ESPN NFL 2K5 Review (Xbox)

Only three more weeks to go and the preseason kicks off, but it’s already kickoff time here at Operation Sports as we dig down in the trenches with “ESPN NFL 2K5”. After playing the game for hours upon hours, I can safely say this game will get plenty of play in my Xbox console. There were a few things that bothered us last year with the game and we were curious to see if they were addressed. Have they? Read on and find out.

“ESPN NFL 2K5” is packed full of features. I’ll go over a few of them now. The “Quick Game” is just that, a quick game that you can setup quickly, to get the juices flowing. Maybe a game or two before you start up your Franchise. Select your teams, toggle on or off the “Maximum Passing”, setup the options, weather, etc. and hit the fields.

First Person Football hasn’t changed much, but they did add Receiver Progression. When you turn this option on, your QB will look at the primary receiver first; pulling the “R” trigger will make the QB look at the next receiver in progression. It took some time to get used to but it’s a welcomed addition. They also added the ability to switch from 1st person to third person. Nothing much other than that has changed, but for the First Person lovers out there, I think you’ll love it.

The Crib is back again and it’s much bigger now. It has two stories and you can purchase items. You can also change sliders and quarter lengths and still get Crib points. From what I’ve heard, that was in issue last year, so I thought I’d mention it. The Crib really isn’t something I spend a lot of time with. There are Crib Mini-Games including Trivia Machine, Air Hockey, Paper Football and Dart Machine. The Jukebox, Trophy Room and Bobble head Case are back as well. New this year is the Celebrity Phone, where you can play a game against a celebrity and listen to them talk trash all game long. They have a stacked team, so beating them would be considered a very big accomplishment.

In ESPN 25th Anniversary mode, you get a chance to rewrite history. Choose from 25 different scenarios and see if you have what it takes. I’ve been trying to accomplish the “Fourth and Twenty-Six” for days! “The Drive” and “A Yard Too Short” are two of my favorites that I have actually accomplished. There is a practice mode, situation mode and tournament mode as well. You can customize touchdown celebrations this year. There are plenty to choose from, including a few from Deion “PrimeTime” Sanders. Player and team creation are basically the same as they were last year.

VIP is also something new. It basically creates a profile that keeps track of the way you play the game. It tracks the percentage of runs to the left, middle and to the right, it tracks the short, medium and long range passing game the same way. It will also track how often you audible, use hot routes, pinch or fan your lineman, press or play off the receivers, put men in motion, flip a play, offensive and defensive tendencies, run/pass ratio and plenty of other things, but you get the idea. You can send your VIP to a friend and have him practice against you, like you were actually sitting right next to him.

There is one other little feature that I’d like to talk about. By clicking your right thumbstick at the play select menu screen, you can see how many times you’ve run that specific play, how many yards you made off that play and if you scored with it. On defense it shows how many times it was used, if it was a pass or run and if you got a sack or an interception using that play. It’s a very cool little feature that I’m sure everyone will enjoy.

Dan Stevens and Peter O’Keefe are back for more play-by-play action. Is there a better duo out there? While there is repetition, it’s not even close to what you hear in most other games. They each have their own style and actually had me chuckling a few times. Something that bothered me last year was the fact that they pretty much gave away the instant replay challenges. This year, it happens on occasion, but I’d rather wait anxiously to see what the ref has to say, it builds up more excitement that way. Speaking of instant replay, there are tons of new cut scenes this year. One of my favorites is challenging a tight rope on the sideline. The cut scene shows the runner reenacting the play while his teammates are showing their agreement with him.

You will hear player chatter, fans moan and groan; injured players shrivel up in pain and let you know what they feel. You can even setup your own music for different situations in the game. Did you want to hear something specific after a sack, interception or even after a big 3rd down play?? You can get your own music for up to 17 different situations.

Speaking of injured players, while watching the injury cut scenes, you will actually hear the trainers and players talk to each other. You will hear the player complain about his knee, arm, back, head, etc. and the trainers will say a few things to him as well. After a few plays Suzy Kolber chimes in and gives a report on the severity of the injury. Sometimes you’ll see the player on an exercise bike or on a table getting looked at. If you pause the game and try to find out how the player is doing under “Gameplan” you will see his status as “In the Locker Room”, “Trainers Looking at Him”, etc. You can’t see the severity of the injury until Suzy reports it, so you have to wait in suspense hoping it’s not as bad as it might have looked.

If there was one complaint about the audio department, it comes from the fans. While they do a great job cheering and booing throughout the game, there are times when they are dead silent when they shouldn’t be. I wish VC would bring back the “Pump up the Crowd” feature. I’d love to hear the fans go crazy on the opening kickoff, just like they do in real life, it just doesn’t happen here. It’s a small nitpick, but there isn’t much to complain about in this game.

The animations are SICK. “Are you kidding me?” That is what I was saying for the first few days with “ESPN NFL 2K5”. I had to go into replay mode on many occasions just to make sure I saw what I thought I did. The defense really takes it up another notch and goes in for the kill, without making it look over the top. There are some tackle animations where it looks like the defense is trying to rip someone’s head off. There are quite a few new gang tackle animations that will leave you cringing.

While you won’t see Edinger’s weird style of kicking field goals, you will see the field goal nets go up and down during attempts. I saw a few quarterbacks like Gannon throw side armed passes occasionally to avoid a batted ball. I even saw Favre avoid a blitz and scramble out of the way from another blitzing linebacker and sort of shovel push a pass to his fullback on his way down. Talk about realistic!! I also saw Vick do this once as well. I was in the replay mode for quite some time after seeing that.

You will also see players celebrating on the sidelines as your running back sprints to the end zone, receivers throwing their hands up after an incomplete pass looking for a flag, players diving and stretching the football out for a first down, receivers and DB’s bobbling passes and looking to make the spectacular catch off of them. It’s great to see players go after deflected passes this year. They will also jump on loose balls just in case replay shows it as a fumble, nice touch VC!!

The animations from the DB’s in this game are done very well. You will see them feel for the receiver with one arm out and break on balls. DB’s will grab, push off and hold to get their way against the receivers. The chain gang is here!! It’s always good to see this. You won’t be seeing many one handed stabs this year over the middle. Thankfully, only a few receivers can make those types of catches and it just doesn’t happen very often in the game. That was something that annoyed me last year as well.

At the beginning of the game, Peter and Dan introduce Suzy Kolber, as she talks about the weather for the day. She also talks about the status of player injuries throughout the game. At the end of the first half, Berman chimes in on the key stats, shows highlights from the game and presents his “Halftime Hero”. He also chimes in when the game is over with second half highlights and Suzy Kolber interviews the player of the game. Berman also runs the Sportscenter show talking about the games that were played that day, including highlights from 3 or 4 of them. Trey Wingo talks about free agent signings, trades, and injuries for the week. Mel Kiper Jr. chimes in after week 8 and week 12 of your franchise and talks about the upcoming draft prospects in his “Rookie Report”. While the lips are not in sync with the voices, I really don’t care. The ESPN atmosphere is there and it just makes the game that much better.

Did you ever want to go back to a replay from the first quarter of your game, while waiting for the 2-minute warning in the 4th?? Well, with GameCast you can view any and all replays from the entire game. Pause the game; go to GameCast and select the play you would like to view the replay of, it’s that simple. GameCast Live is a way to simulate games in Franchise mode; it’s called the Visual Simulator. You can go in there and sim the game then jump in at any time to take control.

I noticed while playing in the snow, you would see a noticeable frame rate issue. The players are slower in the snow and you will occasionally see some slipping and sliding, but I didn’t notice a greater amount of dropped passes or fumbles. The wind has no affect on the passing game, but it sure does mess with your kicking game. There aren’t any new camera angles, but you can still customize the camera to your liking, so it’s not an issue.

Ok, it’s time to take your favorite team through the preseason, regular season, playoffs and the ultimate goal, win the Super Bowl. Of course, after the long grueling season, there is a long grueling off-season to worry about. As a General Manager, you have to worry about players retiring, free agency and all sorts of other things. Let’s take a look at the different categories.

Weekly preparation is probably where you will spend a lot of time before actually hitting the field on Sunday. Here you can scout your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. You can assign tasks to coaches and players, hold press conferences, team meetings, watch film, exercise and stretch your players, weight train and rehab are just a few things you can do. You have a certain amount of hours to use, so you need to choose wisely. You can setup weekly or daily regiments. Once you are settled in what you want done Monday through Friday, you advance the preparation screen to view the overall team results or individual player results on Saturday. After checking out what has improved or in my case, what got worse, you can advance to game day Sunday. I’ve had players go up two or three points and have had players go down as many as six rating points. It’s really a game within the game.

You can look at the “Front Office” for player personnel decisions. You can negotiate contracts and trades here. You can also check out your “Franchise Status” and see how the Owner feels. After week 7 you can view the Pro Bowl voting. Looking at the ESPN.com page you can check your email, stats, standings, Power Rankings, injuries and many other things. Speaking of stats, they are toned down this year. You won’t see linebackers with 200 tackles or too many QB’s w/ over a 100 QB rating. Stats actually look a lot better this year and resemble those stats of their NFL counterparts.

After your season ends, you will see a retirement period. You can actually get them to change their mind at the right price on a short-term contract. After that is out of the way, it’s time to resign your players or let them go as free agents. You can make offers to available free agents and hope you land a big one. After that you are headed to the NFL Combine, where you evaluate the players and talent. You need to collect reports from the prospects in order to know which player to grab in the upcoming draft. If you chose to edit rookies from the beginning of the Franchise, you will be able to edit the rookies in the NFL Combine period.

The NFL Draft is next on the list and it all looks the same as last year. I didn’t see any trades during the draft and it went by very quickly after you make your selection. Before the draft, Mel Kiper Jr. talks about his “Top 10”, “Best of the Rest” and “Sleepers” in his Sportscenter “Draft Preview Edition”. He also has a “Draft Review Edition” after the draft and talks about some of the top picks, including your own. He also shows the complete 1st round selections and talks about the picks you made for your team.

Ah yes, the bread and butter of “ESPN NFL 2K5”. Last year there were many complaints about the running game, specifically the unstoppable running backs. Breaking tackle after tackle, spinning their way into the end zone leaving us in total disbelief and frustration, even a 3rd String Rookie was hard to stop. Well, things have changed for the better this year, as the broken tackle problems have been addressed. Remember running back all of those kickoffs for six last year? Well, kiss that one good bye as well. I have played well over 30 games and have only 1 go the distance. Last year it seemed like every other kickoff return was a touchdown. Pursuit, pursuit, pursuit!! That’s what you will see this year. While you will still see the defense take awkward angles (Hey, it happens in the NFL), it’s better than it was last year, because the pursuit is there!!

The “R” stick jukes are done very well and you can actually turn while juking. I’ve watched a few defenders break their ankles when executing it. Since there aren’t many broken tackles this year, that leaves the AI with very low running stats. Thankfully you can adjust some sliders and fix that problem. I’m still tweaking my sliders and will post them in our Forums later.

While playing defense you can hit the “Y” button to defend a pass. The CPU will make a decision on whether you will swat the ball away or try for an interception. You can control this manually by hitting your “WHITE” button to block the pass or the “BLACK” button to try and pick it off. Holding the “R” button will execute the strafe. It’s a lot easier to control your player this year, compared to last. I noticed the DB’s would occasionally try to swat down a ball that should be easily intercepted. If you are quick enough to switch to the player and manually control him, it will lead to better results.

One of the greatest things to do on defense is controlling anyone and everyone on that side of the ball. Just like last year, you can shift your lineman, defensive backs and linebackers before the snap. Hot blitz a player, bring in the DB’s and make them play the inside position, play your linebackers to the outside and pinch the lineman to stuff that run up the middle. New this year is the ability to set individual DB and linebacker assignments. You can now make a LB or DB double up on a receiver, press, back off, blitz, delayed blitz or set him up as a QB spy. You really do have a lot of control this year in the defensive department.

Maximum tackling is a new addition as well. When you wrap a ball carrier up, the cursor underneath your player will turn red, you need to hit your “A” button as fast as you can. I’ve seen it yield some realistic results. Not sure what will come of it in the online portion of the game. Hopefully there isn’t any sort of “Cheesing” going on. There are hit and wrap tackles so if you get in a good shot, you can break up passes or cause a fumble, it’s a very nice addition.

On offense, it’s best to know what kind of drop back you are running on a specific play. Let’s say you call a “50 F Speed Out”. That play calls for a 5-step drop, while a “90 X Lob Corner” is a play specifically designed for a 3-step drop. There are play action plays labeled with “PA”, Rollouts with “RO” and play action rollouts with “PA-RO”. If you want your plays to work at a decent percentage, you need to be familiar with this.

Uh oh…. on the pre-snap you see the defense ready to bring the house on you. It’s time to audible out of that 5-step drop back into a 3 step and gets rid of that football before the fans jump down your throat. Audibles are executed the same as last year, you can even setup on the fly audibles while selecting your play. Hot routes are your friend as well. You'll need to learn to use them. Hot routes give you the opportunity to change a receiver’s route at the line of scrimmage. If you see a DB playing 10 yards off of you, expecting something deep, hit him with a 5 yard out hot route. Just remember everything isn’t what it seems, the defense will disguise their coverage and that 5-yard out could mean trouble. You can always hit the “BLACK” button to throw the ball away if things get to heated, just make sure you are out of the pocket, of course or you will get an intentional grounding call, which leads to a loss of down to all you rookies out there.

Just like last year, holding the button down executes the bullet pass and tapping it throws up the lob. If you want to pump fake to a receiver, double tap that corresponding button. You might be able to freeze a DB or safety and find someone wide open. I’ve done it a few times and found myself watching it over and over again in instant replay, watching the DB almost break his ankles trying frantically to chase the receiver down. Maximum passing is back again and it works the same way as last year. If you want to throw the ball in front of, behind, to the left or right of your target receiver, you will need to enable Maximum passing. It is pressure sensitive, so play around with it in practice mode to get a feel for it if you are not familiar with it.

Just when your opponent thinks they have a sack, you can use the new QB evade technique. When you see a defender flying in for the sack, press the right stick to the right, left, up or down to avoid the pressure. Using QB evade seems to work a little too well, but I’m usually trying to read the defense to make my pass so; I really don’t use it very often. If I see a defender coming up the middle untouched, I’ll use it and if there isn’t anyone coming in to mop up, I can usually get a pass off in time. You will notice a slight slowness in button response time when using the QB evade. Your QB has to get his feet back under him and get set before he can throw the pass. This might work out OK, in combating the “Cheesers” online.

The kicking game is the same as last year. Aim your arrow and hit the highest point in the power meter. The arrow will of course move at higher difficulties and the power meter will move faster. The great thing about the kicking game this year is the fact the AI will miss some! Finally, I don’t have to think “Mr. Automatic” is going to crush this 52 yarder with room to spare right down the middle. This year I have seen quite a few missed FG’s by the CPU and that is definitely a welcomed site. I even saw a kicker miss a chippy 29 yarder off the post. Yes, the AI will attempt field goals from the 25, unlike last year. I haven’t seen a missed extra point yet, but there have been a few near misses. As we all know, the extra point is no longer quite automatic in the NFL. I just wish I could block a punt or a FG attempt every once and a while. I haven’t blocked one yet, but I have come close.

I wanted to mention a few more things before I close out the review. I’ve seen offsetting penalties, AI pulling first stringers and inserting 2nd and 3rd string players when they are up big, AI taking timeouts to early after the 2-minute warning. Although there have been a few games when they wait until a minute is left. You just never know how the AI will react, but at least they do take the timeouts and run the hurry up offense when they are down. It doesn’t play dumb. In fact, the AI will go into a no-huddle offense, just to throw you off occasionally. How cool is that!!

I haven’t had the chance to play online yet, but this is definitely a feature I’m looking forward to. Starting up leagues and having injuries effect the season will be unreal. With ESPN backing it up, the stats and web page designs will look very familiar to all sports fans. If you are familiar with the way it was setup for the Playstation 2 version last year, you’ll know what to expect in terms of visuals on the web pages. I remember looking at that website constantly when we had a league running, it was setup very well.

Honestly, for $20 what more could you ask for?? “ESPN NFL 2K5” has it all and it’s really putting the pressure on Madden to come out with new features and gameplay enhancements. That is what the gamer really wants. With competition comes better games, and in the end happy sports gamers.

ESPN NFL 2K5 Score
out of 10