NHL Rivals 2004 Xbox
by Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by Microsoft Game Studios
Released - Out Now
Price : £39.99
As I'm sure you're well aware by now Xbox Live has been tremendously popular and a real success. In an effort to further enhance the appeal of Xbox Live, Microsoft have created the XSN Sports range that comprises various sports games (we've already looked at Links 2004, Top Spin and Amped 2) with the ability to create your own online league and cup competitions. The latest addition to this series is the ice hockey game (we'll just call it hockey from now on) NHL Rivals 2004. Let's take a look at NHL Rivals 2004 and see how it shapes up.
As you can guess from the title the game focuses on rivalries in hockey. The game modes on offer are Open Ice which is a free practice that doubles as a very simple tutorial; Instant Rivalry which is basically an exhibition match between two rival teams; Single Game which is an exhibition match; Season mode, Playoffs mode and Tournament mode. The first thing that strikes you here is the lack of options. Open Ice isn't really a gameplay mode as once you're happy with the controls you're never going to use it again. Instant Rivalry is similarly useless because it's just a pre-arranged exhibition game. You'll also notice that there is no Franchise mode. The Season mode does offer most of what you would expect from a franchise mode but it's just a one season offering that doesn't allow you develop your team like a Franchise mode does.
Xbox Live support is probably what you're looking at most when you pick up NHL Rivals 2004 and it's certainly an enjoyable online game. The usual Quickmatch, Optimatch, Create a Game options are all here and of course there's the option to take part in a XSN Sports league/tournament. You can either join an existing tournament or create your own. The online games are very enjoyable although as we've said before, Microsoft needs to offer text chat support for it's games as deaf gamers effectively have no way of communicating with each other and this does spoil the fun to a certain extent.
Of course game modes are worth nothing if the gameplay is not up to scratch. NHL Rivals 2004 does not disappoint here and it's offers a good challenge for newbies and hockey veterans alike. There are four difficulty levels, that range from junior league to all star, for you to play against. The controls are similar to what you'd find in other Xbox hockey games. The X button shoots whilst the Y button lifts the puck. The B button performs a deke and the A button passes. Pivot and accelerated movement are controlled with the left and right triggers. The left analogue stick controls the movement whilst the right analogue stick performs a manual pass. On-the-fly coaching can also be issued by the use of the directional pad. The controls feel comfortable and are easy to use. What I do find strange though is the pace of the game. It seems a little slower than most hockey games out there. This isn't really a fault though as the speed of the gameplay can be altered to suit your own taste.
The players in NHL Rivals 2004 have been divided into one of four categories. Enforcers, Agitators, Snipers and Balanced players all exist in the game and are denoted by icons next to the players name. Each of these player types have their own special abilities. Enforcers can do moves such as 'bump and go' and 'can openers' whilst snipers can perform 'spin-around' and 'stick clip'. These special moves are executed by holding and then releasing the B button. This adds that something different to the game play and it's certainly a nice inclusion.
Graphically NHL Rivals 2004 isn't the best Xbox hockey game out there, which is a little odd as it's the only one that's been made specifically for the Xbox. That's not to say it's a disappointment though and it still looks good but it's not the best looking game out there. More of a concern is the frame rate which at times doesn't appear to be running at the maximum 60fps. The slowdowns are never a problem and most of the instances are confined to the replays but they are noticeable. As you would expect a TV style presentation has been used and it does look good but a few more cutscenes would have been nice.
NHL Rivals 2004 doesn't cause deaf gamers any problems. We've often commented on sports games and how the game commentary is not subtitled. Rivals is no exception and as you would expect the commentary is again unsubtitled and it would probably been obtrusive had subtitles been placed on the screen. I suppose replays could have been subtitled though with a description of the goals/incidents being given in text. The Open Ice tutorial is given in text and all other information is given in text, which is great to see. The game manual is quite useful and whilst it's only 33 pages long it tells you what you need to know to begin playing.
There are three main hockey games out there for Xbox at the moment and I would say that NHL Rivals 2004 isn't the best one on offer if we look at the single player game. As a single player game it lags behind NHL 2004 and ESPN Hockey mainly because the lack of a full blown franchise mode. As a multiplayer game it probably just edges out ESPN Hockey because of the XSN Sports support that it offers. Still it's a good start and it's definitely a series that could become the top hockey game given time.
Game Rating: 7.0/10
NHL Rivals 2004 shows a lot of promise but when compared to the other hockey games out there it's a little thin on options, especially in regards to the single player game.
The game commentary is not subtitled but otherwise it's fine.