It was not shocking that SEGA and Global Star Software, a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive, continued their aggressive price strategy when releasing ESPN NBA 2K5 for $20 after ESPN NFL and NHL 2K5 were released at that price. Developer Visual Concepts made much needed changes to the game. Some of the game's flaws do not hinder its overall fun factor. rest of the game?
Presentation/Graphics : 91
The graphics in ESPN NBA 2K5 do not disappoint. All of the unique traits of players are here, including Shaq's "Man of Steel" tattoo or Ben Wallace's afro. Player models resemble their appearance from a live game. There has been a significant amount of time given to player's bodies and especially faces. If you know the NBA, you will not be getting players confused with each other.
Players will sweat on their jerseys during the game, though this is only noticeable on dark jerseys and sweat forms the same shape on all the jerseys. Another problem is that some teams have the player names on their jerseys positioned wrong. For instance, the name lettering is not straight when they should be. Memphis' throwbacks have a glaring problem. The jerseys say "Memphis" on the front, but in bigger letters around this in raised lettering is the city name. How this got passed Quality Assurance is baffling.
If a team is wearing throwback jerseys in real life, players will wear sweatbands to match. In ESPN NBA, players wear the same sweatbands they would always wear at home and the road, even if their team were wearing retro jerseys. Players will always wear the same color shoes that they would for their default roster teams, so sometimes these shoes will not match with their new team if they are traded. These problems detract from the realism of the game.
The onscreen graphics are great and have the look and feel of an ESPN sporting event. The graphic for a specific player's stats looks weird though. It shows his head three-dimensionally and slowly moving around. Visual Concepts was trying something new instead of actual pictures, but they made a mistake.
A few other nitpicks appeared in the game graphics wise. The courts are well replicated, but there continues to be a problem in this series of some arenas having the home and away benches on the wrong side. Why the developers keep getting this wrong every year, especially when they obviously have pictures of the arenas when they are developing the game, is annoying. The crowds are bland as well, and most fans seem to all be wearing dark. If these are my only problems with graphics, then it should be clear that this game did a great job of portraying the NBA.
Presentation/Audio : 88
Audio in this series continues to do a good performance in recreating real life broadcasters. A no-name announcer has been used in every version of this game and for good reason. His announcing is informative and not repetitive. He gets excited when necessary and is enjoyable to hear. Three new ESPN personalities have been added this year. Stuart Scott talks while the game is loading. He does not say anything too important usually, but does manage to say funny things such as "Vince Carter is like jelly because he's on a roll." Replacing the god-awful color analyst Tom Tolbert from ESPN NBA 2K4 is Bill Walton. Tolbert was annoying and repeated the same lines continuously. Walton does not chime in enough during the game, but still provides good commentary and is not irritating compared to real life. Walton also does a short pre-game where he talks about a key player from each team, as well as a quick halftime and post-game show with highlights. Michelle Tafoya was added this year as the series first sidelines reporter. She talks about injuries and discussions she had with each head coach. Tafoya was not utilized as much as she could have been since she does not provide much insight. ESPN's figures could have been implemented better.
The sounds of the game are realistic. The cheers of the crowd or players barking at their opponents makes gamers feel like they are at the game. Dolby ProLogic II and Dolby Digital 5.1 further the realism for audiophiles. One weird quirk with the audio is that sometimes a player will make a basket and the crowd gets quiet and the PA announcer does not say the player's name. The problems with the ESPN personalities and other audio problems aside, this game is still enjoyable to listen to.
Interface/Options : 87
Franchise mode has been renamed "The Association" and a few changes have been made to it. This is now the only way to play a season, but you can always just play one season and then opt out. There is also an option for team chemistry where players come to you with generic questions and comments that they have. Three answers that you can choose from are given and your choice will positively or negatively affect team chemistry. It is a simplistic way for players to ask for advice but is interesting. Players can be trained in practice to work on their game, including various types of shots, passing, and free throws. The level of intensity chosen will also affect team chemistry, health, and skills. It is great to have this type of control over a team. Games can be played through, simulated, or completed as a coach in the new "Full Authority" mode. Twice in every quarter options for players can be chosen such as shot totals, where they shoot the ball, how they will play defense, and substitutions. The opposing teams will counter your decisions, which give Full Authority the feel of a turn-based RPG. Highlights and stats are given during the game that helps make sure that your options are correct. It is another interesting mode that provides depth.
The 24/7 mode is fun but it was very disappointing that few changes were made. A player is created with his own unique look. Some of the options include body type, facial features, and tattoos. Your player can play in different tournaments, unique mini-games, and practice. Unlockables items such as jerseys and sunglasses are rewarded and worn by your player. One-on-one games can be played online as well.
Besides the standard modes of Street, Tournament, and Practice, Online mode is back with new features that include season and tournament that have online stats with pages that look like ESPN's Web site. Depending on the connection, the game is generally smooth and relatively low lag.
Gameplay : 91
The gameplay has improved compared to last year's edition. Playing a few games at first felt awkward because players had more freedom in movement, but this was an upgrade and it does take time to get used to. Improvements were also made to Isomotion, which lets gamers have more control over players dribbling and special moves. This feature feels fluid and lifelike. Using Isomotion in ESPN NBA 2K4 caused an excessive number of turnovers and charging calls. These problems occur less frequently, but gamers still need to either practice with this feature extensively or ignore it completely. Isomotion can also be used on the defensive end to cancel out your opponents Isomotion moves. Isomotion still is not as good as EA Sport's similar "Freestyle" feature from NBA Live. Another new feature is an icon on the court that shows where the rebound is going and makes rebounding more fun and easier. Before this feature, it was hard to figure out where rebounds were going.
Crazy dunks have been toned down from frequent in 2K4 to rare. Players used to be able to take off far from the basket and throw down the ball, which was extremely unrealistic. The difficulty modes are now easier and are much harder in the higher settings. Passing inbounds has been changed and is similar to NBA Live. Gamers must now move the recipient of the pass around to get open. This was not much of an improvement at all and it is a hassle to try to pass to a different player. Sports games sometimes make changes just to make changes, and this is a clear example of that. Without making changes, it feels as though the game is being rehashed every year. Passing is very good and feels realistic. Lazy passes will be swiped much more then in 2K4. Gamers cannot be lazy and think that all of their passes will be completed. A problem that never seems to get fixed is shooting in the paint. While it is a high percentage shot, it is too easy to dominate and the game does not force you to take other types of shots. Double teaming can be done by hitting a button now in addition to coaching strategies. One of the weird and annoying problems with the game is when shots are made and players frequently put their arms in the air as a referee does in football after a made field goal.
Changing the default settings for fouls makes the game more similar to an NBA game instead of the low amount that usually occurs. Low fouls on default was probably done to add more flow to the game and not have a foul shot-fest.
Replay Value : 88
Sports games are known for their replay value because of the number of modes available, and ESPN NBA 2K5 provides this. The depth from the new additions to the Association is fun for gamers that enjoy micromanagement or want a change from playing a full game. The 24/7 mode feels untouched and provides much of the same thing though. If you did not enjoy the mode last year then you will feel the same about it this year.
Overall : 87
ESPN NBA 2K5 is a great game at a bargain bin price. A few problems with the game hold it back from receiving a higher score. Flaws in the graphics and lack of improvement in 24/7 mode are outweighed by the positives of improvements in gameplay, the Association, and online. Any video game player that enjoys sports should have fun with this deep game.