We get hands-on with ESPN NHL 2K5 for the first time since E3.
Visual Concepts stopped by the GameSpot offices earlier today with playable builds of its upcoming hockey game, ESPN NHL 2K5. Despite the overall high quality of last year's ESPN NHL Hockey, the developers at VC were quite frank about recognizing the shortcomings of that game and have obviously been hard at work addressing them in this year's offering. Specifically, the fighting engine and the franchise mode have been overhauled in NHL 2K5, and a highly enjoyable party mode has been added as well. To see all this crazy stuff in action, head over to ESPN NHL 2K5's media page.
We first got a chance to try out the new fighting-game mechanic. Each team has a visible tension meter, which you'll be able to see at the top of the screen. The more physical and chippy the game gets, the higher the tension meter runs for each team. Cheap shots and board-rattling checks are sure ways to run these meters up. The higher the tension meter gets, the more likely it is that a fight will break out.
Once two players have dropped the gloves, you'll be able to take control of your man. In this year's game, you have the ability to move freely around the ice, making fights somewhat more tactical as you try to maintain distance from your opponent before making your move. It also allows you to retreat or charge at your whim, without the restrictions of last year's game. You have an array of punches and moves at your disposal, including a jab, an uppercut, a dodge, and a grab. You can't just flail away wildly, though, because each punch takes stamina, which is represented by a blue bar. Punches thrown with a full or nearly full stamina bar do much more damage than blows thrown at the end of a big flurry. Some of the fights we tried still degenerated into button mashing, but overall this change appears to be a step in the right direction.
The developer has also added a number of interesting in-game features to spice up gameplay. Arguably, the most significant of these is the use of the right analog stick to poke at an opponent. Give the stick a quick tap and your player may apply a quick hook to an opponent to slow him up. Press down on the right analog stick and your player will apply a much harder and dirtier check move, which more often than not will upend or knock over the opposing player. The downside of relying on this mechanic is that you leave yourself open to a penalty, and, obviously, the harder moves make it very likely that you'll end up with a player in the penalty box. Still, it's a useful feature to have, and, as in real hockey, it allows you to intentionally take a penalty rather than give up an outnumbered attack on your goalie.
Another interesting feature is the ability to skate backward by holding the L trigger. While doing this, the right analog stick gives you full control over your hockey stick, so you can use it to sweep-check pucks or centering passes away, just like a real-life defenseman would.
On the franchise front, developer Kush Games has made wholesale changes. Everything, including trade logic and artificial intelligence roster management, has been redone from the ground up so that the computer will make more-intelligent decisions. What's more exciting, though, is the new design of the franchise mode, which focuses squarely on your staff, players, and player development. In NHL 2K5, you'll hire a full slate of coaches, scouts, and minor league managers, each of whom has specific strengths and weaknesses. Some coaches are great at working with forwards, while others develop defensemen better, for example. Over the course of several seasons, you'll also need to monitor your staff's satisfaction level. Those who are discontent may end up impacting your players in a negative way, while those who are happy could have the opposite effect.
The role of the minor-league system has also been expanded greatly. Instead of being just a holding pool for your younger players and marginal talent, the minor leagues will actually simulate games as you play through your major-league season. You'll be able to examine stats from these games as well as player stats so that you can specifically call up players who are on hot streaks. If you have young talent that you want to develop, you'll even have the ability to set up lines to ensure maximum playing time for them.
- Release Date: Aug 30, 2004 (US)
- ESRB: ETitles rated E (Everyone) have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older.