Sega continues its onslaught of budget priced sports game with its hockey iteration, ESPN NHL 2K5. The third version of virtual hockey on the Xbox comes to us via developer Kush Games who also developed last yearís version, since they tookover the position from Treyarch. Sporting improved and unmatched ESPN presentation, does Sega still have the goods, among other things to compete with the unstoppable EA juggernaut? Gameplay:
If youíve played any previous game of the 2K series,the gameplay will no doubt be similar to you. Sega's hockey series still remains one of the most fun sports games on the market. The trademark hockey elements of speed and viciousness that makes the sport so appealing are all in act and they all work so well. The gameplay is fast moving and very fluent, which makes this hockey sim all that much better and more realistic. Even though the 2K series boasts realism, that does not stop it from being fun, in any way, shape or form.
One of the things that impressed me the most about ESPN NHL 2K5 was the sheer amount of things to do. Sure thereís the usual things, exhibition, season, quick game, etc. But 2K5 goes the extra distance adding in an incredibly deep franchise mode, where you play a team owner and do all the expected things, such as hiring staff, managing finances, as well as playing games. In franchise mode, youíre given live scouting, minor league management and full coaching staff control. The newest gameplay mode addition, party mode is by far the most fun and makes NHL 2K5 a superb multiplayer game. Party mode plays just as it sounds, like a party game a la Mario Party or Fuzion Frenzy, in which you engage in up to fifteen different minigames, such as skating in figure 8s, scoring on unmanned goals, using teamwork to pass at strategic points to open up a barrier and many more. The party mode of the game not only improves this game, but it sets it apart from anything else out there. There are also training modes, in which you can hone your skills in many various exercises. There is the Dream Team challenege, which is pretty much self explanatory, as you face off against star players from the NHLís past, and of course the Skybox, which gives you a personal connection to the game. The Skybox has been updated, as has the wealth of features included in it, such as unlocking old jerseys, playing a trivia game, or even playing an addictive air hockey minigame, but it still doesnít offer the depth or options that the Crib in ESPN NFL 2K5 offers.
The A.I. in the game has been beefed up as well, which allows for much more interesting games. I remember in NHL 2K3, that scoring a goal was incredibly easy, as you just had to skate full speed, and then turn slightly to shoot at the opposite side of the goal, where the goalie would never be. In NHL 2K5, the A.I. adapts to your moves and the goalies are much smarter at being able to predict your moves, because the same thing twice in a row will not work. Amongst the list of overhauls is the fighting, which has gone completely 3D for this game, which is a brilliant breath of fresh air. You are no longer confined to a 2D fighting area, and youíre free to move in circles or wherever your heart desires. Along with the revamped fighting, the revamped A.I. comes into play, because fighting takes much more strategy than it used to. While this fighting engine is no Dead or Alive quality engine, itís much more engaging and most importantly, fun, as opposed to previous 2D fighting versions. The game itself requires much more strategy, even in mini-games, as some tactics will work well, while others will not, the passing in this game also becomes a necessity and working with your teammates is the key to success.Graphics:
One of the main things that has plagued previous versions of Segaís hockey series was the average visuals, and 2K5 is a definitely step in the right direction. The first thing you'll notice is how good the audience looks, they are all fully 3D characters and they look just as good as the players, which shows the attention to detail that was paid in this game. While the game itself isnít as pretty look at as its football bretheren, itís no slouch either. The levels are detailed, whether they be a regular arena or some obscure one in the desert, but with the Xboxís power, they donít look as good as they could/should. The game just feels to be lacking the sense of graphical polish that the other sports games have, as shown by some jaggies and just some bland environments. Sure, itís nice to have an arena that shows the wear and tear a hockey game causes it, as well as enthusiastic 3D fans, but the overall graphics arenít as crisp or detailed as they should be. Audio:
Ah, the wonderful sounds of hockey, no hockey game could ever be complete without the aggressive grunts and sounds of collisions when players check each other. ESPN NHL 2K5 does an impressive job of making you feel you are not only watching and controlling a hockey game, but that you are right there. Long time commentators Gary Thorne and Bill Clement are back, and due to their time with previous incarnations, they sound much better and more realistic than they have in the past. The commentary is insightful and gives a sense of immersion, because of the fact that Gary and Bill sound so real and content doing their voiceovers. Nothing from them sounds forced or read, it actually sounds like theyíre actually there, whether they be discussing the game at hand or recalling previous hockey events, or just going off topic. The commentary adds a lot to the game, and having it off makes the game quite a bit more dull. The game also supports custom soundtracks, and while they arenít allowed during a regular game, they make party mode that much more enjoyable. Controls:
One of the most important and deciding factors in any sports game is the controls, if the game doesn't control well, then who wants to play it? Well, NHL 2K5 controls fast and is very responsive, like previous versions of the game. There have been many more important additions to the controls, and they all work quite well. Youíre now able to deke (thrust your stick at the puck if your opponent possesses it) with the right thumbstick and use Y in conjunction with the left thumbstick to flip the puck into the air. With more controls comes some more confusion when you first get started, and more strategy elements added. The basic control scheme which weíve gotten used to, has graciously been kept. X is shoot, A is pass, R is turbo and so on. Itíd be a waste of space to list out all the controls for offense and defense, and whether you have the puck or not, because thereís so many. Youíre able to view the controls in the game, which may offer you some insight into something new, that youíre strategically able to implement and add to your gameplay strategy. While the controls were very well done, I found myself jumping into the game, and then using the in-game control display to look up more moves, as youíll need it to be your best. One thing I was disappointed with, was the diving feature, which was one of my favorite parts of NHL 2K3, it doesnít seem as responsive in this yearís version, and sometimes youíll be sliding on one knee instead of a full body dive, which makes me press Black a lot less. Even though the full body dive has been tampered with, itís probably because it was a bit cheap in 2K3, giving you an almost guaranteed shot blocking movie, despite how fun it had been. Replay:
As if the incredibly fun main gameplay wasnít enough to keep you playing, this game is loaded with many extras. With the exclusive ESPN presentation and Xbox Live capabilities, you are able to stay connected and receive constant updates from ESPN.com which is something that no other game can offer. The cornucopia of gameplay modes is almost overwhelming, there's just so much stuff to do in this game, and that's just for the Live-less folks. The season and franchise mode are guaranteed time consumers as they require a lot of time devoted to them, in order to get the full experience out of them. Quick games, and especially the party modes are sure to place 2K5 at the height of the offline multiplayer experience. Even if you don't have Xbox Live, thereís no reason not to own 2K5, especially if youíre a hockey fan, because the offline is so rich with options and modes. Summary:
Having already proved that its budget priced games did not sport budget gameplay with their NFL game, Sega has proved that their NHL game does indeed follow suit. With the exception of NHL 2K, Iíve immensely enjoyed all of Segaís next-gen hockey games more than the games of any other. Offering realistic gameplay that is in a league of its own, because of how incredibly fun it is, there is no equal for this game. Sega continues to prove that its sports games are great titles and definite purchases for any hockey fan, especially online. While EA has gone online with its titles, itís hard not to ignore all the horror stories of poor technical experiences, massive amounts of lag, and just a downright disappointing Live experience. With EAís NHL 2005 releasing three weeks after 2K5, the full price theyíre charging for a late title and an almost guaranteed broken online experience is downright unfair. One thing I was a bit disappointed in, was the lack of a fresh feeling game, while many elements were new, it did still feel a bit more like it was just updated. This version is easily the definitive hockey game for simple hockey fans or their hardcore brethren, due to the new additions of party modes and the vast amount of options, coupled with incredible Xbox Live play that is a great experience (especially because of the minor to no lag), ESPN NHL 2K5 is a must buy for casual and hardcore hockey fans alike, and the budget price just makes that all the more reason for this game to be in your library.Scores:
Gameplay - 9.3
Graphics - 8.5
Audio - 9.4
Controls - 8.8
Replay - 9.6Overall - 9.2