I'm Writing this in the middle of a heatwave, sweat stinging my eyes and thought processes slowed down due to safety restrictions. It feels like there should be a hypnotically slow ceiling fan spinning above me and Marlon Brando lying in the corner babbling about some horror or other.
Only one thing has managed to cool me down. No, it's not NHL 2004, great though its depiction of ice rinks are and refreshing as its simple yet addictive gameplay is. It's the bag of frozen peas I've stuffed down my underpants. But let's talk more about the game.
The annual review of NHL is hardly one of the highlights of my gaming year, concerned as it usually is with trying to spot a difference from the previous edition, praising the gloss and fast-paced fun and, finally, advising everyone to buy last year's version on budget.
For once though, instead of taking NHL 2003, refining it slightly and sending it out into the world with a hefty price tag and a new number on the end. EA Sports has gone for a complete redesign.
It might look identical in many respects but there is a real difference in the way it plays, with much more accessible gameplay. It takes time to master, but you do feel more « in control than in any previous incarnation. For hardcore players there are new levels of realism, from the Al and puck physics to the tactical options. Multiplayer has been improved too (you can now create online clubs) though there still seems little point in playing someone you can't scream and laugh at.
Crucially, the most important part of hockey has been given an overhaul: the violence. While previous titles ended up being little more than Pong with men, NHL 2004 reintroduces Slap Shot-style carnage. Fights don't take place randomly any more and you can grapple and throw punches in an occasional mini-game, while being able to trip players during the match itself, as well as elbow them in the face and crush them against the walls hard enough to smash the glass panes.
Although I would have preferred it go further down this arcade route, NHL remains a simulation at heart. It's not going to attract a new audience, but for hockey fans this is a worthwhile upgrade.
Download NHL 2004
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP