ESPN NHL 2K5 (Xbox)
Genre: Sports – Hockey
Developer: Kush Games
Release Date: 8/30/04
I used to love to play hockey games before I ever even started to watch hockey. I remember with a specific game a friend and I used to just bash into each other over and over again till the guys would drop the gloves and fight. I never got into the first generations of 3D hockey games, they just never seemed as fun to me as the 2D hockey games that I could sit around for hours playing. Something always felt off about the skating or the passing, or numerous other things. Eventually someone got me into the NHL Hitz series which I had some fun with its arcade style. By that point I was a hockey fan though and I wanted something a bit closer to the real game. NHL Hitz Pro was okay but just felt lacking in some areas. The demos for the 2K games and the EA games didn’t impress me enough to spend the $50 and damned if I could find a place that had the 2K hockey games for rent.
But for $20? Hell yeah I’d give it a shot. I will at no point be making comparisons to the previous game since I still haven’t found a copy to buy or rent anywhere. But for someone who’s never played a 2K game before and is looking for a hockey fix at a time when it looks like I’ll have to wait to see any on TV in the near future, is ESPN NHL 2K5 worth the money?
There are a LOT of different modes to choose from but let’s start off with the mode that has become the centerpiece for sports games, the Franchise mode. You start the mode off hiring your coaching staff, and your choice will effect the overall development of your team. You’ll have to set a day aside just to go through the off season scouting, for which there is a surprising amount of depth. You’ll be able to travel around and work some of the prospects out and you’ll be able to have scouts check out some of the talent and give a report as well. Even for people who might not be die hard fans of hockey it’s easy enough to figure out and is straight forward. Throughout the course of a regular season you will be able to make trades, deal with injuries and reform lines as you go.
There are some small problems with the Franchise mode, occasionally players will heal miraculously but outside of that my problems have just been with the presentation of the Franchise mode. For example, it would have been much more user friendly to be able to load your saved franchise game when going into the Franchise mode. Instead you have to do it through the options menu. Also it would’ve been nice if there had been an instant save feature attached to the franchise mode. Personally I almost wish there had been even more customization options available outside of managing the coaches, minor leagues, and rosters but as a whole if you like managing your hockey game than NHL 2K5 has plenty of options for you.
Don’t want to deal with all the management stuff? Just skip all of it and head into the Season mode. Like the Franchise mode you will control your team through a season of hockey except in this mode you will not have to worry about hiring coaches or what’s going on in the minor leagues. Or skip the season and play directly in the Playoffs or hold a separate Tournament. Of course you can also just play a Quick Game or set up a single game in the Exhibition mode.
There is also a skills competition where you can test your skills against the computer in various challenges of skating and shooting. In the extras there are some other various forms of hockey like Pond Hockey and playing 2-on-2 in a mini-rink, as well as some unlockable modes like the Heritage Classic or Big Head mode.
A new addition is a mode called Dream Teams. In this mode you take a team up a ladder against various teams that have been made up of players chosen by Martin St. Louis, and other hockey players as well as some ESPN video game staff and the staff of Kush Games. Once you’ve beaten the mode you can use these dream teams in the game. It’s fun to play through once to see what players people put on their dream teams, but it doesn’t have much replay value outside of the curiosity factor. Another new addition is the Party Game mode which has a couple of modes that are easy to pick up and play if you have some hockey fans to invite over.
Then there’s the Skybox, which is sort of the NHL version of the Crib from the ESPN NFL games. You are able to check your statistics and see goals you can complete, along with goals you’ve completed. You can purchase extras such as wacky rinks (including a ‘Classic Video Game’ rink that’s rockin’) and such modes as the Big Head mode and Heritage Classic, and you can purchase classic jerseys and teams. There’s a lot of unlockables to go through. There are also such minigames available like Air Hockey and Shuffleboard, although neither of those games are very fun.
Last but not least, you can also go online and play against other people on Live. This year includes the addition of online leagues.
As you can see there are a ton of different modes to keep a hockey fan happy for a long time, doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a long in depth mode like the Franchise mode or looking for a quick pick up an play party game, ESPN 2K5 delivers on all fronts.
The areas look great, the ice has a reflective quality and the ice deteriorates throughout a period with slush and criss-crossing blade marks. Player models look fantastic with some players I was able to recognize just from looking at them. Not all of the players benefit from this but almost all of the player models look great. The animations for the players is awesome, particularly the goalies who move very realistically and most of the animations hold up extremely well even in close up replays.
The presentation is good as well. There are a couple of different cut scenes of fans cheering or booing or reacting to the fact that they’re on camera, there are also some of those ice girls coming out between periods with those guns that can fire shirts into the crown and there are some clips showing your team in the locker room. My only grip with the presentation in the game is how the game seems to end abruptly when you’ve won or lost. There is some framerate slowdown at the face offs but it’s not very bad and doesn’t effect the gameplay. Otherwise the game look great in action and not too far what you’d expect to be watching off of TV.
The games background music functions well but most of the audio you’ll notice in the game will come from the commentary tracks. The commentary in the game is a mixed bag, it is done by Gary Thorne and Bill Clement who sound great and the comments they make for each situation is generally appropriate in context of what’s going on in the game, but at the same time it gets repetitive quickly. I’ve only found it slightly annoying though since I can get over the repetitiveness of the commentary when they are praising a good play I’ve just made. The sound effects are realistic and the chants from the crowd are a nice touch that adds to the experience.
In addition this game supports the custom soundtrack feature which is a great addition, only if it had more customization options. Often it will play the same song for the same situation even if you loaded a long list of songs into the game. Also it would’ve been nice to choose what part of a song was played instead of only hearing the beginning to the same couple of songs over and over again. Still, I like hearing my music over the default music from the game.
When I brought the game home I did what I normally do, pop the disk in right away before checking how to actually play game. I had no problem at first just picking up the controller and just assuming which button did what. Leftstick controls skating, A passes, X shoots, Y poke checks/dumps, B protects puck-dekes/body checks. That’s just the basics however, there are three different control schemes each of them deeper than the one before it. There have been a couple additions to this years game such as the inclusion of the Intense Contact Controls. Tap the right thumbstick while on the offense without the puck to deal some harsher blows to the opponent or click on the right thumbstick to deliver a punishing blow, watch out using either of these though as it will lead to spending time in the penalty box. The right thumbstick is also helpful when you have the puck to use the Total Deke Control to keep the puck in your control.
My favorite addition to the controls is the ability to skate backwards and control your hockey stick with the right thumbstick. It may not seem like much of an addition but it works great defensively to break up plays and for a new feature it feels natural in use. I love this feature. Other than that you can also Pass and Go, pass the puck to another player while still controlling the person who made the pass giving you the opportunity to clear the front of the net for that player to make a goal or to set up a one timer.
The controls are intuitive and are easy to pick up, but deep enough that it’ll take time to master. I do not like how the poke check is also the dump button, sometimes I regain the puck from a poke check only to dump it somewhere else. Also it took a little while for me to get used to pressing the L trigger in combination with some of the other buttons, such as doing slap shot. Nothing that I wasn’t able to adjust to quickly, just a minor annoyance.
Fighting this year allows you to travel anywhere on the ice, throw punches and uppercuts and grab the other guys jersey. Except it isn’t very good. The fighting is functional enough but it feels very unpolished, and is not fun to play.
ESPN NHL 2K5 maybe the most balanced sports game that I have ever played. The AI holds up on every difficulty level so you are able to trust your teammates generally being in the right position at the right time. Scoring isn’t impossible to do neither is it too easy to score a goal, it’s set at a reasonable realistic level, at least on the harder modes of play of course. And the best part of the games is the amount of sliders you can use to change the gameplay up. You want to play it in a more arcade style you can have it by tweaking the sliders till you find the right balance and it will play arcade style. You even have the option of putting how often certain penalties are call, which is one thing you will have to adjust manually since the biggest balance issue I’ve come across is the sheer amount of time players will get called for spearing. I don’t even remember the last time I’ve seen that called. With exception to the spearing penalty the game just feels right, and if it doesn’t feel the same for you than you can mess around with the options till it does feel right.
With all of the modes, fairly deep franchise mode, party mode for instant multiplayer goodness, and online accessibility this game can last a long time. Especially as mentioned above with all of the sliders you can go through a season as a die hard simulation than play through again arcade style if you wish. You can create your own teams and players, and go through the task of unlocking all of the extras. All of it adds up to being able to last a long time, which is a good thing since it may have to at least last through an empty hockey season.
As a sports game it isn’t exactly original by default, however there are some small additions like the Dream Team and Party modes that I haven’t seen before, and the Intense Contact and defense with skating backwards are great new additions that already feel solid when playing and I can’t wait to see how they will be able to improve on those features in the future.
Still, I’d like to see them try to implement more things. How about some first person hockey?
Alright, outside of the instant appeal of the price tag, this game should appeal to all hockey fans who own either a PS2 or an Xbox. It’s a sequel in a long line of 2K games so it should already have a built in audience as well. The game hasn’t been pushed as hard in advertising as the NFL 2K5 series was, but it has received a good amount of attention from the gaming media.
I haven’t been this much into a hockey game since the SNES. It has sucked me in and has made me miss getting to places on time with my only excuse being ‘I wanted to play one more game’. It’s very addictive.
Lots of unlockables though the Skybox, Live compatible, the Dream teams, the Party mode, how much more miscellaneous content can you ask for?
Overall Score: 91/100
Final Score: 9/10 – A classic to be