ESPN NBA 2K5 Review
ESPN NBA 2K5 delivers a fantastic simulation-style basketball experience that is graphically appealing and chock-full of content.
Like its football and hockey brethren, which arrived earlier this year, ESPN NBA 2K5 has shipped to stores at a bargain price of $20. And, once again, developer Visual Concepts has delivered a product that resembles anything but a budget game. ESPN NBA 2K5 delivers a fantastic simulation-style basketball experience that is graphically appealing and chock-full of content.
The basic gameplay mechanics in ESPN NBA 2K5 have been tweaked to a great degree. This is most evident during post-play, which offers you tons of viable options. With your back to the basket, you can attempt to back in your defender, spin around him to gain an advantage, fire up a jump hook, execute a drop step with the new pro hop/drop step button (to get closer to the basket for a dunk or layup), or any combination of these. Depending on your position, you can also pro-hop laterally to free up for a look at the basket. While other games may allow you to do some of these moves, ESPN NBA 2K5's post-game play both looks and feels the most realistic in that these maneuvers can work some of the time but not all of the time. Sometimes backing in is all you need to do, while at other times, you'll get pushed off the block by your defender. Spinning into the lane may free you up, or you might whirl yourself into a double team. Getting sloppy with the drop step or pro hop can even result in a charging call, a traveling violation, or a simple loss of ball possession. Also, those familiar with last year's game will also be happy to know that blocked shots occur with much less frequency this year. As a result, the ratio of blocked shots to shooting fouls seems more realistic in ESPN NBA 2K5.
Related to the post-game is rebounding, and here the game does a good job, for the most part. When every shot goes up, you'll see a spot on the floor where the ball will hit (assuming the shot is missed). If you can position a player on that spot and jump at the appropriate time, you'll board the ball above the rim and eliminate the chance of anyone else getting it. If you're only near the spot when you jump, your chances of getting the rebound are lessened. Your momentum at the time of your jump also seems to matter, so if you're not well set or you're not at least moving in the direction of the rebound when you jump, you won't be able to get up as high as you would otherwise. You'll still see a bit of "vacuuming" from time to time--where the ball appears to get sucked into the hands of a faraway player--but for the most part, rebounding in the game looks realistic and feels intuitive.
For those of you who prefer to play while facing the basket, the developer has also done some tweaking with the "isomotion" juke system that was introduced to the series last year. In NBA 2K5, you won't get whistled for as many charging calls as in last year's game, so crossing over your defender to get to the basket is a more viable option. You can also execute spin moves and step backs to free yourself up for a jumper. Since isomotion unleashes canned, relatively lengthy animations, it's still not as intuitive to use as NBA Live's freestyle. You have to sit through the full animation to see if your player has gotten around the defender, although you can cancel the animation midway through if it appears that the defense has cut you off.
The passing game in ESPN NBA 2K5 is also mostly good. Players running out on the break or making cuts to and from the basket will catch passes in stride, and it's also possible to force a lead pass by pressing two buttons at once. Since players aren't always stopping to catch balls, the game looks more fluid overall, much like a real game of basketball. Passing in the half court, as in most basketball games, can look a little stilted sometimes, what with players throwing awkward-looking overheads. But much of the time, you'll also see players making deft bounce passes in appropriate situations or putting some air under skip passes to avoid interceptions.
Perhaps the most welcome addition to the gameplay is the inclusion of offensive playbooks for each team. Instead of running just basic isolation, post, or pick-and-roll plays, you can assign four different, more complex plays to the D pad. There are dozens of different plays in the game, and they can be as simple as having a post player flash across the lane or as complicated as having a set of staggered screens established to free up a wing player who's coming on a curl. The most important part is that the plays do work, and your artificially intelligent teammates do a good job at setting up and running through the scripts--just as they've been drawn up in the playbook. Defensively, you can also choose from different types of zones and trap plays, or you can just play a regular man-to-man D.
If we have one major complaint about the gameplay, it's that it's still rather difficult to stay in front of fast ball handlers, especially without a crouch stance for defense. This problem has been lessened to a degree in 2K5, because players now carry additional momentum. As a result, changing directions can't always be done on a dime, and getting started from a dead stop requires a split second of windup. If you pay close attention, you have a chance to step in front of the ball handler as he makes his move, but it's probably still harder than it necessarily should be. There also doesn't seem to be a huge variety of dunk animations in the game, and, as in last year's offering, your player will still sometimes pull up for short jumpers when you really want him to dunk or lay the ball in. However, the strengths of ESPN 2K5's on-court gameplay significantly outweigh its few weaknesses. As for the game's franchise mode, it's also undergone some significant changes--many of which are quite interesting, though not necessarily for the best.