Picture 1 Picture 2 Picture 3 Picture 4 Picture 5 Picture 6 Picture 7 Picture 8 Picture 9 Picture 10 If anyone wants any specific pictures, ask and I will do me best to post it... Impressions For the last couple of year's EA's NHL series has pretty much been a laughing stock, arcadey action over simulation, this year EA's brought in a new developer in Black Box to turn the frachise around. They have made a ton of improvements, but they still have a lot more to make. NHL 2004 is going to be the best EA hockey game since the genesis days, better then any of it's previous 3d brethrens, thats for sure. However I don't think it will be taking the crown from Sega this year. However all these impressions are from the demo... Graphics From what I have seen in the demo the graphics got a nice upgrade from last year. Player models look better then they did before, new skating, shooting, goalie, hitting, dekeing, poke check, hooking, and board animations all look great. Textures could be better, but I figured since it was the demo they might not have included the highest quality. Player head sometimes look a little large as well, but only at times, other times they look fine... Gameplay It's a lot better than it was last year, but it still has a ways to go. Defensive AI is really tough on the harder levels, I never scored more then three goals on the highest level, if you skate too close to defenders they will hit you, hook you, steal the puck, and get turn overs. The offensive AI is a lot less impressive, teammates don't do what they should do, on a few two on ones I found my teammate skating behind me, towards me, all kinds of stupid stuff instead of going to the net for a pass. Speaking of passing, the passing system is a lot better, probably the best in the biz, you have two passing buttons, one for an ice pass, the other for a saucer pass, the long you hold the button the harder the pass is, you also control the direction of the pass to a degree and you will often find yourself putting passes ahead or behind your players if you miss by too much, very nice indeed. The same goes with passing off the boards and dumping the puck. I don't have a gamepad on my PC with analog sticks, so I was unable to really test dekes and the bruise control, as well as the strategies. players react naturally to hooks, twisting and fighting through them at times, losing the puck sometimes, getting dragged back at other, I would like to see them go further with this next year, I feel like you lose the puck to often when a guy is skating behind you, hooks you and then steals the puck, it works well currently, i'd like to see it improved next year. There are a lot of moves to pin the opponent agaist the boards and in open ice to tie them up, the problem is, if you have played segas hockey, if you get pinned, you have a chance of fighting it off, moving along the boards, or kicing it along the boards, in NHL 2004 if you get pinned you are pressed against the boards, you lose the puck, and its basically a race between the other 4 guys on the ice to get to it first, this needs to work a little more like segas, you don't always lose the puck when you on the boards, you don't always have full control either, this area can be improved. Bottom line, the gameplay is actually fun, feels like hockey, gets tense at times, but it needs more work to be perfected. You won't be scoring a lot of goals on the higher difficulty levels which is nice, haven't found any sure ways to score, but like in real hockey if your one on one with the goalie you have a good chance of scoring if you make the right shot and or deke which is very nice. Controls The control setup is much different then anything I have seen before. You have pass, saucer pass, shoot, and check on the four face buttons, R1 is speed burst, l1 is a modifier, l2 is hook, and r2 is line change. on denfense you can poke check and check, when using the modifier you can dive or block a shot. Personally I am not too wild about the setup, it isn't bad, but it needs to be better. you should have to modify a shot to be a slap shot, instead of just holding the button down longer, the same with the passing, one button for passing, modifier does a saucer pass. the control of the players is really nice at times and really akward at others, really nice in open ice, really akward along the boards, behind the nets, and in situations where you don't want to move as far or as fast, maybe the fact that i didn't have an analog stick was the difference here, I guess i will find out next week.. Bottom Line A very nice turn around effort by EA to compete with sega, a lot of nice additions from what i have seen, still a lot of work to be done though, but it feels like hockey this year. I wasnt able to test a lot of features like the new franchise mode, but I will post a full review next week of the ps2 version of the game.