When it was released in 2004, NFL 2K5 was one of the best playing and best presented sports games you could find. For the bargain-bin price of $20, you could get gameplay and features which rivaled any full priced sports game at the time — if not wholly surpassing them.
Fast forward 10 years and there are still aspects of NFL 2K5 which have aged pretty well — but there are also things which would be cardinal sins to sports gamers today. NFL 2K5 definitely wasn’t a perfect game, but it was about as good as you could imagine a game could be 10 years ago, which is one of the highest compliments you can give a game.
All of the presentation aspects in NFL 2K5 stand up pretty darned well today. The ESPN graphics are implemented in a marvelous manner, and the on-air personalities do have life within them. I personally always found the off-field action easy to skip through, but then again not much has changed with sports games over the last 10 years in that manner. The off-field presentation elements are still cool, but the bad voice dubbing with the animations, etc. are really starting to show their age.
The commentary is still really good, although you have to ask if a sports game added a couple of actors to do the commentary today if people would completely destroy it for not being realistic enough for their tastes.
Both Terry McGovern and Jay Styne do a great job with their lines, and the commentary variety is pretty good. I can say this is one area 2K5 still has mastery over current-day productions without a doubt, as the commentators always seem on-point and they follow the action very well. The commentary in 2K5 lags behind many other games in the genre today, so you can say that this aspect of the game hasn’t aged perfectly, but as a football experience it is still top notch.
The on-field gameplay was a mixture of brilliant, innovative, and frustrating in 2K5. While many aspects of the game was ahead of its time, the entire package didn’t always mesh together to meet completely sim standards that you find across the community today. As a whole, gamers were much more willing to forgive many gaffes which existed 10 years ago versus today.
When it comes to the animations, they look good at times but then there are stark reminders that the game is indeed dated with animations: some clipping, and some wonky transitions that would make any modern day sports game blush. The running animations in 2K5 still ‘look’ better than many modern day games, which is discouraging if you love sports games today — it would seem running would be an easy thing to do right.
The running game in 2K5 was definitely its strong suit, with the animations and move variety available to you which was incredibly detailed. You would load up your moves and then execute them, with various animations playing out in real time in a responsive manner. The level of control you have is only slightly behind what you would expect current day sports games to offer you, which is a huge compliment given the games’ age.
The tackling animations are still top notch, although with the aformentioned animation gaffes popping up from time to time. Gang tackles are still executed about as good as you can find in a football game, and the variety of tackles still holds up quite well today despite some tackling animations needing to cut corners (jumps in animations) to get there. In real time the game does look solid, but slow it down and you start to see where the game really cut some corners to get you to that point.
What doesn’t hold up as well is the passing game, which even for its time had major flaws which were easily exploited. There are several routes which were easily executed for guaranteed yardage no matter the coverage, and the A.I. itself always had trouble playing the pass — especially on lower levels.
Passes typically have a bit of a floaty feel to them, with the trajectories not being as good as modern day takes on football. QB scrambling/pass accuracy definitely is a high mark though, with you needing to make sure you stay set to throw the best possible pass. WRs oftentimes run routes awkwardly, with the well-run routes working far too well. Safeties can be slow to react to what’s going on, something which later efforts by gaming companies have been slow to fix. I could see safety being a hard position to code for, and it’s clear the safeties in 2K5 were at the beginning of the ‘let’s try to make this position better’ phase of football gaming.
The A.I. itself does tend to show its age. When playing NFL 2K5, it’s always a good bet to up the difficulty to Legend for a challenging game. However, much of what the A.I. does to make the game more difficult on that level hinges on a lot of smoke and mirrors which mainly involves having your opponent bigger and stronger than you are. The A.I. itself still has major flaws when it comes to actually outsmarting you versus just overpowering you.
Defensively, you have enormous amounts of pre-snap control — but a lot of what you see has been done in a more efficient method in current day football games. You could say this system was ahead of its time, but now shows its age. Still, the hot route system does give you a lot of control over your defensive adjustments to the point you really never feel out of control. By today’s standards, the options are good but not great.
The line play does tend to show its age somewhat, as we didn’t have the same expectations in 2004 that we do in 2014. There are blitz schemes which are automatic pressure-generators, despite the fact that the defensive line (especially DEs) don’t blow off of the line as fast as they should and thus a realistic pocket is rarely, if ever formed. The animations are fine, but the DL play does feel somewhat archaic at times with you getting stuck in battles with OL more often than you should. You can’t expect everything to age gracefully.
The physics behind NFL 2K5 definitely lend themselves to tighter control and quicker reactions on the sticks at the expense of true realism. In the real NFL, guys cannot start and stop on a dime like you can in 2K5. There are things like foot planting which have only just now been found in other games, but the animations and transitions, especially when slowed down, do show their age here. While 2K5 did a lot of cool things with the physics, the game oftentimes cut a few corners to make that happen which today would be unacceptable.
Kicking and punting are what you would expect. I don’t feel it is neither worse or better than anything we’ve seen in later games in our genre. I’ll treat the special teams how football gaming companies have over the last 10 years: the game has them, they’re neither bad nor good.
The VIP system in NFL 2K5, which allowed you to play against your friends even when they weren’t online by taking their playcall tendencies and having the AI do that was quite fun. Unfortunately it is also one feature which just won’t work anymore due to the online features in the game not working.
The one mode that you will be able to work is franchise mode, which had some incredibly well done presentation elements within it.
However, this is one area where NFL 2K5 has without a doubt shown its age. The financial model in the game is incredibly basic, with no way to manage anything but player salaries — but you are able to go all the way up to the cap with no issues from any fictional owners, which don’t really exist. Many of the contract types made for interesting financial management, but they actually are against the real-NFL rules and thus, unrealistic. The draft presentation itself is pretty cool, but the drafting A.I. lends itself to extreme exploits as the computer never drafts certain players in the first round.
Progression was done with no bearing on anything — players were going to progress in the same manner regardless of their position on the depth chart or their performances on the field. This is something we now take for granted in modern day sports games, but NFL 2K5 clearly looks ‘old’ when it comes to its progression model.
The presentation elements were cool, and even by today’s standards would hold up reasonably well. There are multiple aspects of the Presentation which make for a thoroughly engrossing experience. SportsCenter is in the game, with highlights from games across the league, including “Primetime Performers” presented by Chris Berman. You would learn about big trades, big injuries, big signings, etc.
If you measure the game up against realistic standards, the weekly SportsCenter presentation did have some major problems. The transitions were jumpy, and the highlights only featured one play per game. The voice work was jumpy and oftentimes you could tell it was spliced together and thus, the flow wasn’t always the greatest. However, it’s hard to fault a 10-year-old game for attempting something which many modern games simply haven’t done. The elements aren’t perfect, but they are there and they add to the experience if you let them.
While the presentation makes a lot of the mode feel fresh, there are production aspects which make them dated all the same. At the same time, the mode itself has serious flaws and exploits which meant you had to follow ‘house-rules’ and suspend some belief to make it work well.
It’s not fair to judge 10-year-old graphics from two console generations ago to current day games. NFL 2K5 ‘looks’ 10 years old. Things which gamers want today are nowhere near present in 2K5, which is neither unexpected nor something you can fault a game 10 years old for not having. There is one area I’d like to compliment the game on though, and that’s the lack of over saturated colors and a more natural grey in the image, which makes the lighting oftentimes look quite good. While subsequent sports games have done this well — for its time 2K5 really did look the most realistic.
The Final Verdict
NFL 2K5, in its time, was a game which had superior presentation which modern games still struggle with and gameplay which was equally great and frustrating. While there were cool things 2K5 did on the field, there are also parts of the game that clearly show their age now.
You can point to several aspects of the on-field gameplay and say, “See how great that is?”
But when you take the package as a whole, you are brought back to a world where 2004 was a current day thing. Several ‘football sins’ which later games (including APF 2K8) were hammered for existed in an even bigger manner in NFL 2K5. I think this is simply due to the nature of how good games could be in 2004, and you can’t fault NFL 2K5 for those gaffes.
In the era which NFL 2K5 existed, cutting corners to appear more realistic than a game actually was made for a great method to engross gamers into your game. You cannot, however, apply modern day standards to the product and come up with the same conclusion.
Whether NFL 2K could have thrived into the future is anyone’s guess. I think gamers would have ended up just as frustrated with the game as any other at times, as I think some aspects of football are just hard to emulate in a video game. There is no doubt we would have better football games today though, and that’s the biggest reason it is a shame we no longer have NFL 2K amongst us.
If you want a fun trip down nostalgia lane, NFL 2K5 is a great idea. However, there are aspects of this game which make it ten years old, and none of the online modes are going to work for you. Thus, playing against the AI will expose the game’s most serious gaffes, but you will still have a lot of fun playing it. There is no doubting NFL 2K5 belongs amongst the all-time greats in our genre, it really was that good.
For its time, NFL 2K5 was an incredible production — by today’s standards, it shows its age in more places than one.