NHL 2004 (Xbox)

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The longest-running hockey franchise in video games returns to the Xbox with a more robust Dynasty Mode, redesigned color commentary, a new fighting system, and full support of the right analog stick for both decking and checking. Budding General Managers can help upgrade their team's rink, practice facilities, coaching staff, and front office with experience points earned by winning games. As players spend more and more points on upgrades, the team will gradually increase its attributes and will be more likely to attract other free agents and draft picks to the city.

Another enhanced feature is the fighting engine, which is no longer a button-mashing substitute for boxing. Players will be able to chain moves from a grappling position, offering more strategic possibilities during encounters instead of rewarding those with quick reflexes. The collisions that often lead to fights have also been juiced up with more dramatic camera angles and new motion-captured animation. To help maintain its position as the best-selling hockey series, NHL 2004 fixes a number of presentation issues and promises a more realistic experience with computer players individually reacting to in-game situations rather than preset strategies.

Players who grimaced at NHL 2003's humorous approach to color commentary will be pleased to hear that Don Taylor has been replaced with ex-NHL player Craig Simpson, who offers a more traditional take on analysis. In addition to all 30 NHL teams from the 2003-2004 season, NHL 2004 offers 20 national teams as well as an international league composed of 39 teams from Germany, Sweden, and Finland.