ESPN NBA 2K5 – XB – Review

In the ongoing war
between ESPN Videogames (formerly Sega Sports) and EA Sports, one battleground
that remains a hotspot of contention is the hardcourt.  Basketball videogames
have been notoriously lackluster when compared to the authenticity and real-life
representation of their gridiron counterparts, but both the NBA 2K and NBA Live
franchises have come a long way, baby. These two combatants add a bit more
firepower to the war in the way of new features, improved graphics, and tweaked
gameplay, but when the smoke has dissipated and the casualties tallied, which
one of these games will be waving the white flag?


For the first time
in my illustrious career as a sports video game reviewer, I’m doing a
simultaneous review of two games in direct competition with each other.  A
straight-up one-on-one contest between NBA 2K5 and NBA Live 2005.  In fact,
you’ll see that the two first paragraphs of each review are virtually
identical.  Check out my
NBA Live 2005 review


Benefits to being
a coverboy…




the sequel to what I considered to be the best basketball game for a home
console since Double Dribble back in the old NES Days.  It provided a solid NBA
basketball simulation, a few streetball modes, and the excellent single-player
24/7 mode.  2K5 is pretty much more of the same real basketball for real
basketball fans with every feature enhanced.


The best thing
about NBA 2K5 (besides its famous $20 price tag – cheap!) is the outstanding
gameplay that developers Visual Concepts have incorporated in both the NBA
five-on-five and one-on-one modes.  The ESPN series has never been all about
fast breaks and rim-rattling dunks and more about teamplay and seizing
opportunities, making it the number one choice for ballers who prefer X’s and
O’s to $’s.  Make no mistake, you can throw down some serious thunder, but you
can’t just size up a defender, crossover until he’s on the ground clutching his
ankles and tomahawk with the press of a button. 


The control scheme
of NBA 2K5 works brilliantly with the game and its pace.  On offense, the game
does a great job of letting players create their game with a variety of options
on the dribble and in the post.  Unlike NBA Live, there’s only one shoot button
(X) and it’s situational – running towards the hoop with an open lane will
result in a dunk or lay-up, and incorporating the left thumbstick allows players
to shoot fadeaway J’s or leaners.  Passing is as simple as pressing the A
button, and as complicated as pressing it twice to perform the valuable lead
pass.  Y performs a hop step that isn’t nearly as devastating as NBA Live’s, and
B performs Isomotion moves such as crossover hesitation dribbles.  This latest
edition of Isomotion, brilliantly called Isomotion2, isn’t very
distinguishable from last year’s, even though there are supposed new moves. 
Anyone who played last year’s version will know that the moves aren’t as flashy
as NBA Live’s (and for that fact not as fun to use), but they still retain
function especially when trying to create a bit of open space for a jumpshot. 
It’s incredibly satisfying when you do school your defender by throwing a few
hesitation moves, stepping back when the defender is on his toes, and popping a
jumper in his eye.


Insert joke about
Kobe and Latrell playing head-to-head or Latrell ‘choking’.


Defensively, NBA
2K5 has all the standard controls found in most games.  Block, steal, take
charge, and switch player are all represented with the buttons, and the right
trigger (which should heretofore be known as ‘the turbo trigger’) controls
turbo.  The left trigger now asks for a double team on whoever has the ball. 
It’s very useful when another team’s scoring monster gets the ball and you need
to contain him.  It does however open up another man if the offense can get him
the ball.  I wasn’t sure if this decision by ESPN was a good one, but after
getting torched by Vince Carter when he was played by one man, I found myself
using it quite a bit in crunchtime. 


Now that we’ve got
the controls out of the way, let’s talk about what we all came here to discuss –
how the game actually plays.  On the offensive side, the play is slowed down
considerably when compared to NBA Live.  It’s all about setting up an offense,
hitting a man with a laser-beam pass when he’s cutting to the basket, or
settling for the open jumper.  It plays a lot like some of the teams in the
East, such as the World Champion Detroit Pistons.  The defensive side is hotly
contested among the basketball gaming community, but I feel doubters of NBA 2K’s
defense have misused the system.  Most basketball games (ahem – NBA Live) reward
button mashers, particularly with stealing the ball.  NBA 2K5 does the opposite
– over-pressing buttons kills your chances at stopping the defender more than
Jayson Williams kills limo drivers.  Instead, defense in NBA 2K5 requires
players to do what real defenders must do – simply get their bodies between the
ballhandler and the basket to force an undesirable shot.  It’s not glamorous,
but it is more representative of real NBA defense (when there used to be NBA
defense, that is). 


The franchise
mode, called The Association, is similar to the other franchise modes in the
ESPN Videogames series, allowing players to manage a team through a season on
their way towards an NBA championship.  Team chemistry has been introduced this
year, and having a harmonious team is more than just feng shui, it actually
shows benefits on the court.  Players will visit the general manager (you) with
different requests.  Some may ask for more playing time, some may ask for
lighter workouts.  For example, Steve Nash may approach you in your office and
harp about his contribution to the team.  One of three responses will come up,
and they usually involve being harsh, complimentary, or indifferent.  Some
players like a tough coach, some like their backs patted.  It’s the manager’s
job to see that everything goes smoothly, or they may see a LA Lakers meltdown
occur.  This all effects team chemistry, which affects the team’s output. 
Another new feature is the Full Authority mode.  Each game can be simulated,
played by the user, or go into Full Authority.  I’m not quite sure what
developer Visual Concepts was thinking when they put this feature in, but the
best way to describe it is Magic: The Gathering with NBA players on the cards. 
Before tip-off, managers decide how many shots players are going to take, what
offensive strategy each player will use (shoot from long range, bang inside,
etc.), and how to play their man defensively (put a hand in his face on jumpers,
play him closer to the basket).  Then the manager is treated to highlights of
the game, showing how their strategies worked.  The better they choose their
strategies, the better their players will perform.  For example, if you tell
your point guard to shoot from long range and the CPU plays your man to
penetrate, the point guard will make more shots.  The managers do this for each
quarter, and the better they choose their strategies, the more shots they will
be awarded, which inevitably leads to a higher score.  It just doesn’t seem to
fit into the game, and in my opinion, has no place in NBA 2K5.  I’m more of a
fan of NBA Live’s Dynasty mode than The Association.


“Baby I’m sorry. 
Why don’t I just buy you another million-dollar ring and we’ll call it even?”


Returning once
again is 24/7 mode, a single-player create-a-baller experience that should not
be missed by any hoops fan.  In 24/7, created players match skills against NBA
stars in one-on-one contests, improving their stats based on performance in
training modes and their status in one-on-one competitions.  The thing that
makes the 24/7 mode so addictive is the variety of one-on-one rules.  One game
may require the baller to only dunk or lay-up, and another may start the baller
with a 3 point deficit.  There are a ton of different parameters, and they
change every hour (the mode synchs to your Xbox’s internal clock).  Defeating
opponents not only improves the player’s rank, but also improves his wardrobe as
well.  Tons of items are available to play dress-up on your player, from
throwback jerseys to hockey masks, and virtually assure players that their
baller will be unique.  Having praised 24/7 this much, it should be noted that
not much has changed from last year’s version, which is a bit of a


Online is back to
NBA 2K, and it’s better than ever.  Highlights include taking your 24/7
character online to battle, playing instant quickmatch or optimatch games, and
the ESPN messaging system, but the real attraction are the tournament and season
features.  Gather some friends together for a quick tournament or season and let
the game do the rest.  All you need to do is create a league and wait for others
to sign up.  From there, all sorts of parameters can be decided such as season
length, ability to trade players, and how long is allowed between games played.


You want
graphics?  Look no further than NBA 2K5.  The game looks great.  And with
revamped player models and the new ‘momentum’ models, the players move with more
realism than any other basketball game out there.  The stadiums look fantastic,
and the fans and cheerleaders are all 3-D. 


The sounds of the
game are well done in, highlighted by Stuart Scott introducing the teams and
Bill Walton and Michele Tafoya reporting during the game.  The crowd is great,
responding to the home team’s successes and failures realistically, and a bit of
shouting from a few screaming individuals.  The soundtrack is also a highlight,
featuring underground hip hop from several artists on the verge of breaking out
including Lyrics Born and Rob Swift.  NBA 2K5 has also included a custom stadium
arena soundtrack, similar to NFL 2K5’s, but there are less events to put
selected tracks in.  In fact, you’ll probably get sick of hearing the same two
cuts every time the home team or away team dribbles up the court. 


NBA 2K5 looks
great, plays great, and only costs $20.  There’s no excuse for any true
basketball fan not to have this game. 


Review Scoring Details


Gameplay: 9.7

Quality gameplay
once again highlights the 2K franchise.  This is the most realistic basketball
game available.  Add to that easy online leagues, lots of unlockables, and the
awesome 24/7 mode, and you got yourself the complete package.


Graphics: 9.5

Last year’s
version looked awesome.  This one looks even better. 


Sound: 8.5

It sounds like
basketball to me… good soundtrack as well.  The commentary is right on par, and
for once isn’t annoying. 


Difficulty: Medium/Hard

Possibly one of
those easy to pick up, difficult to master things going on.  Once players get
into the mental idea of the game (i.e. it’s not necessary to press the steal
button over and over), the gameplay really shines, and players can start ballin’.


Concept: 9.0

24/7 mode really
rules the concept area.  True, it’s still the same thing as last year, but it
still kicks ass. 


Multiplayer: 9.0

Online features,
particularly the online leagues, are great.  With ESPN messaging, setting up
games is easy.  Gamers can also take their 24/7 player online for a little


Overall: 9.0

A solid 9.0 here. 
Would have been higher if the development team had added a little more to the
game from last year’s version.  All said, NBA 2K5 is the best basketball game on
the market.  Period.  NBA team comparison: 2003-2004 Detroit Pistons – Does what
it needs to do to get it done.  Teamwork and fundamentals give this game the
championship it rightfully deserves.