Review: NHL 2004

EA's yearly upgrade on their sports franchise games has received a lot of scepticism the last couple of years. And with good reason, a new release used to be nothing more than milking the consumer with slightly tweaked versions of the year before. This time they were extra ambitious and with a new development team they came up with some strong changes. Not that they have any choice, the competition is getting bolder, stronger and better.


Visually the whole thing has been slightly upgraded compared to last year's title. The player characters resemble the authentic players and their animations are impressive, as the replays will confirm. Very detailed arenas that are almost immaculate replicas; from the dug out to the ice that nicely mirrors the ceiling. The crowd, a much-discussed subject these days, remains 2D, though they seem to respond on the action on the ice.

A lot of attention on the menus has been spent and it paid off good. Menus can now be customised to your favourite team and each time you start up the game they show little movies of players chanting the EA Sports slogan.


A rather heavy soundtrack filled with loud and aggressive tunes from the likes of Deftones, Alien Ant Farm and Gob resulting in a pretty consistent rock theme. A plenitude of sound effects is represented in superb quality. The hits, crowd, clashes against the glass etc. are all realistically sharp. Game announcement is cork-dry and feels a little forced, as if announcers Craig Simpson and Jim Houston are dictating by means of a big book of hockey quotes.


The gameplay has a lot of depth, there are new moves like the saucer pass, the patented bruise control and also much optional quick plays during the game. But that's not all of it, besides choosing the action on the ice you can also prefer to become a General Manager with one of your favourite teams or your own customised team. As GM you have the ability to improve your team, facilities and staff. To do so, you have to earn points by winning matches, trading and contracting players and even cutting good TV deals or change the price tickets.

The database of teams has been extended as well; you can now choose out of 3 European leagues besides of course the NHL, NHLPA or your own created team. The possibilities of the create-a-player are a little disappointing; you can only choose out of a handful of faces with no control on adjusting the facial parts. You can select your favourite brand of equipment regarding helmets and sticks and that's about all you can do. This definitely could use some extra options.

For inexperienced players you can watch lessons in gameplay and strategy in the EA extra menu and there is also a movie about the new features in this year's NHL edition. There are 4 difficulty levels in the game, with a brand-new tutorial-like beginner's level in which you can play regular games as well as a whole season.


EA puts more emphasis on realistic gameplay making the experience less approachable. Passing, for instance, needs to be executed pretty accurate otherwise you'll lose the puck easily. This is a good thing for hardcore gamers, but frustrating for those who just want to play a non-compromised arcade type of game.

The new bruise control system is also one of those features which needs a lot of skill to put off, the reward is more gratifying when you get the hang of it, but takes a lot of patience. EA probably compensated this by giving gamers the opportunity to still stick to the old control settings, making this total control scheme an optional control preference, ending up most likely in a gimmick because of the though learning curve.


With the GM option in Dynasty mode, the term longevity is an understatement. There is al lot to do and a lot to learn before you can be a respected manager in the business. If you're up to it, is another thing. It takes an 'expert' to really know you way around the extensive GM mode and the average gamer probably sticks to the normal action gameplay without worrying about the financial side of the sport.

Final Say:

EA definitely felt the upcoming Sega breathing down their neck. It resulted in a much-improved fresh NHL title, just falling shy on Sega's excellent NHL 2K3. The hockey fans will have no regret to pick this one up because the gameplay has never been so versatile and fluent. It looks like EA is back and the future for NHL seems bright in the game industry.

N-Europe Final Verdict

Refines last years sloppy title, and then some.

  • Gameplay4
  • Playability4
  • Visuals4
  • Audio4
  • Lifespan4
Final Score



Dynasty mode
Realistic gameplay


Needs lots of mem blocks!
Stale commentary

© Copyright 2024 - Independent Nintendo Coverage Back to the Top