Visual Concepts
Sega/GlobalStar
Sports
1-4
07.20.04

ESPN NFL 2K5


Another year of football returns! This year the competition is extremely stiff. With a July release date, the ESPN 2K franchise is seeing its earliest release in history. August or September, yes. But July? Talk about getting a jump on the competition. Up against each other again is ESPN NFL 2K5 and Madden 2005. ESPN Football has a little advantage this time, however. Not only did it come out 3 weeks earlier, but ESPN's price tag is substantially smaller as well. For only $19.99 you can pick up this blockbuster football sensation. This year Visual Concepts' message to Electronic Arts is basically, BRING IT ON!

At E3, this game was titled "ESPN NFL 2005." It appears they went back to the 2K roots, and are calling it ESPN NFL 2K5. Every year, the quality of this game vastly improves, and every year I say it can't get any better than this. Well guess what folks? It just got a whole lot better.

Gameplay

As many of you have read (from other NFL 2K reviews of mine), I haven't been blown away by a football game since NFL 2K on the Dreamcast, and then last year with ESPN NFL Football (2K4). How about this year? Well, let's just say that Visual Concepts had an awesome break-through gameplay engine in 2K4, and in NFL 2K5 they took that same engine and redefined even more. Not only has the gameplay improved even further, but the ESPN presentation is even more breath-taking. I have had much anticipated excitement before its release, and now I cannot stop playing it.

I'm going to get straight to all the goodies. When playing in the franchise mode, player's performances are effected on a weekly basis. You have the option to prepare for each game, and you have a week to do it. Here, you go through scouting and schedule certain events to take place before the big game. You are allotted a certain amount of time each day. You can schedule team meetings, coaches films, team drills, weight room, and a whole lot more. Each one of these modes has an extraordinary amount of depth, and I am very, very pleased with it all. For example, you don't just have a team meeting and that's it. You are the coach and you can set the mood or "theme" of the meetings (happy, angry, calm, etc). If you thought that ESPN NFL Football 2K4 was deep, you better take a look at 2K5. There's one more thing that I can't hold back. Let's say you want to train a specific player. Well, you have many options. You can set him in the film room for a certain amount of hours, or have him hit the weight room. And then, let's just say you choose the weight training. You don't stop there! Visual Concepts has taken the extra step, and let's you choose what you want to work out (arms, chest, shoulders, etc). After my explanation of some of these features, I hope you get a general understanding of just how deep this game can be. Your first time setting up the weekly schedule might be overwhelming for the below average player, but after spending time on it, you'll get the hang of things. Monday thru Friday is the main training and team scrimmages. Saturday you see the results, and Sunday you play (with the exception of Monday night games). The results will show each of the players overall results. Their ratings either stay the same, or go up and/or down. So watch the results each week to see what needs to be improved on.

There still a lot of franchise options. The front office is where you control trades, look at your team needs, and make all the necessary contracts. There is another section, ESPN.com, where you get all the statistics, e-mails with news, and your current power ranking.

The weekly wrap-up (now Sports Center) will show trades, scores, injuries, highlight clips, and everything else to make you feel like your watching ESPN on TV. The video highlights are a wonderful new feature. They actually show you highlights of important plays from the game you played that week! 2K4 never did that. The video highlights at halftime are even better because they show over 10 plays sometimes, and they are only found in the Xbox version. Xbox owners rejoice!

The VIP (Virtual Identity Profile) system is outright clever. Talk about advanced AI and cutting edge technology! You can now play your friends even when they aren't there! With the VIP system, it saves your friends profiles (and yours), and you are able to play with them at anytime. It matches exactly how they play. You can even play your own VIP profile and see if you can beat yourself. For the most part, we (Xbox Exclusive) found the VIP system to be pretty accurate. There was the occasional, "Hey, I never ran that play before," but for the most part was precise. Your VIP not only keeps track of "how" you play, but also every stat of "what" you did (i.e. completions, fumbles, passing yards, punts, overall record, and literally a hundred more). Overall, I like how it matches your tendencies of how you play. Remember the cool VIP system that I just explained? When you have a profile, you will get phone calls in the crib and you can play real life celebrities! Some of which are Carmen Electra, Steve-O, Funk Master Flex, and David Arquette. They will talk trash to you the entire game if they're winning, but if they are losing they will feel the pain. They will actually talk to you in the bottom left of your screen and you can even see their facial expressions. My one tip: don't lose to them. They will annoy you to death.

Okay, so let me get to the actual gameplay now. There is a new cutback system. When you're running and you make a quick turn, your player actually cuts instead of just turning unnaturally. This makes it a lot more realistic than last year, and completely adds to the fluidity of the animations. The automatic cuts are one thing that this game was missing. Another new option that you can perform, when you're the Quarterback, is an evade move by using the right analog stick. This enables you to throw lineman down and get a second chance to pass. It's a pretty nice feature, but your going to have to really pay attention to the timing when using it. Another one is "Maximum Tackle." This is where you are able to literally press on to gain a few extra yards. When your being tackled just tap the A button and sometimes you'll break the tackles you need to. This feature also works the other way around as well. If you are going in for a tackle, you can have it charged up for a big hit, or just a regular wrap around tackle. I think Visual Concepts always had this feature in their games, but now you have a little more control over it. You can also do a hit tackle by tapping X. The overall running game is still good, and I wouldn't want them to change a thing on it. Also when your on offense and you have your play all set, but you notice the defense has you covered pretty well, you can adjust an individuals route by using the "hot route" system. You can even assign that player block. My overall view of the gameplay is that it is silky-smooth.

One thing that I didn't like was some of the challenge calls. I caught a ball and I was in the 4th quarter with less than 2 minutes to go, and I really was in bounds. But the referees called it back. I had quite a few other run-ins with bad calls. I do, however, like the way the referees explain the challenge call. It's more advanced than last year. Another feature that has been absent in recent ESPN games is the ability to "raise the roof" and get the crowd pumped up. Maybe next year's version will have this!

Adjusting your defense is a little different than last year, but you can still make all the adjustments you need to. You can sub in other players (just like in 2K4) right before you pick a play. There are enough things to do on defense (besides calling audibles) to keep you happy. You can also choose who you want to double cover right on the fly.

The Crib is back, and it's bigger and better than ever. It must be over 10 times bigger than last year. The Crib now goes by credits. And you have to select and browse a catalog to view the items that you want/can buy. No trivia machine this year? No, this year the crib is virtually empty, and you have to earn your trivia machine. You unlock new catalogs as you progress in the game. There is seriously way too many items to even mention, but you can get posters, bobble heads, new wide-screen TV's, trivia machine, dart machine, and more and more. This year, instead of a username for the crib, it uses your VIP, so everything is all in one file. First person football also returns. It doesn't seem to have many changes or upgrades, but then again I didn't go into this mode too much because I was having so much fun with my regular franchise.

The play-calling menu is the same from 2K4, except Y goes back to the previous play, instead of B. My favorite, the lateral (and risky), is still intact. You can perform a hurdle when running with the ball if you click the right thumbstick. That wasn't in 2K4. Besides the 4 main face buttons, the triggers, and the black and white buttons, there are 5 moves to do with the right thumbstick. In addition the hurdle, you can do the stutter step, stop short, or use it to juke. The rest of the button set up is the same as 2K4.

One thing that I really want to make clear is that there is so much going on during a game. The fans, the cheerleaders, your stadium music playing, coaches yelling, and players getting upset all add to the ESPN presentation. This game's presentation is so far ahead of all other football titles on the market today, including Madden 2005.

At the end of any given game, you have the Gamecast stats. Every single play is saved in replay format for you to view at the end of the game! You can trace back to the 1st quarter where you had a touchdown pass, and watch it all over again! Every play! That's 15-20+ plays a quarter that you can watch all over again. This feature is really nice to have if you play with your buddies a lot, so you can clear up any quarrels at the end of the game. Also, at the end of the game there is the "Player of the Game" interview, and he is limited to what he says, but it's still pretty cool.

When a play is over, the game displays players getting up from the ground or giving each other high fives. If you press A you still see what happens because it zooms down into a smaller box when your picking plays. So you are never cut off from seeing action, rather than a boring huddle.

It just so happens to be ESPN's 25th anniversary, and this means a new mode! It's basically just certain situations that happened in years of football history that you get to play. There is also a lot of side options in this game. There is a whole explaination of football terms, and many other things that help you understand the game of football if you don't know much about it. As for the difficulty settings, the best way I can put it is, the harder the difficulty setting, the tighter things get. It's harder to pass and a lot harder to run. You can bump the difficulty up from the default Pro to All-Pro, Legend, or devise a custom one.

Graphics

Visual Concepts tries to put everything in real-time (shadows, lighting, rain, etc), and it helps the graphics out 110%. The grass looks different this year. Not necessarily better, but different on certain stadiums. I wasn't totally blown away by the graphics this year, but they are extremely good. It might just be me, but NFL 2K4's graphics seem to be a tad sharper than NFL 2K5. I guess I was expecting the players to look a little more high quality. But there are so many new animations and so many things going on at once, that it doesn't bother me as much as it did. There's noticeable differences with the player models. Their jersey's now appear to be wrinkled and have creases, making it look more life-like than ever. The visuals presented in ESPN NFL 2K5 make it the best looking and most realistic football game out.

Last year's fans were awesome, this year they are a hundred times better. The fans are shown tailgating, walking in, leaving, giving high fives and everything else a fan does. Unhappy fans walking out of a game early is what happens, and this game has that. The cheerleaders have much more for you to look at this year as their models improved. There are a lot of different faces, not just generic ones.

The Quarterback animations are much more realistic than ever before. The QB now throws a pass fully extending is arm. The previous NFL 2K games didn't look as realistic as this one does. As usual, the stadiums look fantastic. During a break (end of a quarter) sometimes you'll see the city outside the stadium with cars driving on bridges and roads. Fans act accordingly to how the game is playing. If it's a blowout, they'll start leaving the stadium. If the home team is kicking major ass, they will be cheering like there's no tomorrow. There are visuals in this game that have never been seen until now, and we can only expect more for next year.

Sound

Custom soundtracks for the stadiums! I have been waiting for this feature! Stadium music can be customized so much that you can have a different song playing for every situation. Your soundtracks don't just "play," however. VC added an echo effect to make it sound like it's actually in the stadium. The sound is probably the most upgraded aspect of NFL 2K5 and it's one of the first major upgrades I noticed. Besides the announcers having the same tone, if you were to just listen to the sounds of the game, you'd think it was a different game from NFL 2K4. I must stress that the sound is very different. This year all the big hits have changed in sound, and the game features "ESPN Game Sound," which by Dolby Digital. When a player gets injured on the field, you hear everything. You hear the player moaning, the trainer talking, and any other chatter about the injured player. This year you hear a lot of the on-field action. The QB's count sounds different, and it's nice and loud.

Replay Value

I could tell you that you don't need to buy another football game until NFL 2K6 comes out. Well, that is the truth. The online play is at it's best. You can set up tournaments or join a league. You can even set up a private league for just a few friends. Playing in a league permits you to play endlessly, and it's going to be punishing to try and stop playing. The multiplayer, VIP, and Crib are some of the main reasons that the replay value is so high.

Bottom Line:

This game is a football masterpiece. It's a lot more bulkier than any NFL 2K game I have ever played. The VIP system is brilliant. I often find myself contemplating what else can they add to this game? As I said before, there are things in this game that have never been seen before. There's so many new options, too! With this title coming out in July, with this price and this great game, it will have a lot of football gamers saying "Madden who?" The bottom line is…all football fans should buy this football game. I urge newcomers to try this game out. Now is the perfect time. After playing it, you'll realize this game is actually worth more than $20.

The best football game, at the best price is right here. You can't go wrong. If this doesn't make the competition more intense this year, then I really don't know what to say to Sega. They have the best football game around. Football fans, this is my message to you: This is Sega's ESPN NFL 2K5. You must go out and purchase this game immediately! Newcomers to the ESPN 2K franchise have no need to worry about learning this titles mechanics. The strategy guide for this game is also below normal cost ($9.99), and I do recommend this for the rookies. You can get the game and the guide for $30. You really can't beat that.

Related Links:

Official ESPN Videogames Website
BradyGames Website

-Steve Melanson




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