Windows - 2003
Description of NHL 2004 Windows
Consider this a new beginning for the NHL hockey series. The venerable EA Sports franchise has practically been reborn after more than a decade of wowing shinny fans each autumn, with an all-new development team and a sharpened focus that brings realism to the fore. All the graphical glitz and "in the game" glam is still present in NHL 2004, although there is also a refreshing dedication to providing more than good-looking, rock-em-sock-em sound and fury.
Of course, EA Sports has made those promises before. Almost every September, a new edition of NHL arrives along with lip service about how the developers toned down the arcade emphasis to give us a game that Bobby Orr would recognize. This year, however, the company has followed through. Most of the improvements are, no doubt, due to the new development team at Black Box. The recently purchased design house has done yeoman work revamping the series, using the lessons learned while making the highly acclaimed NHL 2K for the late, great Sega Dreamcast to fashion the most authentic version of hockey to ever bear the EA label.
As you probably expect, enhanced artificial intelligence is the biggest factor in the dramatic improvement between NHL 2003 and NHL 2004. You see this in every corner of the ice. For starters, the computer now gives you more to think about offensively. Last year, the offensive AI was simply atrocious, seemingly limited to just one or two attack strategies. Limits like this have been removed for 2004; now the computer presents different offenses, depending on the team and coaching style, and will throw the puck around with abandon in an attempt to generate scoring opportunities.
But don't mistake this for the usual pell-mell arcade action that makes no real sense to hockey fans - there is method in this madness. Positional play is much stronger this time around. Centers get down and dirty behind the net, wingers fly down their sides and let shots fly from any and all angles, and offensive-minded defensemen have no qualms about moving in off the points if the situation is right. Computer players will both dump the puck in and rag it across the lines. Because of all this, you've got to have a good idea of where you are at all times. Get into a run-and-gun affair and you'll almost certainly be gunned down... unless you're playing with a goal-scoring powerhouse like the 2003-4 Colorado Avalanche.
And the computer's defensive game has been beefed up as well. While opponents in the NHL series have always gotten in your face, now they play smart. They'll cover the open man, take away passing lanes, go after loose pucks, and of course deliver some really bone-crushing checks if you cross the blueline with your head down or get too cute along the boards. Pressure like this even helps to keep the statistics and shot clock close to reality, as long as you don't go over 10-minute periods.
The other major change to NHL 2004 is its revamped control system. One of the biggest complaints about the series has always been the helter skelter play. Players seemed to slide a little too much and pucks were often hard to corral. Much of this has been improved this year. Skates now seem to really dig into the ice and the puck has more than a passing acquaintance with friction. Also, just as with Madden NFL 2004, EA Sports is taking advantage of the right analog sticks on all console and some PC gamepads.
Other aspects of play are also more precise. Passing is reminiscent of recent editions of the sister EA Sports FIFA soccer series, in that you can't play tic-tac-toe with the puck any longer. Now you have to be cautious about the amount of power you put into each pass, and gauge whether or not you need to saucer-float the puck to get it past enemy sticks. On the whole, though, passing is a lot less accurate than it has been in previous years. It presents a fairly steep learning curve to series veterans used to the one-touch pinball passing. And saucer passes can turn into a real adventure, as they're very hard to properly direct.
Perhaps the best change with the control scheme comes with fighting. Previously, if one of your heavyweights wanted to go, there was no way of avoiding the scrap. That annoyance has been removed now, with the addition of an option to ignore an opportunity to fight. Of course, there are times when you'll want to let 'er rip. And this year you really can, thanks to an all-new fighting engine that emphasizes grappling and blocking.
EA Sports has also loaded up NHL 2004 with lots of game options. League and dynasty play have been greatly improved. Around 40 teams have been added representing the European elite leagues in Sweden, Finland, and Germany, freshening things up for those a little tired of the NHL game. Dynasty mode has received a total facelift on par with that given the franchise mode in Madden NFL 2004, so running an NHL franchise has never been depicted so completely. It isn't perfect, largely due to players demanding absurdly high salaries at times, a preponderance of goofy trade offers from the computer, and a 20-year cap per career. But it's a lot better than anything that this series has presented before.
EA Sports never lets you forget that this is a big-budget production. Graphics are phenomenal in every way, though particular attention has to be paid to the outstanding animations. Skaters now look like they're actually pumping their legs, not whirring on an invisible treadmill. Hits are powerful and impressive without going over the top into wrestling land. Goalies are acrobatic and turtle-like by turns. The only somewhat sore point is the interface, which remains a little too console for the PC edition and a little too PC for the console editions.
Audio quality has been boosted with a lot of new lines for play-by-play man Jim Hughson and a greater sense of situational awareness. His new color commentator, former Oilers sniper Craig Simpson, also does a good job of weighing in with some key observations, and is a huge improvement over the stand-up comedy stylings of his predecessor, Don Taylor.
Last but not least, multiplayer modes haven't been forgotten - unless you're stuck on Xbox or GameCube, that is. PC and PS2 owners are pretty well set up with a variety of options that run the gamut from quick single-game matchups to fullblown tournaments. EA is running the same subscription angle with the EA Sports Online service for PC as it did last year, although you receive a card worth an entire season of free online play in each box. So online play with the official EA servers is essentially free of charge. You can still, of course, dodge the servers altogether on PC and link up directly with your friends and enemies.
Few new beginnings in games go as right as this one for NHL 2004. EA Sports made a brilliant decision to shake up the franchise last year and turn it over to a new design team with no vested interest in the mistakes of the past few seasons. This is almost certainly the best release in the history of the NHL series and one of the most authentic action-oriented sports games currently on the market.
Review By GamesDomain
How to play NHL 2004 Windows
NHL 2004 is the arguably best NHL simulation on PC and is maintained by the community ever since its release. Go get the NHL 04 Rebuilt mod here: https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/nhl04rebuilt/nhl04-rebuilt-2018-2019-links-installation-info-t13.html
You may simply use the Interface mod to get the game running smoothly.
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