Sunday, October 26, 2003

"That's it ... I'm trading these two love birds."

I don't know why, but something about this screen capture from NHL 2004 just kills me.

By the way, since I've finally had a chance to play the game now, I can say that on the whole, I love the new franchise mode. It's just what I wanted. And not only is the fighting great, but I've already had one goalie fight! Awesome!

However, there are a few things about the game that I'm not crazy about, most of them having to do with things that were in earlier editions, but were taken out.

- The new menu system isn't intuitive and makes it difficult to get the information you're looking for. Particularly annoying is that you can't right-click on a player name anymore and pull up his info.
- You can't look at all players listed by their attributes anymore, unless you're doing a fantasy draft. When building a team, I always liked to be able to immediately assess who in the league had the highest potential. And it was fun to be able to immediately see who was the tallest man in the league, or who was the fastest, or who was the best checker.
- The post-game pop-up is gone, meaning that your goalie could be fatigued or a player injured or sick with the flu, and you wouldn't know it unless you went to the team report screen.
- Here I was hoping they'd put in the skills competition or Young Stars game, and it turns out you can't even play the All-star game anymore in dynasty mode.
- EA is taking their sweet time putting out the opening day roster update. They still have Johan Hedberg in net for Pittsburgh, but no Marc-Andre Fleury. And no Eric Staal on Carolina or Jordin Tootoo on Nashville. In fact, there don't seem to be any rookies at all. Who's going to win the Calder?
- Even when they put the rookies in, it'll still be hard to figure out who's leading in scoring, because they took out the ability to look at rookie-only scoring.
- The controls have been changed around a bit. I'll adjust to that, but most of my scoring was accomplished through deflection goals and these seem to be completely gone. (Of course, I only used deflection goals because that was virtually the only way to score on the hardest level, so if they've come up with another magic scoring technique, I'll use that.)
- The cyberfaces aren't amazing. They're kind of fuzzy-looking and lack detail. The ones for 2002 were better and the ones for 2003 looked great. Of course, the add-on makers in years past have come up with some terrific ones that beat EA's faces six ways to Sunday.
- EA seems to have made the game unfriendly to add-on makers. They've locked the databases so they can't be adjusted (so you can add the rookies or adjust stats, for instance) and I've yet to see any new cyberfaces or player photos for 2004. Of course, these problems will be cracked, but EA knows the add-on community is out there and they ought to make things easier for them, not harder.
- Some of the players still don't have photos. In fact, some players who used to have photos don't now. Why'd they get taken out?
- EA's added minor league teams into the game, but at the same time, they haven't. You can send players down and bring them up, and they do apparently improve their play through minor-league coaching, but your "minor league" team basically amounts to a list of your scratched players. I've got about eight players on my minor league team, which isn't anywhere close to a full roster. And the teams don't have names. The team names might not be there for legal reasons, but they don't even give the name of the city where the minor league team is, which shouldn't cost EA a thing. Say you're playing as the Los Angeles Kings and you send a player down. He should be going to the Manchester Monarchs, or at least to Manchester. This would be so easy to add.

All in all, it's a great game, but these issues bug me. Hopefully, some might be fixed in a patch, but realistically, I'm probably going to have to wait for NHL 2005 to get these things fixed.

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