Before each football season, a flood of football video games are released for the different consoles.  However, with NFL Fever not coming out this year for the Xbox and NFL Gameday for the PS2 taking a year off, there is less competition in the pro football video game world.


The Madden series and the ESPN NFL 2K series always seem to be in contention for the top spot each year.  While both of these seem to have excellent gameplay and graphics, Madden always sells many more copies.  However, with ESPN NFL 2K5’s $20 price tag, it seems Madden could have a real challenge on its hands.  How does 2K5 rate this year?


The graphics are nothing short of amazing. The players look very close to their real-life counterparts. Playing it on an HDTV helps the game look even better. The crowd looks much better than last year’s “pogo-stick” people from Madden. The stadiums are also well done.  While playing at Lambeau Field, the stadium didn’t look exactly like the real thing, but it was close enough to feel like you were there.


The animations are more varied. The tackles include wrap-arounds, single leg grabs, and arm grabs, among others. After the play is over, the other players help the tackled player get up realistically. Once when this happened, the player was pulled up almost too hard. He actually was in the air for a second or two. The ESPN Transitions also help to give the illusion of a broadcast. The replays look fantastic too. Touchdown celebrations, sideline ribbing, and fan participation are all a part of the game.  In-game statistics shown on the field are used as well.


That being said, there are a few issues. After the play, there can be some slight slowdown. This didn’t happen often, but it was noticeable when it did happen. Also, some of the players’ arms seemed to be a bit thin on the character models. These graphical glitches are nothing significant though.

With the ESPN graphics also comes the ESPN sounds. Anyone familiar with an ESPN broadcast will be familiar with the sounds. Again, these help to give the illusion of a broadcast.


There is plenty of chatter during the game. Hard counts do sound hard, and each hit is loud. The positional audio is incredible, and those with 5.1 Dolby Surround will be rewarded with realistic sounding hits in the right positions.  A test mode is available to check how the hits will sound in different positions.


Custom soundtracks are a new addition to the game this year in that small portions of songs can be set up within the game.  Songs like P.O.D.’s “Boom” can be played after a sack. Gamers can set these up for other events like first downs, touchdowns, and interceptions.  However, some songs were so loud that they completely drowned out the game announcers.  Other gamers have complained that some songs are too loud and other songs too quiet.  If a custom soundtrack isn’t crated, the default sounds are used. For example, at Lambeau Field, the infamous “GO PACK GO” is used to rally the crowd.


Rick Berman’s voice does have some problems with some fluctuations during his reports, but his voice is like that as well in real life, so it wasn’t too distracting.


The banter of the announcers works well and is as smooth as butter. The announcers’ playcalling never contradicted what actually happened on the field.  While the banter is excellent, it also hasn’t changed much from last year.  Some phrases from 2K4 have made it into 2K5.  Some phrases are repeated more often than other years.  This is disappointing since this didn’t happen as much in previous years.

Control is handled very well.  Just about any move that an NFL player has made is available through the controls.  Anyone familiar with last year’s version of ESPN will be familiar with the controls in this year’s version.


When a player is controlling a runner, tapping on the A button makes the runner go faster.  However, when the player holds down the A button, the charge meter fills.  When it is full, the player can make a “super move” in conjunction with the other controls, such as a super juke or a more powerful stiff arm.


A complaint often heard about the 2K series was the ability to turn on a dime.  This year, the players move on a momentum based system.  This does make the players move more realistically.


The left analog stick controls the player movement.  The Black and White buttons perform stiff arms.  The triggers make the player juke.  The B button performs a spin move.  Line shifts and hot routes are done using the right analog stick.  These do seem to be relatively intuitive, but they do take time to complete, so make sure there is sufficient time on the play clock before starting one.


While the game booklet does include the basic moves, a manual built into the game gives a much better description of what buttons perform what moves.  This manual is thorough, and will even give some NFL jargon, like what a Cheesehead is.

The most common complaint from 2K4 was that the running game was too easy.  Meager running backs could be counted on to get 7-8 yards per carry because of inept tackling at the line.  This year establishing the running game is much harder.  Runs of 2-3 yards are more common, but occasionally a run of 6-7 yards will happen.


There also seems to be more variety in incomplete passes. Last year was a drop fest with the catches. Now the receiver can run the wrong route, or the ball can be tipped.  However, the number of incomplete passes still seems to be staggering.  The defense seems to be revamped almost too much this year.


The amount of penalties should probably be turned up a bit from the default.  No holding or offside calls were made in the games I played. Other than a defensive pass interference call that I instigated, no penalties were called during the game at all.


Interceptions were common last year.  Unfortunately, this hasn’t changed from previous years.  Interceptions even occur on back-to-back plays fairly often.  At the default setting, fumbles don’t happen often at all.  However, adjusting the slider a few notches seems to increase the number of fumbles so much that it seems like the ball was covered with Vaseline.  The ball gets coughed up more often than NFL Blitz.


In a single player game, after each play the screen shows what happened on the previous play, with the key player’s picture in this box. It also gives what direction the play was made.


Those who didn’t care for the playbook or the display of the playbook probably won’t care for this year’s version, as the playbook display didn’t change from last year. It did feel like defensive plays need to be called quicker than in 2K4 though.


Different “celebrations” are available, and those can be changed in the menu options. It’s definitely a nice touch. However, scoring a touchdown feels a bit anti-climatic as there isn’t any scoreboard “TOUCHDOWN!” graphic or anything like that.   The custom soundtrack does help, and crowd shots do help, but something else would help to add to the excitement of the touchdown.


A training mode is available. It is useful for getting used to the different buttons, but it still seems to be a bit lacking. Other than knowing you did the move correctly, there isn’t really a way to hone your skills. Some kind of scoring competition like the NFL Quarterback Challenge would have been nice.


The Crib is huge. Instead of one story, there are two stories to deck out. Celebrities like David Arquette “call” to play against the player. However, playing a game “against” Mr. Arquette was rather annoying with his picture popping up on the screen and making wisecracks constantly.  The game simulates his style using the VIP system.


The VIP system shows how a coach balances play calling between the run and the pass, as well as shows the direction they run their passing and running plays.  Each coach has his own individual style, and the CPU uses this to simulate the style of each team’s coach.


First Person Football makes its appearance again.  This mode made you appreciate how the guys on the field on Sunday play.  This mode really gives the impression of being inside the helmet.


Franchises are available to be played as well.  Each player has his own contract, and these can be negotiated in several ways.  Drafts will also occur every season.  Trades happen appear to happen quite frequently during the year, much more often than what would occur during a real season.


New this year is the ESPN 25th Anniversary Mode.  This mode lets players relive some of the most famous moments in the history of the NFL, including “The Catch” and “The Immaculate Reception.”


There are a lot of nit-picking issues with the game.  However, with some slider adjustments, most of these issues can be resolved.  It does play an excellent game of football.

With so many different modes, as well as the ability to play online, this game is a great value.  Leagues and tournaments can be set up online.  First Person Football is completely unique to the ESPN series.  What’s the best part about the value of the game?  It’s retailing for only $20, and gamers are paying attention.

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