(Microsoft, 2003)

My special Dud of the Month feature is here to take a critical look at the world of video entertainment but let’s face it; there is disappointment everywhere in life. How does that saying go: "life sucks and then you die?" I know that sounds kind of depressing but I'm not here to make you feel better, I'm just here to add fuel to the fire. Take Hockey for example; The 2004/2005 NHL Lock Out nearly destroyed the sport. OK, Although Hockey isn't as popular in other parts of the world but here in
Canada I really noticed a lot of bummed up fans. This isn't the first time the world of Hockey has disappointed me though. Take the dismal NHL Rivals for example.

Microsoft's XSN sports name was really starting to make a name in the gaming world and many are starting to take notice. Not only are these Xbox exclusive sports games able to support the Xbox Live so you can play gamers from around the world online (unlike the 2003 Xbox versions of the EA sports games) but some of XSN games like Top Spin Tennis and Amped 2 have been great titles so far. Microsoft now enters the hard hitting world of Hockey with their NHL Rivals 2004. Can Microsoft give us an innovative Hockey game with its new features like Rivalry games, and Pivot-Control ideas or is this game too inexperienced to compete in the big leagues?

Microsoft's Rivals is a fully licensed product of the National Hockey League (NHL) and that means this game plays just like real 5 on 5 Hockey like you would see on TV. You get all the real teams (like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Redwings) and most of the real millionaire players as well but what Hockey video game doesn't these days? What sets Rivals apart from the others is that you can develop instant rivalries with certain NHL teams to create some extra tension during games but these are purely random so real Hockey fans may be a little disappointed.

Even though I live in Canada and it's true that Hockey is very big in this country, I don't really watch tons of it on TV, nor do I play a lot of the games either. I still like to play a good game of Hockey now and again especially for the multi-player battles. Luckily for me I usually don't have to go too far to find someone who is crazy about the sport. Not only do I have a co-worker who follows every game of his favourite team (the Leafs of course) but I also have a brother who likes Sega's 2K series, plus a friend in town who prefers EA's line. So with their help I can easily compare Rivals to the competition.

Rivals starts out fine with some well defined looking players and they even come with fairly realistic, yet very repetitive expressions too. Sadly, the graphical issues begin to mount early in the game and the biggest problem starts with that stupid camera. The angles get to be so bad that you can hardly see the puck being dropped during a face off plus I actually seen player's bodies go through the boards to the black void of the other side. I don't mean they crash through the boards after a good hit either, I see player's go through the boards as if they were ghosts or something.

NHL Rivals also runs slowly compared to other games like ESPN Hockey 2K4 and NHL Hitz Pro (even the fastest option wasn't all that quick). There is a limited speed boost that can be used but I could barely even tell if the button was working or not here because my players were still moving too slow. Rivals was suppose to boast a cool new Pivot option that let's you stake backwards with the puck but this novelty feature doesn't seem all that important to the game play so I stopped using it. One of the few shining spots in Rivals was the sound thanks to the two man commentary and the option to use custom soundtracks but after a few games though the commentary already started to repeat the same lines over again and you can only use your custom tracks in oddest places like the title screen and option menus.

With all these annoying things going on, needless to say when my friends and I were playing some multi-player action here, it didn't take too long to turn off the game and play something else instead (I think they were pretty mad at me for even putting it in to be honest). Even the name Ice Hockey for the old 8-bit NES came up as a better game then Rivals. "How bad is that?" Maybe I wouldn't be so hard on NHL Rivals 2004 if there weren't so many other great Hockey games already available but that's the way it is. ESPN Hockey has far better presentation, EA NHL Hockey is a better simulator, and NHL Hitz Pro has much more furious action. NHL Rivals is good for Microsoft's first try because some of the sharp graphics and in-game commentary but all that just isn't enough in a sport where your teeth are optional.



*Custom Soundtracks

NHL Rivals 2004
overall rating: 50/100

For 1 or 2 players
Rated (E) for Everyone

graphics: 6/10
sound: 6/10
gameplay: 5/10
replay: 6/10

(Ryan Genno) 2004

See other Total Recall duds of the month