ESPN NHL 2K5
Ice Hockey isn’t really the most beloved sports for the average Belgian. Soccer, cycling or tennis, of those they know everything but if you ask them what a puck is, they’ll look at you like a fool. Luckily there are publishers like Sega who managed to convince us with their NHL 2K series that hockey might be a quite alright sport. This series has recently gotten its latest update: ESPN NHL 2K5 and I was the candidate to check it out. With my past as ice hocket player I was quite enthusiastic even before the game arrived at my door.
A sport like Ice Hockey is filled with action, tactical moves and also a blend of technique. In the US it’s immensely popular because of the high “beat-eachother-up” level and also probably due to the famous NHL competition. NHL 2K5 has imho the best arguments to call itself the best game in its category. Sega promised lots of new features and they are present. There’s loads of new game modes and the guys at EA can only start drooling.
After starting up, you immediately get a deja-vu feeling of what I just stated. The “Quick Game” doesn’t need any explanation as everyone will understand what this means. When checking out the “Franchise” mode a lot more starts to unveil as you get the opportunity to run your own team. You makes sure you get the best results and are responsible for everything a manager needs to manage: trainers, scouts, players, etc. The fun thing is that you’ll really feel like the boss; you have your own mailbox, you can surf to espn.com to check the rankings and you get the means to alter the setup and tactics of your team as you wish. If you think your team needs some new blood, you can set the scouts to work to get new talent in. When you’re done with the ton of menu’s you can go to “tonight’s game” and start playing.
Of course lots of other game modes are present that will keep you occupied for several hours. You can replay the “playoffs” or even a whole season, NHL 2K5 offers a lot and there’s something for everyone. Creating your own team or player, you can do it!
In “Dream Team” mode you get the opportunity to play against a team of your choice against 20 different Dream Teams. Something everyone will like are the different minigames that are present in “The Skybox”. You can play “Air Hockey” or “Trivia”, … the rest I’ll let you find out for yourself. The skybox also offers the possibility to exchange your bonus points for extra features like shirts, big heads, playing without helmet and lots more. These bonus points can be earned by doing certain things in the game.
What might disappoint is the lack of knowledge of the game rules and players. The rules can be turned off but the players are often unknown. I chose “Colorado Avalanche” as this is my favorite team. Only one player has a name that I know but he doesn’t play anymore as he’s retired: Wayne Gretzky. Of course you don’t need any knowldge of the players to know who play best, the ratings will help you with this.
As soon as you’ve played your first game these rules and players won’t matter to you anymore as you’ll be completely overwhelmed with the graphics! The ice, stadium, audience, players, and even the atmospher make sure you’re clustered to your screen. Sometimes things will hapen that will really make you look astonished, like players that start fighting, glass that breaks from a shot that was too hard, players that get thrown over the bench and even a goal that gets loose from the ice.
The controls are a piece of cake. Controlling your players and having the puck go round is done with the left thumb and the basic buttons A,B,X and Y. With the right stick you do so-called “dekes” which will help you get past your opponents. They’re not too easy to do but once you get the hang of them, they’ll definitely be worth the effort.
NHL 2K5 isn’t a game where you can score while still being a bit green behind the ears as the AI is a bit too strong for that. It’s a realistic hockey game where nicely planned one-timers and dekes can take over the opposition. Experience is a must!
Another positive thing is the sound: atmospheric music that entangles you immediately, when entering the arena, when scoring, and even from the start of the intro already. Sadly there’s no music while playing a match but that isn’t really necessary as you’ll hear an enthusiastic audience shouting their club songs. Supporters can also launch whistle-concerts when you have to go to the penalty bench.
This game just has it all… except for XBox Live in the European version.
Without a doubt, ESPN NHL 2K5 contains something I have almost never seen in a sports game. When you love action, tactics and technique, or just ice hockey, this game is a must! The controls are easy, the graphics are astonishing, the sound is appropriate and atmospheric, the gameplay is smooth and the game will keep you occupied for quite a while!
If there is anything to be said negative, it will be the lack of XBox Live for the European version but for the rest, ESPN NHL 2K5 is the best hockey game in the world!