NHL Rivals 2004


posted 1/2/2004 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
One Page Platforms: Xbox
Winter…it’s cold. It’s miserable. It gets dark early, and you have to shovel snow(well at least those of us in the Midwest have to deal with these things). The only real saving grace about winter is the fact that it’s hockey season. Hockey has to be the most underappreciated sport in the world. You’ve got the hitting of football, the speed of soccer, and none of the lame standing around in baseball. Seriously people, watch the sport or, better yet, find a way to get to an NHL rink and get good seats (in the corner about 10-15 rows off the ice) and you’ll fall in love with the sport. If you don’t, then you really need to have your head examined.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s time to talk about Microsoft’s first hockey game for their XSN sports line, NHL Rivals. Like all sports, hockey has its share of historical rivalries…Edmonton and Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, Colorado and Detroit, Columbus and Nashville, the Rangers and fiscal responsibility. OK, so the last one was a bit of a cheap shot but the sport has had some great rivalries over the years and Microsoft has placed these great rivalries at the crux of its hockey franchise.

The graphics in NHL Rivals are solid but lag behind the other hockey franchises. The players all have generic faces so if you’re looking to see your favorite players on the ice the only way you’ll recognize them is by looking at the number on their back. The animations are smooth and I didn’t see a lot of jerkiness in the players. Occasionally, it felt like the game would speed up and slow down during replays. The game has a flexible camera system that allows you to zoom in/out as much as you want. The default camera view does a good job of showing all the on-ice action but you can tweak the camera to your heart’s content. The late release of the game does have some benefits. The Blue Jackets’ third jersey was included in the game, which is pretty cool (Atlanta’s new powder blue “pajama” sweater didn’t make the cut though…fortunately).

One thing that quickly becomes apparent after playing a few games is that there are really only two rinks in the ice. There is an outdoor rink for the practice mode and an indoor rink for the rest of the games. Sure, they change the logo at center ice and the jerseys the fans are wearing but that’s it. It’s the same rink over and over again. From a game play standpoint this isn’t a big deal but it really hurts the realism of the game. This just adds to the dated feel of the game as the EA and Sega franchises have had this feature in their games for a few years now.

The sounds of the game are decent but nothing to write home about. The on-ice in-game sounds (skating sound, pucks hitting the board, players hitting players into the boards) is solid. There’s a nice ka-chunk when you check someone, which is very satisfying. Where Rivals suffers is the absolutely awful play-by-play and color commentary. Microsoft brought in John Davidson to do the color in the game (which was a great idea as JD is a damn good hockey announcer) but the implementation is not so good. The play-by-play announcing feels a bit choppy. There doesn’t seem to be a big vocabulary so you hear a lot of things over and over again. Davidson’s commentary is solid but feels a little uneven as well (which is a shame as the actual commentary is solid). NHL Rivals does get some bonus points for some cool sound cues (whenever you pause you hear “We’ll be right back” from the announcer). As with most other modern Xbox games, you have your choice of the soundtrack that comes with the game or you can create your own from music files stored on your Xbox.
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