marino's ESPN NFL 2K5 (Xbox) review

One of the Greatest of All Time

I've made it no secret that I despise Madden and all it stands for.  But I'm not going to waste time explaining that now, because discussing the greatness of ESPN NFL 2K5 is far more important than screaming "MADDEN SUCKS" in an AOL 2.5 chat room.  For the last several years, Sega's football franchise has been the highest rated football game across the board, yet it is not the most popular.  To combat this, Sega has decided to go with a drastic marketing plan that they hope will entice gamers to simply give their game a try.  That's right, NFL 2K5 is the best "budget title" ever released.  In 2K5 you will get more for your $20 than you do in most games that cost $50.  And coming three weeks before any other pro football game, how can you pass that up?  IGN says that it "will own your soul."  I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but 2K5 will definitely own your free time for the weeks and months to come.     
 
 
Graphics 
I'll just get it out of the way now.  Best looking football game ever.  Never before has a football game hit the mark on every conceivable aspect of the game.  Sure, past games have had good player models, or spectacular stadiums, but 2K5 has everything.  The biggest thing about the graphics are the animations.  If watch any given play and focus in on any of the 22 guys on the field, it's amazing to see how much is going on on-screen.  Just watch the blockers one time.  Then watch the #1 receiver/DB matchup.  The realism is insane, and no two plays are the same.  Just pick any random play and watch a replay in slow motion.  It's hard to explain in words, but the fluidity of the animations is astounding.  On top of that, the player models look better than ever.  The uniforms are layered and are semi-independent from the body.  All of the big stars have high quality face scans and the rest of the players are close enough.  I must also mention the lighting.  A simple day game can make your jaw drop. 
 
Aside from the sheer beauty of the game (yes I referred to football as beautiful), the game features all of the ESPN overlays from Sunday Night Football to SportsCenter and everything you see on TV when watching an actual game (scoreboard, instant replay 3D animations, passing/rushing charts, player bios, etc).  Sega and VC have truly taken the ESPN license to heart, and why wouldn't they?  It gives even more credibility to an already incredible game.  Along with the ESPN features comes Chris Berman's pre-game, halftime, and post-game report, plus Suzy Kolber on the sidelines for post-game interviews and injury reports.  They've done a good job making them look like their real-life counterparts but the lip synching is simply awful.  Trey Wingo (yes, that's his real name) and Mel Kiper Jr are also present, but only in voice during Franchise.  They've also implemented the ESPN SkyCam (which ESPN stole from the XFL), which adds even more presentation value to the game.  Graphically the game flows very well even if you constantly mash A to skip replays.  When you "skip" a replay it simply shrinks down to a window while you select the next play.  It's very nice.     
 
 
Control 
If you've played the past 2K games, especially last year's, not much has changed.  They've taken a couple steps further away from the arcadey feel of the running game in the early games, and there aren't as many blatantly dropped passes as last year.  The defense has also been enhanced over last years game in a few ways.  They seem to punish you alot more for careless passing or trying to force a ball into coverage, and while on defense you can now reassign each section of your defense individually (LB's, DB's, Linemen).  This allows you to alter your defense when you spot what the offense has planned without actually calling a full audible.  The last major upgrade is tackling.  Maximum Tackling allows you decide whether you want to go for the big hit, or wrap a guy up for a higher chance at bringing him down.  If you wrap someone up, it's a battle of tapping A to see if you can bring him down before he shakes you off and vice versa.  It's still not perfect, but they get that much closer every year.     
 
 
Sound 
The sound in 2K5 is a mixed bag.  The good far outweighs the bad though starting with plenty of recordings from ESPN personalities as mentioned before.  Secondly, they have gone far beyond expectations with the soundtrack.  You can import your ripped tunes from the HDD, but you can even take those tracks, edit them, cut them up, and assign them to certain events during a game.  For example, currently the Dolphins storm onto the field with Stone Cold Steve Austin's theme music, and when I score a touchdown it will sometimes play the chorus of "My Hero" from the Foo Fighters.  It's completely customizable and loads of fun. 
 
Now for the drawback.  I've always enjoyed the disembodied play-by-play of Dan Stevens and Peter O'Keefe, but it's time for them to go.  Their commentary is now stale, and almost all of their lines are imported from past games.  With ESPN completely plastered all over the game (in a great way), I think it's time to bring in Joe Theisman and whoever they pair him with now.  For newcomers, it won't make a difference, but for those of us who've played the game for years.  Also, sometimes they seem to lag behind what's actually happening on the field.  It's great that they have so much to say, but if they get behind the action it's pretty pointless.  It's really the only black eye on an almost perfect game.     
 
 
Replay Value 
2K5 now uses a "VIP" system to track everything you do.  And when I say "everything" I mean EVERYTHING.  Of course it tracks things like your record, time played, and achievement points accrued towards your Crib, but it also keeps track of what type of plays you run.  And not just Pass vs Rush, because it can tell you how often you call Shotguns, or how often you Flip plays, or even what your favorite juke move is.  The amazing thing about this is that any of your Xbox Live friends can download your VIP and have the computer simulate the way you play.  So they can practice against you without you even playing.  How fuckin' cool is that? 
 
Of course every sports game has to have a season mode and 2K5 is no different.  The Franchise mode is exactly that.  You have control over the entire franchise including everything from team meetings, workout regiments, film sesssions, scrimmages, contract negotiations, and of course...the actual games.  Several enhancements have been made here.  The entire team preparation feature is brand new and can best be described as an overwhelming addition, but for fans who aren't into micromanaging the entire process can be skipped thanks to the options menu.  The contract negotiations now give you the ability to add signing bonuses and spread the salary disproportionally over the years of the deal.  This allows for a lot more freedom in staying under the cap.  Instead of deciding how much chili dogs cost, you're running your team from top to bottom in the most complete franchise/season/dynasty mode ever. 
 
If Franchise wasn't enough to keep you busy for years, there's even more new things to jack up the replay value.  I mentioned the Crib before, and that returns from last year with a slew of new items to buy for your house.  Every game you play, you have goals that earn you points towards buying stuff for your house including everything from posters to air hockey tables.  The most significant change is the handful of B-rate celebrities (Carmen Electra, Steve-O, etc) that will call your house and challenge you to game.  The games play out like a simulated online game.  You're not online, but it's like you're online, because the celebrities are constantly making comments on the game and you can see which player they're controlling.  It's hokey, sure, but it's something new and it's not like they're trying to sell the game on it. 
 
Still not enough?  Well the game fully supports Xbox Live including Live Aware, meaning you can be in your Franchise and still get invites and messages from your friends.  The online mode now features fully customizable leagues and tournaments much like XSN.  The game also notifies you of updated rosters the moment you sign in.  Perfect for the fan wanting to keep his game up to date. 
 
Still fiending for more?  Well First-Person Football has returned.  Sure, it wasn't widely accepted last year as a major selling point, but it's been included here as a separate mode.  And you can now switch out to regular view on the fly.  Along with that, they've added ESPN25 mode which gives you the 25 greatest moments of football on ESPN over the past 25 years and let's you relive those moments on the field, or attempt to change history.  And finally, there are impressive Create-A-Player, Create-A-Team, and even End Zone Celebration editors.  I could keep going, but I won't.     
 
 
Conclusion 
With all the things I just listed as being in this game, how could it not be fun?  What more can you ask for?  Refined gameplay mechanics, a plethora of gameplay modes, online play, Carmen Electra...  Okay seriously, this game is great.  And for $20 it's the deal of the decade.  If you've never played a 2K game before, give it a try, that's all Sega is asking.  If you're an avid 2K fan, then thank Sega for saving you $30 and continue with your life.
 
 
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the release of the game. ***
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