Few sports in Australia are as little understood yet so fascinating as ice hockey (known simply as ‘hockey’ without the ice to most of its players, including the National Hockey League itself). More developers have begun making ice hockey games in the last few years. NHL Rivals 2004 is XSN Sports’ first effort, and it’s a good one. Whether you’re in practice mode, a tournament or grinding out an 82-game season, Rivals nails every requirement of an NHL sim. All official teams and their rosters are available, and players can be traded, created, edited or deleted.
On the ice, players can perform special moves and master a variety of passes, shots and checking actions. A player’s skill may depend on whether he has an enforcer, agitator, sniper or balanced role. Each player also has a speed, fatigue and fuse meter (for fights), which factor into gameplay. The commentators and crowd react well to game events, and arena music is limited to breaks in play.
Rivals offers four skill levels, and good goalie AI means scores shouldn’t look like they’ve come from a cricket match. Adding to the game’s longevity are the special teams and game types to unlock, as well as playing with updated rosters on Xbox Live.
Part of a very stable genre, Rivals has no glaring flaws. It’s only what other titles have in additional teams, game modes and animations that might be the difference.
Visuals: Crisp and detailed
Audio: No arena music during the action, “Charge!”
Gameplay: All licensed NHL teams and players, plenty of moves featured
Developer: XSN Sports Publisher: Microsoft