Tuesday, August 10, 2004.
by Ford Mustang

ESPN NFL 2K5 Box art If this follow-up to last year?s ESPN NFL had one objective it would be to live up to the great game that was delivered to us last year, ESPN NFL Football 2k4. While many people might ask ?What?s the difference?? and not see the point of buying a new game every year, there are many improvements on this year?s edition, and to top it all off, it can be yours for only 19.95 at most places, while it?s main competition and biggest enemy, Madden, sells for the regular price of 49.95.

Recognizing the fact that online play is a huge factor in sports games nowadays, Sega has added many new features that add to the online experience. The first one that I noticed was the VIP System. Each person has a VIP save file that records the way he plays. Some examples of the data it keeps are passing and running directions, and also percentage of passing/running plays. It?s a very nifty feature that also allows you to play against a computer player which uses VIPs of your friends. You can download your friends? VIP files over Xbox Live. Another online feature in the game is that you are always online when you are playing, even when you are only playing against the computer, so your friends can see if you are playing, as well as real-time stat updates.

There is also Franchise Mode, which allows you to manage your team through an NFL season, using an authentic schedule (including pre-season games if you wish), including signing and firing players, picking up free agents and draftees, as well as scheduling work-out dates and reviewing game footage.

The largest improvement in this iteration of ESPN Football is a feature that allows you to create Leagues and Seasons over Xbox Live. That way, you can get a bunch of your friends in the same league and play games, up to 16 weeks, just like the real NFL. This is a great feature and it is very easy to use. There is also a way to search for leagues by name, so that you can find your friend?s leagues very easily.

Features that remain from last year?s version are First Person Football, which, as the name implies, allows you to play the game from a first-person perspective, which is an all-new spin on the game and allows you to get right down on the field. Also ?The Crib,? which is your ?house,? allows you to build up points from accomplishing in-game goals to spend on items for your crib, such as posters, furniture, mini-games, and bobble-heads. It adds spice to the game, and gives you something extra to work towards. The goals can be viewed through the menu, so you know what you have to do to accomplish them all. Another ?Crib? feature is Celebrity Phone Calls, which allows you to play against celebrities.

The game play mechanics are basically the same, as well as play selection. The menus are easy to navigate, as well. The referees are just as tough as before, although you can make them less sensitive to individual penalties. Also, if you feel you?ve been cheated by a poor call, you can just use a challenge and see if the referees will see the light, with the help of instant replay. Some new game play features include the ?Maximum Tackle System? which allows your defenders to choose whether or not to wrap up the ball-carrier or slam him as hard as possible. Carriers can also attempt to gain extra yards, but at a higher risk of fumbling the ball.

As an extra feature, the game allows you to include your own soundtracks from your Xbox?s Hard Disk in the game. This adds a personal touch to the game, and, of course, who doesn?t like to listen to their favorite tunes and play a game at the same time?

Like last year?s game, the visuals in 2k5 are stellar. The players, the stadiums, the sidelines, the weather, are all presented very well, and all the player animations are fluid and appear very natural. The only visual which was not up to par with everything else was the crowd, which looks like a bunch of cardboard cutouts?But what are you doing looking at the crowd? The action is on the field, man! The game seeks to present itself like you are watching ESPN on a Sunday afternoon, and the game succeeds at this, and quite well I might add. There is Chris Berman?s signature introduction to the game, and the camera will come in from a wide view of the stadium. Also, there is real-time commentary during the game, which can get annoying I think, and sometimes say things repeatedly, or lag behind the game itself, but can be turned off. Also, after a play a stat screen will come up and show you the player?s in-game, or last season stats, as well as his physical stats and years pro. Also, the crowd noise really adds to the effect and helps get you pumped, as well as the stadium sounds. These are very nice touches that make the game amazingly authentic. There is also a mini Half-Time show, where The Boomer shows highlights of the first half, and names a ?Half-Time Hero.? It is similar to the post game show, where he highlights plays in the second half and names the game?s best player. However, if you are just into playing football and aren?t willing to put up with all the bells and whistles, it can all be turned off in the options menu.

Overall, this is the best sports game I have ever played. The graphics, immersion, and mechanics are all near-perfect. The new features are excellent. The game is a very nice, authentic presentation that is almost exactly like Sunday afternoon football on ESPN. I\'ve heard stories of people saying \"I thought football didn\'t start until Septemer?\" while someone was playing this game, and after playing it it\'s quite possible for someone to get the two confused. Of course, you can cut all of the cinematics and frills out of the game and just play some football if you want to. Excellent online play as well, as well as leagues and seasons which are easy to organize.

Like last year, the cheerleaders are very corny, and some teams that don?t even have cheerleaders (The Giants and The Jets) have them in the game?which takes a bit from the game?s authenticity?It wouldn?t be bad to just take them out entirely. Some work on the commentary wouldn?t hurt as well.

Overall: 9.8 / 10
Gameplay: 10.0 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 9.6 / 10


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