Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy
Sept 15th 2004
Introduction: ESPN Hockey time is here again! This years franchise of the ESPN NHL series holds the same high level of hard hitting action we're become accustomed to from Sega's ESPN line. Even without the amazing price tag attached to the game, ESPN NHL 2k5 deserves a chance by all sport gamers.
The Game:The game is simple to explain, its hockey! Shoot the puck into the net, right? That's what you might think from hockey games from the past. The non-existent AI, the simple shake and score technique on the old Sega systems. Times have changed and now with this generation of console games we look for more than just a simple game of hockey. ESPN NHL 2k5 keeps their yearly tradition providing deeper gameplay mechanics and more multiplayer driven game modes from last years edition.
The gameplay style of 2k5 is tilted more towards a real life simulation feel then over the top arcade action. NHL 2k5 has refined the AI of your teammates as well as the opposing making them more realistic. The players hold their positions exceptionally, and will cover all areas of play either offensive or defensive. The default settings are how Visual Concepts wants you to play the game although you will have the option to switch up every aspect of the game. The default settings might be too easy or hard for your ever evolving game skills so make sure you tweak the gameplay a bit until you find a perfect balance. I really needed to up the speed a bit, lower the injury count and raise the difficultly to find my perfect settings. I found the default speed to be a little slow, although that is to mirror real life hockey I needed a faster paced game. I was also loosing one to two players a game from injuries which had to be altered because the other teams where seeming fine. Although it could have been the rough style of hockey I like to play, blame it on my childhood.
With the gameplay covered, its time to focus on ESPN NHL 2k5's franchise/dynasty play! I loved certain aspects of the franchise mode, and I also missed others that ESPN's competitors' ave. Franchise mode starts the player off with the biggest choices which will affect the team, hiring the staff. You will be employing a Head Coach, Scouting Agent, Player Coaches and surprisingly a minor league coach! All the coaches have different bonus then others and remember happy coaches work better than mindless worker drones, so spend your money wisely in franchise mode because once its gone, its hard to make back. The scouting system is impressive in 2k5, and having the statistics of the little brother minor leagues is a great help. It's interesting to see how well the minor league team does compaired to their NHL conterparts in the big leagues. It doesn't hurt to scout as many players as possible, so make sure you use this function to plug up the whole missing in your team. The downside to the franchise mode is in its presentation, and lack of non-player options. It could be that I have spent too much time with EA NHL games, but I really miss setting the price of tickets.
ESPN NHL 2k5 has some new additions to its game modes and one will test your skill against the best on the ice, and the other will dull your mind with silly action. The test of skill is the 'Dream Team' mode where you will have to face teams in a ladder formation to reach the top. Once at the top you can produce your own Dream Team, although my skills where lacking in this mode I though it was a nice alternative to the regular all-star team approach. Now onto a crazy new addition to this year ESPN title, the 'Party Mode'. The party mode is made up of a bunch of little games which can all be easily picked up and enjoyed by anyone. It's strange to see this in a hockey game, but if you have a bunch of friends over it works and is fun. The games are enjoyable, but won't keep you away from normal action for long. I'm glad they stepped out of the box with this one, and it can only improve in the future.
Can you believe ESPN NHL 2k5 is going for the low retail price of thirty bones? It's a great deal considering 2k5 is more than just a clone of 2k4. There is enough extra aspects to pick this years game up if you have the previous. I think ESPN NHL 2k5 is headed in the right direction, the strong gameplay and extra modes will keep you going for a while. In the future my only gripe with the series to add some extra pizzazz to the franchise mode, and give us more distractions and rewards for putting days upon days of time into the game.
Graphics & Sound:The graphic and sound department of ESPN NHL 2k5 has received the littlest change from the older version of the game, which is fine in most cases. The graphics really look great, and added are a bunch of little cut scenes which help bring the atmosphere to life. Although what is going on with all the celebrate sightings? The one problem I had with the graphics is the on-ice cut scenes. Most of the time they pass by too fast when regardarding injuries, and penatelties. Every time I would have a scoring attempt I would get this smooth replay visual which rocked, but when my players got injured I wouldn't have a clue. The assortments of the cut scenes are nice, but I believe they need more balancing in future editions. Graphically ESPN NHL 2k5 is ontop of the pile of sports games, minus some little complaints.
The sound in ESPN NHL 2k5 is outstanding. You will know you're missing out in something if you don't have a Dolby Digital 5.1 system set up in your gaming area from the game setup to the constant reminders they pull out about the great sound. They have all the right to gloat about the sound because it is that good. The commentary is excellent and all the sound options top the game off. It's the icing on the cake especially with the Xbox's custom soundtrack feature! Sorry PS2 fans, maybe next gen.
Innovation:From 2k4 to 2k5 is really what comes into play when discussing the games innovation. I am sure that fans of the series will agree that last years game was so solid they didn't need to change much. Instead of changing everything around the developer focused on improving the game, which is more important. The coolest addition in the game is the "Intense Contact Control" which gives you easy access to defensive and offensive controls by moving the right thumbstick. You can also use the thumbstick while fighting if you so choose, but the main purpose is to deak and rough up the opponents with the flick of the stick. I found that I used the ICC a fair amount and wondered how I managed otherwise. It's a cool little innovation while its not groundbreaking, it absolutely adds to the game.
Now, I mentioned fighting and still unknown to me is why they have to mess around with the fighting systems in every hockey game. I though Blades of Steel was fine, but maybe its time to move on?!? ESPN NHL 2k5 has implemented a new free format fighting system is more like a fighting game where you circle your rival and act like Sugar Ray Leonard. Although this new fighting system is an innovation to 2k5, it took a turn for the negative in my books.
Mojo:ESPN NHL 2k5 has the mojo, and I've been a big hockey fan ever since I was a wee Downtowner. I'm a little shaken by last years finals, and I'm sure I want to accept that my team THE FLAMES!! Didn't get the cup, but here we are with a Tampa Bay player on the cover! Not to rant, but Tampa Bay ? Isn't it too hot in Florida to play hockey?! I guess I can understand. the players get free air conditioning.
Back to the game, sorry I got a little sidetracked. 2k5 has the right blend of gameplay to really make the mojo shine, I think the more simulated feeling in sports games the better than outragous arcade action, although they both have thier place. I loved allot of aspects of 2k5 and Sega's turn to ESPN has only been good for its sports line-up of games. ESPN NHL 2k5's presentation could be adjusted a little better, but the game modes, sound and new multi-player additions do wonders for this series. ESPN NHL 2k5 has the mojo and it's cemented into place with the brilliant marketing decision of lowering the price for all of us without an extra $ 30 to spend.
Lowdown:There is no reason for any hockey fan to be without ESPN NHL 2k5! Add one low price of $ 29.99 (CND) to jaw dropping NHL hockey action and you have a sure winner. ESPN NHL 2k5 is the best virtual experience of hockey to date. Pick this sucka up!
Gameplay: 9, Graphics/Sound: 7.5, Innovation: 8, Mojo: 9 . Final: 8.5