Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: September 20, 2004
EA Sports' NHL 2005 is a massive endeavor into the roughest team game on ice. Ahh, bone-crushing, bloody hockey; it's certainly not the Ice Capades.
To set the record straight, I'm a hockey fanatic. I love the sport, I'm at every home game for my town's minor league team, and I head out to see the local professional team (Atlanta Thrashers) as often as I can. To say that I am heartbroken over the hockey shutout would be an understatement, but at least I have NHL 2005 to console me as I wait for the teams and management to work it out.
Before even playing the title, I was concerned that, at 13 pages, the instruction manual would come up a tad short, given the game's extensive features. It certainly wasn't as brief as I had originally feared; while it did not cover every nuance of the game, at least I wasn't locked out of the virtual hockey season ... sob.
The game allows the player to control every little minutiae of the hockey team on the ice, and the controls are as massively complex as they sound. In my opinion, this creates a steep learning curve, as I spent the first few hours trying to learn the game. After trying to figure out the ice shift patterns, I just decided to let the game manage who was on the ice at what time. I felt slightly overwhelmed by the amount of control that I had; the player can manage defensive strategy, offensive strategy, and face-off strategy with a flick of the controls. Some of the controls take a bit of controller yoga, but if the ice shifts are handled by the AI, it is not that bad.
NHL 2005 has many gameplay modes, including Play Now, Xbox Live, Dynasty, Exhibition, Season, World Cup of Hockey, EA Sports' Free4All, and the Elite Leagues. Before beginning, I would suggest going to the extra content and watching the videos on gameplay. After you have familiarized yourself with general gameplay mechanics, play a few games in Play Now mode, which helps with learning the controls.
Like all good hockey games, there is the popular fight mode. I enjoyed this a little too much and used it to my advantage. I worked hard at being good at fighting, and it became a strategy of mine to send the opposing players to the box. Fights are offered, feelings get hurt, and people go to the box. Power plays make my life so much easier.
Play Now mode throws you into a quick game of hockey, the outcome of which does not affect your game stats in any way. Xbox Live is essentialy a Play Now mode with the added fun of being smacked around by a 10-year-old with the mouth of a salty old sailor (yes, I am talking about you). Players can join in on ranked or unranked games, but there is a penalty if player drop out of ranked games, which is always a plus because it discourages people from ending a game mid-match just because they're sore losers. Now, we just need to send a few hundred bars of soap to some of the people online.
Also on Xbox Live is the ability to download current rosters from teams, which is a nice feature for fans who attend hockey games for some reason other than screaming for the ref’s head. Dynasty is every hardcore hockey fan's dream because they get to manage their favorite team over a span of 10 years. I found that the devil was in the details, and this mode did not appeal too much to me, as throwing elbows is my forte on the ice. Exhibition mode is basically the "Play Now" mode with a different name, while Season is another self-explanatory mode. The player runs a team through one season, striving for the Stanley Cup (during my season, the Thrashers won with only one loss).
World Cup of Hockey consists of the national teams competing against each other for the – you guessed it – World Cup of Hockey. The USA team did very well, given the heavy usage of elbows, body, and foot checks, but the other teams seemed to harbor some ill will (I wonder why?) and picked quite a few fights with us. I found EA Sports' Free4All to be an odd duck. It was basically a scoring frenzy that allowed up to four players to take pop shots at a poor goalie. The shootout is fun with friends, but this is such a minor aspect of the title that it is hardly worth mentioning. Finally, the Elite Leagues mode is the season mode in Europe. I played a little, figuring that I would be watching a lot of European hockey this year. It's interesting to find that some of the rules are a bit different. For instance, in Sweden, the highest scorer of the team has a gold helmet.
Without high definition, the game looks great. I think it should have had high definition graphics, but then again, I think all games should. The soundtrack is good too, and with surround sound turned on, I felt like I was at the stadium ... sniff.
NHL 2005 was very solid, even with the steep learning curve on some of the controls. The graphics and audio were more than adequate, and there are gaming modes for just about everyone. As a bonus, Xbox Live helps to bring the multiplayer mode to a whole other level. This title is perfect for any hockey fanatic, since it may be the only NHL action they will get this season. I would highly suggest NHL 2005 for anyone who likes sports games, but the controls are too complex for casual non-fans who just want to pick up a game and play effectively.
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