The overall look of the game has improved this year, especially in the replays department. The graphics seem to be more clean and crisp than past versions, but like I said earlier, it is more of a face lift then a re-modeling. Mixed with the new goaltender moves, the replays are a definite improvement. New goaltender moves you ask? Well, most EA fans know how they motion capture the players for other sports to make the stars of the game look more real in the movement department. Well, for the first year, EA Sports has taken some extra time and focused some motion capture with NHL goaltenders. It is some nice eye candy. I tell you, nothing is better than seeing a player deek the goaltender out of his hockey pants, then out of nowhere have the goalie fling his body across the crease having no regard for his own safety and getting a piece of the puck with the end of his stick. Oh, what a sight.
Probably one of the best new aspects of the game is the crowd. In between game action that is. The fans are still the classic 2D cardboard cutouts while the game is in progress. It is after a goal is scored that the fans really shine. They dance, they cheer, they boo, they hiss, they throw beer at the opposing team...wait wait, that's not true, sorry, I got caught up in my ultimate EA Sports Fantasy Hockey Game. So they may not throw beer at the referees but the overall look of the guys and girls that spent $50 to watch you play is a definite highlight of the game.
So there may not be that much improvement over last year in the graphics department, but the truth is that the game looks great. The problem is that with an entire year to work on a new layout, it's a little disappointing to not see more improvement.
Last year's commentators are back again, and they are even more annoying then ever. This being the only reason why I didn't give a perfect score for sounds. I do admit that no matter how repetitive they are though, they still manage to be funny every once in a while, somehow managing to throw in a good joke when you are least expecting it. Well ok, it is more like a joke that is so stupid you can do nothing but laugh at it, but you don't know if you are laughing at the joke, or at the person telling it. You know how it goes.
The good sound effects are back and there is an improvement over last year. It almost feels like the crowd is actually cheering for the team they are supposed to cheer for. For example, if you are playing a game in Phoenix against Colorado you could swear the crowd is cheering "Let's Go Red Wings."
The music in the game is very "rock" orientated making it enjoyable for my standards, but could be a little annoying for all you country music fans out there. My good friend Jimmy Eat World and the song "sweetness" braces the title screen. OK so he's not my friend nor I even know the guy, but it's still a good song. Would I pick it for the title song? No I would not, but I do not make that choice, now do I. The other songs are a surprise cause either A) When you hear them you are going to have that "NO WAY" attitude and B) I have no idea who he is.
As similar as this game seems to NHL 2002 with a new picture on the box, it is still a great hockey game, the one that you can enjoy over and over until next year's FIFA comes out. I have well over 100 games played on last year's copy and already of 50 on this year's. There is no better "buddy" game out there. Of course buddy is referring to inviting a friend over and playing a game with him. The only reason for not giving a perfect score is the lack of a better off-season. With no effort on changing that aspect it makes it too much like playing last year's game, and even though it is still exciting, a little change is always nice.