Star squads, EA
decided to add in national teams and international elite league
teams as well. Every mode of play returns from the last offering,
but the Dynasty mode has been significantly enhanced. Similar to
its “Madden” cousin, Dynasty mode lets the player become the
general manager of the team and control every aspect of the
organization, from player management to concession prices.

Gameplay has changed significantly this time around, returning
to a more realistic style of play. The tempo is slowed and it
creates a more fluid and entertaining experience. The most
important feature to bloodthirsty fans is the revamped fighting
engine, which is cued by a simple button press. The actual fights
are fun, but after a few times they become repetitive and the
novelty wears off.

Sports games are at their best when played against another
person. “NHL 2004” provides the ideal competition for hockey fans
starving for some action on the ice. “NHL 2004” lets users now
battle unseen opponents online (PS2 version only). Without seeing
the face of a rival, bloodying and injuring an opposing player
loses some of its effect.

“NHL 2004” succeeds in spite of the now egregious error of its
choice for cover boy. Danny Heatley may be facing vehicular
manslaughter charges, but it should not detract rabid hockey fans
from picking up the latest installment. Hockeytown is ready for
another cup and “NHL 2004” lets you make it happen.

Rating: 4 stars.


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