NHL Rivals 2004
Winter is officially over and Microsoft finished their first hockeygame. A somewhat late release compared to last years NHL 2004 (EA), but this shouldn’t be a problem. Microsoft brakes the ice with their debut in the hockeyworld, are they taking a big risk or is everything running smoothly?
Ever since sportsgames have had opening movies, I was easily irritated by the use of real footage in these intro’s. Intro movies should be cool and flashy and I feel this is impossible with real footage. Microsoft obviously feels that they do add a coolness factor, so they chose for real footage of the NHL. Of course this little “incident” doesn’t affect the overall feel of the game, but I just needed to clear this out, once and for all! As usual, NHL Rivals gives you all the possible playmodes you can wish for in a hockeygame varying from: Exhibition- to Season mode. Exclusive for Rivals is the Instant Rivalry mode. In this mode the Xbox randomly picks two teams who can’t stand eachother. You can just feel this isn’t going to be a pretty sight. You’ll find yourself beating up your opponent several times.
Hockeygames always offer you the opportunity to throw some left or right hooks or even make an uppercut when it’s getting to tense. Rivals is no exception here as players often go head to head for some good old “woop ass”. It’s fun the first couple of times but further down the game it’s really more appropriate to just evade a battle instead of starting one. The whole “boxing on ice” idea belongs better in an EA Big-like game where you can really beat your opponent up properly. True fighting game fans might think differently but I feel this doesn’t really boost the gameplay.
Enough trashtalk about the fighting part, it’s the actual gameplay that matters and to be honest, it’s quite good. Everything runs smoothly and the passes you give always reach their target. But it’s the AI of your teammates that makes for a mediocre gameplay. Those big dumbasses are often skating behind you instead of breaking through the defence, which results in a more “ego” gameplay. This doesn’t mean that scoring goals is a tough nut to crack, but you just can’t rely on your teammates. The same goes for defence. They rather stick on offence and wait for the puck to slide into their sticks. So make sure you’re back on D, fast enough to prevent your rival from scoring a goal. As with all Microsoft sporttitles, Rivals has the option to play online via the XSN Sports Network. This is actually the only advantage it has compared to NHL 2004, which is only online playable through the PS2.
The graphics aren’t that great either. The overall package looks good but it lacks depth. The replays aren’t really worth watching and the player animation isn’t top notch. Another important thing is the commentary. Some might not take it too seriously but good commentary can really boost the feel of a game. Sadly the commentators of NHL Rivals 2004 are a bit plain. They give a correct runthrough of all actions but some more funny oneliners wouldn’t hurt one bit.
Microsoft’s first attempt is a fairly good one. If they can fix the little problems, next installment might just be EA’s worst nightmare, but this version is just too plain. The only reason I can think of to buy Rivals instead of NHL 2004 is the online play. Players searching for a good hockeygame, without an Xboxlive connection, are better off with NHL 2004.