Steve’s Media Blog

Retro Review: NHL 2004

Posted on: April 1, 2009

NHL 2004 - Gamecube/Heatley cover

NHL 2004 - Gamecube/Heatley cover

I know, I know – what’s the relevance of a 6-year old video game – much less a 6-year old hockey game? To be honest, not a heck of a lot. These days you can be an actual player on your favourite team in a semi-realistic Be A Pro mode in EA’s offering. Compared to recent hockey games, NHL 2004 pales in comparison when you look at the features and gameplay that it offers.

BUT it is still fun. And that’s why I’m doing this review. My copy is for the Nintendo Gamecube, but NHL 2004 was also released for the PS2 (and the Xbox, I think), as well as the PC. Arguably the PC version is the best platform for the game, with tons of flexibility for add-ons and online play.

So why am I playing NHL 2004 all of a sudden? For a simple reason: it’s challenging. I played some playoff games at a buddy’s house on the PS2, and I was amazed at the difficulty level of the game. We got our butts kicked in both games (yeah we played on the same team) by the computer – on the MEDIUM setting. I was winning games by huge blowouts in NHL 2008 on the most difficult game setting available!

So I set out to create a new dynasty on my Gamecube copy. Same difficulty level – medium – and it’s even more difficult. You start with zero “facilities”, meaning your players have the lowest ratings possible without upgrades. Unless you start out with a stellar team in the first place, you’ll probably have a hard time. Case in point, my season record right now is 7-9-1-2. Oh yeah that’s right, you can still tie in NHL 2004.

As far as graphics goes, there honestly isn’t much of a difference between NHL 2004 and NHL 2008 (or 2009 for the PS2, frankly). The only difference you’ll notice is if you go from playing NHL 2008/2009 for the next generation consoles and play NHL 2004. The graphics in the game are quite impressive, and it’s easy to forget that EA Sports has been putting out games of this quality for quite a long time.

Now obviously the game isn’t perfect. One of the reasons it’s so challenging is because the computer is especially good at poke checking and blocking pucks. As a result, shot counts are usually inflated in favour of the other team. The computer also is able to score some really soft, flukey goals from angles that never seem to go in for you, and can be really frustrating. On the flip side, there is a really cheap move you can do that scores goals 99% of the time – score a backhand across the crease. Of course it’s easier to do that on a breakaway.

Penalty killing is insanely hard. The clock slows down to real-time when any team is on the powerplay. Essentially, if you’re playing a 5-minute clock, in previous games your powerplay/penalty kill would last about a minute or so – if that. Pretty easy to kill off the penalty when it goes by quick. Again, this is beneficial when YOU’RE on the powerplay (which leads to inflated powerplay goals), but it really sucks for two minutes when you’re killing a penalty.

There are a lot of options available to you in the dynasty mode, but I find the lack of an e-mail/message system really hurts the game. I got used to this feature a lot – it’s hard to keep track of when a player is going to come back from injury without it.

Overall, though, NHL 2004’s merits outweigh the bad parts. It’s a game I can just sit down and play, and actually have fun – because I know I’m not going to go 82-0-0-0. There’s nothing more rewarding than banging out a hard-fought win without using cheap goal tactics in NHL 2004.


5 Responses to "Retro Review: NHL 2004"

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