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ESPN NBA 2K5 Review for PlayStation 2 (PS2)
Posted on Tuesday, April 05, 2005 @ 11:24:16 am E.S.T

As a basketball player myself, Iíve always been a fan of Segaís 2K series as they have managed to replicate the game far more accurately than the Live or Inside Drive franchises. Where other games concentrated more on the player being able to pick the ball up and stuff it with their maxed out custom player, the 2K series looked at the fundamentals. First appearing on the Dreamcast, the series had an accurate foul calling system and whatís more, the pace and gameplay replicated the real game, placing the footsteps for the other games follow. Once again the game has surpassed EAís Live series, although not everything has improved.

What every basketball game has seemed to have gotten wrong is the balance between offense and defense. As in Live 2005, games are really high scoring and it seems that every time you go to the basket you have far too many options offensively. Often itís possible to just crossover past your opponent with your guard and get an easy score. It just seems that the defense will almost always get faked out by the same moves, which makes the game unrealistic at times. For example, I could stand there faking my shot, and the fourth time the defender would jump for the block, when the defender should just steal the ball from you. Youíll notice it most while youíre on Dí, when you have a tight zone and even the worst guards in the league get through somehow.

As I mentioned, there are a plethora of options in 2K5 when youíre on offense, most of these being too effective in my opinion. First are the IsoMotion2 crossovers, which will result in one of three outcomes: a score, a charge or a fakeout. I must admit that IsoMotion2 is a fantastic system; it beats Liveís trick stick system easily, but itís just unbalanced. Next is the hop step, or pro-hop. This is basically a jump stop, or spin move which allows you to penetrate on the drive and increase your chances on a jump shot or fadeaway. Once again this move has been made too powerful, whereas on Live 05 itís well balanced and has options to defend against. Lastly we have air-IsoMotion2, which is just a change of shot. This allows you to change out of a dunk or lay-up to prevent a block. Changing your shot looks great with Baron Davis switching from the tomahawk to a 180 lay-in, but when Shaq steps up and does the same, it feels false. Once again, in Live this was far better.

Post (close to the basket) play is really unbalanced. The new IsoMotion2 post moves, which include up ní unders along with the classic drop step, are lethal and result in scoring on almost every play. It seems that even players such as Iverson can post up Ben Wallace or Shaq and still come up tops 80% of the time. Iím not saying that these moves are bad, but they just seem to be too effective. Itís a real shame that Visual Concepts didnít add as many defensive post options to help you smother or counter such moves.

The main reason why defense has been so decrepitated decrepit from 2K4 is due to the removal of manual control defense. Players will automatically go into a defensive stance with their backs to the basket. This seems fine at first play, but as time goes on you see the CPU screwing up, with players often not even turning to face their opponents. It also makes boxing out (blocking players from getting the ball) almost impossible, resulting in large amounts of offensive boards. Because of this it makes games completely focused on offense; which is surprising seeing that the Detroit Pistons, winners of the NBA in the Ď03-í04 season, won the championship thanks to good rebounding and defense. Unfortunately both Live and 2K5 suffer from this and hopefully weíll see some improvements for the next instalments.

Apart from this unbalance between the offense and defense the game is actually a great experience. Gameplay is fluid, with smooth transitions between offense and defense, with several dimensions added with the excellent playbook. The playbook is fantastic in 2K5, mainly because itís finally been made accessible to players other than the hardcore ballers. All the plays are animated, allowing you to see how to run them during the game, and theyíre sorted into useful groupings allowing you to find the plays you need quickly. This allows players new to basketball to sample the deeper aspects of the game.

The classic Franchise mode is, of course, the main focus of 2K5, dubbed ĎThe AssociationĎ. Now, unlike the rather static version in Live, The Association puts you in the seat of your teamís general manager and gives you control over the whole team. You get to hire coaches, assistant coaches and organise training sessions. They arenít just there to take up menu space either, effective choices of training and hiring top quality coaches will result in increasing the teamís stats, giving you the edge in matches. Thereís also a new system called ĎTeam Chemistryí this is basically your teamís morale and is affected by various factors. For example a player will come and talk to you each week, team chemistry will then go up or down depending on how you deal with them. The higher team chemistry gets, the better the team performs in Full Authority. This makes the franchise mode in 2K5 much more involving than Live 05ís.

Now that Iíve mentioned the Full Authority mode, Iíd better explain how this new (and rather confusing) mode works. The game starts off with you choosing your players and their match-ups. Next you choose how many shots each player will take and finally their defensive strategy. You are then treated to highlights of the quarter. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Personally, Iím not a fan of this mode, I want to play the game and be in control of the way my team plays. But hey, for those guys who want to play it as a management sim, this mode is fantastic.

The custom player has always been a staple of sports games, mainly as a vehicle for gamers to get themselves into their favourite team. 2K5 moves away from this (although you can still make a custom player in The Association) with the 24/7 mode. And to be quite honest, itís more fun than The Association mode. You essentially just create a player and take them to the streets, ascending the ranks to reach stardom. 24/7 is so much more than that however. Itís hard to explain why the modeís so addictive. It could be the fantastic one on one games, the large array of gametypes or just the collectibles, but above all itís just fun to play. All of the problems with the main game also seem to have been sorted out in this mode too; it seems that the AI works far better in games where there are fewer players. Not only that, but you can take your player online to school your buddies for special items and all important bragging rights.

Sega have always had the knack of making their games look glorious, and theyíve made no exception here. The game is stunning. The most impressive thing of all is that theyíve really captured the likenesses of all the players in the NBA, from the all-stars to the last rookie. Shaq looks like Shaq and JR Smith looks like JR Smith, down to the last tattoo. Thereís also an incredible amount of attention to detail on both the players and on the courts. For example, at the end of the quarters, when you see the teams retreating to their respective benches, youíll notice sweat patches on the playerís jerseys, with players that have played more producing more sweat patchage than those that have only been on for a minute or two. Of course, I couldnít mention every little thing Visual Concepts squeezed in, but I think the URLs of team websites on top of the backboards sums them up nicely. Slowdown isnít an issue either; I think I encountered a slight drop in framerate on a very long sinker shot, but apart from that itís been perfect. In this department 2K5 has absolutely destroyed Live, which looks shabby and unfinished in comparison.

Online ESPN 2K5 is pretty much unchanged from 2K4, every game mode is playable online and thereís now the addition of leagues, which I love. Slowdown does unfortunately show in some games, itís not terrible but has cost me a shot or two on occasion. Also, thereís still the problem of people running off if theyíre going to lose on pickup games, which sucks.

As with most sports titles, NBA 2K5 has plenty of replayability. The Association will take plenty of your time up, with plenty of scope for custom teams (using the fantasy draft option). The multiplayer is also great, whether youíre playing with your mate sitting next to you, or someone on the other side of the globe. To sum up, this is a game youíll be playing till the next roster updateÖI mean game.

Play by play commentary is a very important feature in all sports games, so why Sega let Bill Walton commentate on the 2K series is lost on me. He doesnít even get to use his trademark hyperboles and instead offers idiotic comments that are often irrelevant to the player heís talking about. Eventually I ended up turning the commentary off, itís that bad. On the other hand, the custom soundtracks definitely make up for this, although the fact that Iím using EA Trax as a lot of the songs in the playlist gives you an idea of why they had to include this feature. The sound effects are also excellent, especially when played over a 5.1 surround system, from the trash talk between players to the squeak of their kicks on the court.

Overall, Iíd say that ESPN 2K5 is the best basketball sim around this season, because out of the former and Live 2005, it gives a much better representation of the game. It may not be perfect, it may actually be slightly worse than 2K4, but Iíve still clocked over 40 hours on my profile already. If you love basketball like I do, buy it.

Review By: Ali Owen - 841 Reads

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