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Lunch » Tags » Video Games » Reviews » ESPN NFL 2K5

ESPN NFL 2K5

1 rating: 5.0
Sports video game by Sega for the PlayStation 2

Unbelievable football action for the hardcore fans who want to feel every hit, and lead every end-zone celebration

Release Date: 11 June, 2004
1 review about ESPN NFL 2K5

The Last Great NFL Football Game

  • Jul 2, 2010
Rating:
+5
Pros: Everything not listed in the cons

Cons: The celebrity game option is annoying, first-person football is a bit clunky

The Bottom Line: Hockey is still better!

Notes: This is it. The end of the line. This is likely the last of my preserved Netjak reviews that I can post on Epinions without either replacing very old reviews I wrote before Netjak came along or requesting that new games get put into the database. After this, I've just got a couple of commentaries. Anyway, I was royally angry at EA Sports when I wrote this, as they had just picked up the exclusivity license from the NFL, NCAA, PGA, and NASCAR. My anger definitely shows. Bad as the following review is, it was ultimately heavily edited. I was asked to rewrite the entire opening paragraph, likely because the original version referred to EA Sports as "communists." (Edit: Okay, I just found a spot to review Phantasy Star IV, so maybe the string hasn't quite run out yet. But it's close.)

That howling wind sound you heard on a recent date was the collective yelling and sighing of many a frustrated video gamer. The news that Electronic Arts had bought out the NFL license sent a real shock wave through the gaming and NFL communities alike. The dominance of EA Sports’ flagship series, Madden NFL, is known throughout the world. What many people don’t know, however, is that a large number of serious NFL devotees and video game hobbyists consider Madden to be average at best. Between their shady business practices and a lucrative new license that basically permits them to churn out average products, Electronic Arts and EA Sports have come under a lot of fire from serious video gamers. Fortunately for us, Sega Sports offered us one brilliant last NFL hurrah to last, for a price that makes you feel like you’re stealing. (And I NEVER say that.) Not only does ESPN NFL 2K5 bring us the outstanding Sega Sports gameplay we know and love, it gives us options and atmosphere aplenty. So if you choose to simply ignore video game-based football for the next five years, you won’t have to worry about missing anything.

I can’t personally blame Electronic Arts for buying out the NFL license. (Oh wait, I already do.) I’d be scared too if I had to come up with an NFL game which would top Sega Sports’ awesome ESPN NFL 2K5. At the end of my Madden NFL 2005 review, I wrote that Sega Sports has finally caught up to Madden in every conceivable way, shape, and form. What you’re about to read is an in-depth description of why.

Now, where to start? How do I begin praising the most creative, original, and playable NFL-based game I’ve ever had the pleasure of firing up in ANY console? I got it: The first thing you see in any video game today. The options screen. ESPN NFL 2K5 has got options up the wazoo. From the standard play to the unique first-person football to the in-game scenarios, the developers have given us all the standards along with some great exclusives that only Sega could think of.

First-person football is Sega Sports at their most innovative. Yes, it’s been done before, but the earlier attempts lacked an NFL license and the ability to play any position other than quarterback (which means you didn’t get to play defense). Sega may or may not have taken their inspiration from those early games for the Playstation and Saturn, but first-person football in ESPN NFL 2K5 is the most complete attempt. Truth be told, it’s not even all that engaging. It controls much like a first-person shooter, which I guess would be expected, but the two-stick layout means you’ll have to grow an extra thumb in order to effectively tackle an opposing player one-on-one. Even if that weren’t the case, the first-person football mode is recommended only to those who are looking to truly challenge themselves. It’s up to YOU to do ALL of the work in FPF. This means that after you throw a pass as the quarterback, the game will automatically make you the receiver - and YOU have to manually make the grab. It’s much more difficult than it sounds, and all the action going on all over will often leave you confused and wondering just where you are. But seeing football from that on-field perspective, up close to the action and personal, will undoubtedly leave you with a whole new respect for your favorite NFL players and what they’re able to accomplish on the real gridiron.

There’s an “all-time great game” mode which is basically there for nostalgia - or revenge, depending on your personal preferences. 25 of the most memorable moments in NFL (as well as AFL) history are playable, so you can go back in time and alter the outcomes of classic games and plays like the Ice Bowl, the Heidi Bowl, the Immaculate Reception, the Catch, the Drive, and the 32-point Miracle Comeback. The list even includes recent moments like the Botched Snap from the 2002 Wild Card game between the Giants and 49ers and 4th and 26 from the 2003 playoffs between the Packers and Eagles. Unfortunately, this mode is not without its bad points either; while I savored the opportunity to travel back to 1991 and see that Vince Lombardi’s trophy was brought to Buffalo, there was something unfulfilling about using the quarterback to throw a touchdown pass to the wide receiver instead of using Jim Kelly to throw a touchdown pass to Andre Reed. While it’s common for developers to merely slap numbers instead of names onto classic teams, I can’t get over the fact that newer teams, like the ‘99 Tennessee Titans, HAD their proper names in this mode. And don’t expect to relive these moments through a time warp, because the game forces you to play the entire scenario. I’m sure reliving the classic moments is possible with a thousand monkeys playing a thousand ESPN NFL 2K5s, but trying to directly relive them may result in an offensive pass interference call on Franco Harris. (Who, for those who don’t know, caught the Immaculate Reception.)

The franchise mode in 2K5 is the most detailed of its kind to ever be introduced to a video game. This season, the team’s weekly training, practice, and meeting routine are all your responsibility. It’s up to you to decide how long your players spend training and listening to the coach berate them for not being grateful to be playing in the NFL. This is even more challenging than it sounds because you have to make the choices for each position on each day, just like Jon Gruden or Bill Belichick. Between these very realistic coaching duties and your duties as both player and general manager, controlling a franchise in ESPN NFL 2K5 becomes a true 24/7 job. Casual players may be put off by such an in-depth franchise mode, and Sega Sports realized this. So they were nice enough to allow you to skip certain aspects of running the franchise. If the weekly preparation sounds like too much of a hassle, you don’t have to go through it. The only real flaw about the franchise mode is the computer’s apparent stupidity in its fantasy player drafting - I can’t figure out how Ray Lewis was still available after the first round. (Of course, I didn’t bother wondering about this. I immediately drafted him myself at that point.)

In Madden NFL 2005, EA Sports brought Storyline Central to its players, which allowed them to see what the media thinks of their team. Sega Sports’ excellent use of the ESPN license obliterates what was halfheartedly coughed up by EA Sports. While EA Sports merely provides you with a series of bullet paragraphs and a radio show which says little about how individual teams are doing, Sega Sports gives you an entire mini post-game show which stars sports swami Chris Berman providing the voice for a computer-animated version of himself. This show has the feel of an episode of Sportscenter, replete with scores, highlights, game balls, and the nicknames Berman gives to players. There are also post-game interviews once the final score is announced, which are well-executed despite the players giving a lot of bland, generic answers to the reporter. The only flaw with the show itself is incredibly minor: In reference to any number above 60, Berman doesn’t say the exact number. He merely calls the number “a bunch.” This results in silly scores like “a bunch to 21.” Really, though, how many armchair football vets expect to score that many points?

For the last few years, Madden has given its players Madden cards. Last year, Sega Sports introduced their response to Madden cards: The Crib, an interactive living room that you can decorate to fit your personal styles. To buy the decorations, you must first earn points in football games - generic, franchise, whatever, as long as they’re games - by doing regular things like passing, catching, tackling, returning kickoffs for touchdowns, and other typical football stuff. Then you buy them from catalogs that you unlock at intervals or milestones (I couldn’t figure out which). Some of these items just make your house look nicer, but others provide videos that you can watch in the home theater, or new players to use in football games, or mini-games. Part of the fun with the Crib is that there’s so much to buy, you’ll want to get everything and just switch your Crib around to see how everything looks. While you don’t get cheats from the Crib items, you can get unusual things like bobbleheads and old, rare jerseys (like Brett Favre’s Falcons jersey). And unlike EA Sports, Sega Sports doesn’t attempt to blackmail you by only offering you certain items if you have other Sega Sports games in your memory chip.

But enough about modes - you’re wondering if ESPN NFL 2K5 delivers the goods on the gridiron. I grab you firmly by your shoulders and respond “Yes, YES it DOES, my trusting friend!” Sega Sports didn’t take any risks this time around, but ESPN NFL 2K is still the pinnacle of football gameplay excellence. The running game provides you with silky-smooth controls. The players don’t move around like Lambeau Field was completely iced over, so whether your action as a runner is to just make a hard dash into the endzone, spin in order to break a tackle, or switch direction because the hole you intended to run through closed up, it’s all easily done. The evasive moves, like in real life, only work depending on certain conditions, and whether you break a 60-yard run, an ordinary five-yard first-down dive, or get stuffed behind the line of scrimmage depends on how good your running back is and how good a job your offense did on countering your opponent’s defense - just like it should.

Running a passing offense is a pleasure. The quarterbacks release both kinds of passes - short and long - smoothly and without delay. Sega Sports understands that when a defense puts enough pressure on a quarterback, the quarterback is sometimes forced to let go of the ball before any of his receivers have completed their routes. Therefore, if your own quarterback is forced to let loose early, you won’t see the ball float 15 feet in front of the receiver. You’ll see the quarterback at least try to make the pass as accurate as he can, and if you get really lucky, someone will make the catch. When the quarterback is in the pocket with all the time in the world, and his receivers have all left their covering defensive backs in the dust, a short pass is still more of a given than is realistic, but the chances of hitting a receiver depend on how far away from quarterback he is, and how good the quarterback is. A great quarterback/receiver duo like Donovan McNabb/Terrell Owens will more likely make a big play than a worse duo like Joey Harrington/Tai Streets.

Sega Sports likes to advertise an untried type of depth with its defensive game this season. I’m not sure what the detail is, exactly, because I really didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. The defensive controls are the same they always were. You still have the option of powering up your choice of defensive playmaker, which helps bring those gargantuan ball hogs like Ahman Green to the turf. Fumbles are still rare, but if the quarterback throws a bad pass, picking it off is easier than ever. The effectiveness of tackles depends on how far away you are when you attempt one - a mediocre guy like Dez White will go down if you wrap his legs after diving from ten feet away, while Randy Moss can still stand tall even with a tough linebacker like Takeo Spikes breathing down his neck. Every one of these commands is responsive, and excessive sliding like in EA Sports games doesn’t exist, so it won’t keep a defensive lineman from blasting a quaterback when he gets the chance.

There are only two flaws that really marred the experience for me: The first was the difficulty, or rather the lack of it. On its default difficulty, ESPN NFL 2K5 is only as tough as the easiest difficulty setting in NFL 2K3. On its easiest setting, ESPN NFL 2K5 is as easy to beat as Tetris is to play. Your team, no matter who’s playing, will play like it has the offense of the ‘98 Vikings and the defense of the 2000 Ravens. If you’re a well-worn armchair quarterback, you’ll have to really ramp up the difficulty for the game to even begin to challenge you.

The second is MUCH more annoying: As you go about your business, coaching your favorite team to the Super Bowl and decorating your nice Crib, you’ll periodically receive phone calls from certain celebrities who want to challenge you to a game. My first beef with this unnecessary feature is how liberally Sega Sports used the term “celebrity.” Ask any random person out on the street who Jamie Kennedy is; he’ll probably turn out to be related to JFK. Funkmaster Flex, for all I know, is a fitness guru. Of the five “celebrities,” only Carmen Electra is known by enough people to fit that description. However, the REAL annoyance begins once you accept the challenge. All of these “celebrities” have self-selected all-star teams which are very tough to beat. And as your game goes on, the “celebrity” in question sits there taunting you whenever you give up a first down, big play, or any kind of score. The game drags on for what seems like an eternity. Once the game is over, even then the “celebrity” isn’t through with you. Even though I used the NFL all-pro team provided by the game to stomp David Arquette 45-0, Arquette was still calling at intervals to whine. If you lose, the “celebrities” supposedly call to taunt you. I wouldn’t know about the taunting, since my game with Arquette was the only celebrity game I play through to the end, but Arquette’s constant whining actually took something out of my enjoyment of my victory.

While EA Sports improved their player models, they still have nothing on Sega Sports. ESPN’s player models look incredibly realistic, and it’ll be a couple of weeks before you see every animation the game has to offer. All the player faces were captured in the uniqueness, so all of the players look like their real-life counterparts. While Sega Sports didn’t put in certain nice little details like sunsets and weather changes, they did include essential aspects of the graphics that help place their series in a real, genuine NFL atmosphere - something Sega Sports struggled with in the past. People roam on the sidelines, and there are many shots of fans cheering on their favorite teams - even fans of opposing teams. The graphics aren’t as bright or colorful as they could be, but the incredible amount of animations more than makes up for that.

The sounds also fit into the atmosphere. I had a hard time telling whether or not the music was licensed. However, if it isn’t, then the hip-hop music heard in the Crib mode is very low-key and somehow fitting for the atmosphere. The menu music is a typical Sega Sports composition - it exists with no real purpose, but it’s unobtrusive. The voices steal the show in this game. Both announcers return from the previous NFL 2K games. The difference is that this year, there’s no generic, bland, faceless voice performing anchor duty for the post-game show. We see an animated Chris Berman, with plenty of dialogue, going over the scores, players, and plays of the week. The voices are all crisp and crystal-clear. While the lines could still use a polishing, they rarely repeat themselves, and they’re still better than anything the half-baked writers at EA Sports ever pulled out of their...

This is all there is to it: If you want an accurate sports simulation, Sega Sports is your go-to company. While EA Sports decided to run in place, Sega Sports made progress. We may be stuck with this edition for the next five years, but it’s an outstanding little sports gem to be stuck with, and for a price tag that can’t be beat. And look at it this way: If Sega Sports made an NFL game THIS good right now, just imagine the big gun Sega Sports will unleash when it can start making NFL games again in 2011! But until then, let’s forget Madden; we’ve got ESPN NFL 2K5, and I, for one, refuse to be bought by EA Sports.

Recommended:
Yes

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