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NHL 2004 PlayStation 2

Published by EA Sports
Developed by EA Sports
Released: Out Now
Price: £39.99

Whilst Ice Hockey might not be the most popular sport here in the UK, games based on the sport have always been very popular. The most popular of the Ice Hockey games has to be EA Sports' NHL series. The immaculate presentation and the enthralling and frenzied action have always served to make it a great title to own, regardless of the platform it is played on. Although it still retains the superb presentation there have been some major changes and they all seem to have been for the better. Let's take a look at the PlayStation 2 version of NHL 2004.

The biggest addition to the game has to be the improved dynasty mode. Now you can become the GM of your favourite team and lead them for 20 seasons as you bid for a place in the GM Hall of Fame. The dynasty mode is not as comprehensive as the one seen in Madden NFL 2004 but nevertheless it is a very welcome addition. The dynasty mode allows you to earn experience points that can be used to improve your GM's abilities and that allows him to hire more staff, build new facilities and improve the players. You also have the exhibition mode for those one-off games, the season mode for playing through a single season with either 29, 58 or 82 games, the play-off mode and the tournament mode for between 8-16 teams. The My NHL mode allows you to create your own players and teams and there are plenty of unlockables here too. One of these unlockables that makes the commentator have a deep voice is relevant for deaf gamers but all the others are okay.

A rather nice touch this year is the addition of the Elite Leagues. For the first time ever you'll be able to play in Germany's DEL or Sweden's Elitserien or Finland's SM-Liga. This will surely impress European gamers who long to play as one of their local teams. In all there are 39 European teams that can be played. It would be great to see more European teams added for next years version though. I should also mention that the game can be played with upto 8 players providing you have 2 multitap devices. The control system is also improved and you'll be able to use the right analogue stick for freestyle deking which really adds to the gameplay.

Past versions of NHL have often been dubbed as 'arcadey' and although they have been extremely playable games, they were somewhat different from the real life sport. NHL 2004 however, takes a massive leap towards realism and just about every aspect of the game has been reworked to make this the best in the series. The AI now behaves far more realistically on both offence and defence. You won't see the AI just using the one shot variation either as it plays according to your teams weakness and will change it's play to its advantage. You will also have to work harder as well, as perfect passing is seldom and passes can realistically go astray. The AI is also quick to pounce on your errors so if your passes do go astray you'll be made to pay.

Graphically NHL 2004 pushes the PlayStation 2 as far as possible and it's difficult to see how the game could look better on the PlayStation 2 hardware. The presentation is once again superb. There are even more stadiums included in this year's version and they all look fantastic. The players look and move on the ice quite convincingly. The reflections on the ice also look impressive too. The only slowdown I noticed was when the camera panned to the crowd during the various breaks. There was no slowdown at all during the actual gameplay, which is all that matters at the end of the day.

The commentary isn't subtitled, but as we have often said if it were, it would obstruct your view of the game. The quick nature of the sport diminishes the importance of the commentary so it's even less of a loss here than it would be in a slower paced sport. Generally speaking the game is fine for deaf gamers but there a couple of areas that would have benefited from being subtitled. If you play a game on beginner level you receive vocal instructions explaining the controls and basic concepts from the game and also when you choose your tactics, it's possible to see a short video clip explaining the usefulness of the tactic in question. Both of these features are actually great touches and it's a shame that deaf gamers miss out on them. The manual is quite useful and it's great to see that the rules are explained as this helps the beginner.

NHL 2004 is a very impressive Ice Hockey title and yet another top quality title in the 2004 EA Sports catalogue. It's not at the same level of excellence as Madden 2004 or Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 but those titles had pretty much got things right and had an established platform on which to build. In many ways NHL 2004 represents a new beginning for the NHL series and it's a successful beginning too that even critics of previous games in the series would struggle to find fault with.

Overall Game Rating: 8.8/10
Definitely the best in the long running NHL series. Arcade play has been thrown out and what we have here is an impressive simulation of the sport.

Deaf Gamers comment:
There are a few omissions but generally NHL 2004 is fine for deaf gamers.