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cover

 

Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Sega

 

Developer

Visual Concepts

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

July 2004

 

 

- It only costs $20US for the same quality of EAís Madden 2005
- Xbox Live gameplay, including the option to form leagues and tournaments
- Saturated in ESPN broadcast-quality presentation
- VIP system allows you to game plan for opponents in your league and tournament matchups
- Great player and stadium graphics (crowds and cut-scene visuals leave a lot to be desired)
- Generally excellent controls help create a totally genuine virtual NFL experience

 

 

- Animations arenít too smooth while players are running
- Crib mode doesnít add much to the game
- Too easy for some online gamers to get continual sacks and heavy pressure on your quarterback
- A.I.-assisted defensive backfield not the smartest online
- Trying to find someone online ready and willing to play isnít always easy
- Average franchise mode

 

 

Review: ESPN NFL Primetime 2002 (XB)

Review: Madden 2004 (XB)

Review: NFL Fever 2004 (XB)

Review: NCAA Football 2003 (XB)

Review: NFL GameDay 2004 (PS2)

 

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NFL 2K5

Score: 9.2 / 10

 

nfl 2k5 review        nfl 2k5 review 

 

Drastic measures were needed. Despite creating an extremely good football video game since the inception of the NFL 2K franchise on the Dreamcast, developer Visual Concepts and publisher Sega could not get any better than a miniscule share of the football game market against Electronic Artsí juggernaut Madden franchise. Thatís even with the inclusion of mega-sports media organization ESPNís branding into the NFL 2K game. So this year, not only have the developers given us the best ESPN NFL 2K game yet, they have done the unheard of by selling a fully-loaded football game for only $20US. Yes, just $20 bucks. And they also released ESPN NFL 2K5 a full three weeks before Madden. (That same aggressive pricing plan is being implemented by the entire 2K5 sports lineup).

Sega doesnít realistically think it will sell more copies than Madden, but they want to close the gap as much as possible and the early release date coupled with the lower price has apparently worked wonders for the early sales of ESPN NFL 2K5. Madden is such a gaming phenomenon, selling by name and reputation alone, that Sega needed a clearly radical departure from the usual selling tactics. If it was a competition based solely on game quality however, Madden may find itself settling

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for second place. ESPN NFL 2K5 is a solid football gaming experience, although not quite perfection.

The newest additions to the game are a much more refined online gaming setup and more use of the ESPN elements. First, online play (which was part of last yearís game, too) is much better, although it has a few weaknesses. Borrowing from the popularity of fantasy

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league sports, you can create your own leagues and tournaments. You can have as many teams in a league as you want and they can be private leagues for a group of friends or colleagues or open to the public. There can be trading allowed and perhaps the best feature is the VIP (Virtual Identity Profile) system.

Each online player has a VIP that records their playing tendencies: what their favorite plays are; if they pass more than run; which direction on the field do they run to or pass to most; everything about their playing style. You can download their VIP to your Xbox and play a game with the Xbox using the VIP as its A.I. in respect to play-calling. You have the opportunity to truly prepare for a league matchup much like a real-life NFL coach would do on a weekly basis.

Online play isnít without its flaws, though. Depending on the time of day or night, trying to find someone thatís willing to play a game is sometimes difficult. When you do find a game, some issues prevent ESPN NFL 2K5 from shining at a five-star glow. The A.I. defensive backfield oftentimes doesnít cover receivers too well, even when you assign double coverage to key players on opposite teams. It is much too easy for good running backs to slam through and shake off defenders with what seem like impossible to shake tackles. Too many times I have had a runner wrapped in the backfield only to see him scamper out of a tackle for a huge gain.

Receivers make improbable catches too. I tossed a Hail Mary pass downfield and my receiver, literally covered by six defenders, caught the ball for a big yard-eating play. You can also get heavy pressure each down on the opposition by blitzing with your defensive line. This leads to an overwhelming number of sacks.

These types of scenarios just donít play out in a real NFL game much, and it can get very frustrating for both yourself and your opponent. But almost always you can get a competitive game online, because what little tricks and deficiencies work for your adversary also work for you.

 

nfl 2k5 review          nfl 2k5 review


Another impressive feature that youíll notice is the saturation of the ESPN-quality presentation. Chris Berman lends his voice and likeness to the game, and ESPN NFL 2K5ís highlights using the ESPN SportsCenter studios are amazing. At halftime, Berman will talk about the game youíre playing just as if he were really describing it live, including specific plays, situations, and the score at that time in the game. It really adds a sense of realism to your game. ESPNís Suzie Kolber also appears as the gameís sideline reporter and does post-game interviews. The only criticism of including Berman and Kolber is their graphical appearance.

Both are done virtually, and when they speak you lose that sense of reality because their mouths arenít moving in sync with the vocalizations. Crowds close up also donít look to well, but at a distance they are good. Stadiums have a high level of graphical detail, but where ESPN NFL 2K5 really stands out visually is the player modeling.

Arguably, ESPN NFL 2K5 has better player modeling and visuals than Madden. Players look like they should, including the proper body sizes for specific players and youíll really notice that for bigger 300-pound-plus players along the defensive and offensive line. The uniforms are impressive down to the last stitch and shine gleaning off helmets. Unfortunately, the animations of the players in motion donít nearly impress as much, particularly when they are running. They all seem to run with an unsightly gait that would indicate they blew a hamstring. The animations of the quarterback and both lines fares a lot better with much more realism to their movements (unless they are in full running mode). The cut-scene animations after a big play have been increased in number fivefold and are fluidly placed in the gameís presentation, although after a while youíll see the same animations.

The announcing tandem in the game doesnít come from ESPNís ranks. Instead, itís the twosome of Terry McGovern as "Dan Stevens" and Jay Styne as "Peter O'Keefe" who have been around the 2K series since the pre-ESPN involvement and are two of the best announcers (real or fictional) in sports video games today. I did notice a few name mispronunciations throughout the course of playing both my preferred team, the Philadelphia Eagles, and others, but the announcing and commentary remained top-notch, even considering the numerous repeat phrases and comments youíll hear in a typical game.

A couple of other game modes are the Crib and franchise. In the Crib, you get a NFL superstar-type house that you can decorate any way you choose a la Sims style. You earn money with your performance in games to buy such things as new furniture, audio-video equipment, NFL-related merchandise (including bobbleheads), and unlockables for the game. In the Crib, youíll also receive phone calls of challenges from celebrities including Jamie Kennedy and Carmen Electra, who play against you with an All-Pro caliber roster thatís extremely hard to beat.

NFL 2K5ís Franchise mode gives you the chance to run a NFL team from top to bottom. Itís not bad as franchise modes go, but can get a little too detailed, especially when you have to set up training regimens for players to try to upgrade their performance for the upcoming game. Not as detailed as an Electronic Arts sports title franchise mode, but not weak either.

Considering that there are some weaknesses in the online gameplay, ESPN NFL 2K5 still plays a genuine game of NFL football on the highest challenge settings. That is in large part due to the stellar control setup that takes every possible type of player control into consideration. Running controls allow for sneaking through the small spaces that good running backs find. While passing you can throw a lob or bullet-type pass and also lead receivers to avoid interceptions. The quarterback scrambling controls are easy to use. On the defensive side, you can shift not only your line, but your linebackers and defensive backs, including assigning double-coverage to players.

Maximum tackling gives you the option of a quick tackle or a wrap-up tackle depending on the situation. Every move is well designed seamlessly into ESPN NFL 2K5. Assisting the control setup in its quality is a Madden-like playbook selection, which doesnít allow your opponent to see which play youíre selecting as it had in previous NFL 2K games.

Despite the hard-to-believe $20US price, ESPN NFL 2K5 wonít outsell Madden again this year. But it will find its way into many, many more gamerís homes than it has in seasonís past (at the same $50US price as Madden) and the distance between Madden and another competing football game has clearly narrowed to the slimmest of margins. In fact, some people may commit the ultimate sacrilege for the Madden-heavy football gaming community and actually prefer ESPN 2K5 to Madden 2005. But even die-hard Maddenites will acknowledge that ESPN 2K5 is a very good football game that deserves all the praise it gets for making a strong goal-line stand head-to-head against the Madden powerhouse. ESPN 2K5 is so good, it isnít laughable to suggest that it claims the trophy as the best football video game of 2004.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(September 4, 2004)

 

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