Review by Matt Paprocki



Graphics: 9

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 9

Overall: 9

This years round of Sega published ESPN games began with a whimper. Their baseball franchise is quickly falling behind EA's revamped and improved MVP Baseball. Then, with the release of the spectacular ESPN NFL 2K5, things began to take shape. With a slightly tweaked engine and stronger franchise mode, NHL 2K5 is easily one of the most fun and (nearly) flawless digital simulations of a real sport ever produced.

With amazing fluidity, NHL 2K5 stuns players upon entering into gameplay. The on-ice action is by far some of the most incredible ever put into a hockey video game. The physics engine literally makes the person behind the controller feel like they are sliding across the ice. The feeling is almost impossible to describe. The puck skids around the ice with realistic results and banging one off the post is just as frustrating here as it is in the real game.

Computer AI remains strong, though maybe a bit too aggressive. Attempting to set up an offense inside the zone (which is great thanks to the ability to stop on a dime with a flick of the analog stick) is all but impossible, save for those rare situations. Within a second of securing the puck, opposing players swarm in to try for a steal or body check. Only on the lower difficulty levels does the AI calm down, but it also doesn't produce very much offense leading to lopsided shot statistics. Scoring feels proper (again, thanks to the puck physics) and getting one past the best goalkeepers requires complete skill when the sliders have been properly calibrated. Fighting is greatly improved, though it still feels a little bit floaty and hit detection never seems to be consistent.

Like all sports games of the past few years, the right analog stick plays a role on both sides of the puck. On defense, you can execute various hooks, slashes, and trips. Pressing in on the stick and attempt one of these maneuvers results in a viscous shot not only to their ego, but the body as well. Penalties are common with hits like these, so using them with consistency will result in numerous penalty-killing situations. On the offensive end, a wide array of dekes can be performed with a flick of the stick and making opponents bite is a great feeling. Still, moving your thumb off of the buttons (if only for a second) can cause problems.

If you've played NFL 2K5 (or even 2K4) with any frequency, the presentation here is a bit disappointing, but this is still the best in the market. The ESPN license is used everywhere, including the excellent commentary from Bill Clement and Gary Thorne. It's hard to explain, but they really sound like they are in a broadcast booth calling the game. Fans in the stadium get a few moments of fame, though compared to the football franchise, their participation is slim and repetitive.

Excellent as it was last year, the franchise mode has been upgraded, though not with a major overhaul. The minor leagues now play a large role (you'll hire a coach to deal with them), and you have full control over their lineups allowing you to give more playtime to a potential prospect. Completely new this year are wild mini-games that can eat up a lot of playtime when you have the proper number of players available. One of these also features an analog shot system that will likely become the standard in a few years time. All of this can of course be taken online thanks to the excellent XBox Live support.

Minor graphical tweaks have been added, including superb texturing on the jerseys. Player's faces are startling and the fully polygonal crowd is a step-up from the lifeless blobs of most sports games. Slowly throughout the period, the ice will slowly show signs of wear, losing the reflective luster it once had. Animation routines are spectacular, rarely (if ever) looking disjointed. The close-ups of the stadium crowd during cinematics are excellent, sporting a wonderful amount of detail that was missing from the NFL franchise.

The sound package has been revamped to include full crowd chants, even for specific players. The echo effect when playing the game with "ESPN Game Sound" on a proper sound system is spectacular, adding to the immersion level of being in the stadium. Customizing stadium music for a ridiculous amount of events is also possible, though the organ music included is pretty strong by itself. The crowd does occasionally drown out the commentators no matter how much you tweak the sliders in the options menu, but this minor problem is hardly an issue considering how strong the rest of this package is.

A few minor issues do drop the package down a few notches. Puck physics, as incredible as they may be, do suffer from some glitches. You'll watch in stunned silence as the puck magically swirls in the air after an opponents shot and your helpless goalie smacks it into his net. Players also can have a hard time grabbing the puck from the ice. This leads to some confusion as you assume to have possession, but an opposing player trailing behind you will skate by untouched with the puck leading to a breakaway.

Those minor issues are hardly enough to destroy the experience. With a meager $20 price tag, a NHL fan that will likely be denied a season this year has no reason not to pick this title up and simulate this season without collective bargaining. Even if it's not a major improvement over last year, the already solid engine was enough to make this one worthy for any hockey fans collection.


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Last updated: Sunday, April 22, 2007 08:35 PM