ESPN NHL 2K5
Admittedly I hate hockey and I'm pleased with the recent bust of an NHL season no longer taking away time from SportsCenter. With that in mind, I went into ESPN NHL 2K5 with low expectations and came out entirely impressed and almost missing hockey---almost. The level of accuracy and detail in NHL 2K5 if staggering. It's the first sports game I can remember with which I finished game after game with statistics exactly comparable to its real life counterpart. The difficulties and speed are perfectly tuned while the player behaviors are entirely accurate. The ability to skate backwards is finally present and playing defense is now so much easier. On offense, the range of various jukes and skating maneuvers is awesome and allow you to readily get past the defense. As someone fairly new to the sport, however, I had trouble scoring on anything but one timers. The franchise mode, once again, is great. Notice a trend? It's looking good for MLB 2K5. So in depth is the franchise that you can let the minor league seasons play out and even scout around the world early in the pre-season for upcoming drafts. Hell, you can even get a game set up between prospects to help you choose when the draft rolls around. There are a few minor inconveniences in the mode, but nothing worth mentioning in such a short article. I can assure you: nothing such as manually resetting your roster due to injury will detract from the game. The ESPN norm party games return in NHL 2K5, this time including an arcade hockey game and a battle mode consisting of various competitions between you and friends, one player for each person. Competitions include racing around the rink to shooting for accuracy to a scoring game with all players on the ice simultaneously and even a 4 player game of "tag". Speaking of battles -- fights in game now let you run (skate?) around the ice like a chicken with no head. Yeah, thought I'd mention that -- it's funny getting chased by someone trying to pimp slap you. When all is said and done, NHL 2K5 is just right for the price -- even for the casual sports fan, whether you like hockey or not.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5
ESPN Online Play
After 3 seasons worth of football, 2 March Madness tournaments, half an NBA season and half an NHL season, I needed something fresh. Xbox Live play for these games is unmatched--I've had some of the greatest games of my life online with NFL 2K5, which contains a new "EQ" feature, something that online matchmaking has been lacking for far too long. With the EQ, teams are equal in skill level regardless of other factors. Recently I've engaged in some League play with some of the guys over at www.cheapassgamer.com and I must say, the Sega Sports games deserve even more reverence. If you take quick look at any of the scores pages on ESPN.com, you'll notice play by plays, statistics, box scores and more for every game played. Welcome to ESPN Sports -- log into the Xbox Live page and the My Leagues section and you'll be presented with numerous options exactly similar to that on the real ESPN.com pages. A League "News" section, scores, schedules/results, standings, statistics, players, trades, injuries, message boards and more; the ESPN leagues have it all. There's no greater motivation than seeing your guys featured on the Player Spotlight with 230 total yards and 3 TDs. (Tiki Barber, represent!) Well, except beating a bunch of friends to a pulp and taking home the championship. With the exception of some cheese online, the proportion of clean and legit players to cheesers in all four games is enough to keep me coming back for more.
Rating: 5 out of 5
ESPN Major League Baseball 2K5
I'm not going to use this section as a preview as I admittedly know little about this game. I do know as much as you would find in your average IGN or Gamespot preview article and, quite frankly, given Visual Concept's recent track record, that's more than enough to sway me. I'll be picking this game up at launch for the measly $20 and hopefully by the week of March 22 I should have a piece written up to let everyone know how much I love the game.
In closing, it's a shame that Visual Concept's NFL series will be no more and the rest of the games are in jeopardy as the upcoming seasons approach. It's good business maybe, but no one can honestly say EA's recent transactions are good for the industry as a whole. With that said, I'm glad Sega and Visual Concepts produced such a great product for an even greater price as their last effort -- they've given me upwards of 300 hours of entertainment combined now for a measly $80 and I'm grateful for it. They delivered quality games that don't deserve to be passed up, especially at the price.