Platform: PS2, XB
Developer: Visual Concepts
ETA: September 2004
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ESPN NHL 2005
Sega and Electronic Arts crack heads again as their hockey franchises receive their yearly update. Although Sega’s effort is usually more critically acclaimed than EA’s NHL Hockey, the franchise seems to suffer from lower-than-projected sales but you’ve got to admire developer Visual Concepts for sticking to their guns. However, with a the 2004-2005 NHL season in very real jeopardy, it will be interesting to see if sales pick-up to fill the hockey void or get wiped off the map due to complete disinterest in the sport.
But on with the official line:
"We continue to innovate year after year," states Greg Thomas, president of Visual Concepts, the producers of ESPN Videogames. "Hockey is a dazzling spectacle of incredible speed and timely teamwork that makes it one of the most electrifying sports to experience. We have added features in ESPN NHL 2005 that will appeal to both the hardcore hockey fanatic and casual weekend warrior."
Players take control of their team's destiny and establish a hockey dynasty in the most comprehensive Franchise Mode with enhanced minor league management and full coaching staff control. New to Franchise Mode is worldwide scouting, which allows players to scout international talent. If a player is interested in a specific athlete, they can watch them in action and even run practice drills to learn more about the player's attributes.
The fast-paced nature of hockey is fully captured with ESPN NHL 2005's Full Intense Contact Controls. Getting physical takes on a new meaning with improved checks and new aggressive defensive tactics that can stifle an opponent or, if not careful, put the offending athlete in the penalty box. ESPN NHL 2005 includes more action and a completely redesigned fighting engine.
ESPN NHL 2005 would not be complete without the stellar hockey commentating duo, ESPN mainstays Gary Thorne and Bill Clement, who return to deliver the most insightful and entertaining hockey analysis. Further ESPN presentation improvements include cut scenes from the locker room, statistic-laden overlays, more music, crowd chants, and ice girls.
This year, there's only two choices for multiplatform hockey. (No Hitz for this year!) The field is a little thinner than last year for Xbox owners with Microsoft putting NHL Rivals on “hiatus.” (With EA finally throwing support behind Xbox Live don’t expect Microsoft’s first-party line-up of sports games to return.) Playstation 2 owners have the most choice with the return of the fledging FaceOff series, which returns from a hiatus itself.
I suppose what I’m getting at is that ESPN NHL 2005 has its work cut out for itself. It returns in 2005 as strong as ever (particularly with a revamped fighting system) and attention to detail that Visual Concepts has always prided itself on (even with games like Sega’s Soccer Slam), but with the tight battle for consumer dollars and the danger of no upcoming NHL season… it just doesn’t bode well for hockey games in general. Of course, that also forces developers to be on the top of their game, and ESPN NHL 2005 is pretty close to being there already.
(July 22, 2004)