We get hands-on with ESPN NHL 2K5 for the first time since E3.
This idea is expanded even further in the offseason when you send your staff out to internationally scout. You can allocate scouting time to different areas of the world, like Scandinavia, North America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. From there you'll get player lists that provide basic physical information and rough ratings. Schedule potential major-league players for workouts and slowly their skill attribute numbers will fill in, along with text-based scouting reports that cover strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, you'll be able to compare these potential NHL players to actual, current NHL players. The more time you spend with a player, the more-specific information you'll get, which allows you to go into the draft with a plan of action. Beware if you have a poor scouting staff though; your information may be unreliable.
The best part of all of this, though, is that you can set up an actual game with these prospects to gain a true hands-on feel for their skills. Instead of just seeing a big 90 attached to some guy's shot speed rating, you'll be able to fire off screaming rockets at the goalie yourself. Instead of seeing a great check rating for a defenseman, you'll be able to flatten people in a game to know that he's a great checker. You can also run players through skills competitions to gather impressions of other aspects, like shot accuracy. Again, each of these actions takes time from your offseason, but you'll be rewarded with a fuller set of ratings for each of these players in question in the long run.
Beyond all the great new gameplay and franchise features, the most pleasant surprise for us was the inclusion of ESPN NHL 2K5's fantastic, new party mode. This mode is designed specifically for players who aren't as hardcore about their hockey. Perhaps you're having company over and you want to just fire up a fun, four-player, arcade-style hockey game with simplified controls. The "arcade quick game" and "arcade tournament" modes allow for this, and they also give you the ability to disable offsides, icing, and penalties. Also, bonuses can be added for winning fights. As a result, for example, perhaps only the loser of a fight will be sent to the penalty box, or perhaps the winner of a fight will earn a goal for his team. "Elimination" game mode is similar to arcade, except that you can set it up so that the first one to score a certain number of goals is the winner.
The true gem of party mode, however, is the "battle" setting. The best way to describe battle is that it's Mario Party meets hockey. There are 15 minigames designed for four players. We got to try a sampling of them, and they range from racing through an obstacle course, to "freeze tag" (where you gain points for checking other players), to free-for-all (where four players try to score the most goals in a rink that features just one net and one puck). Overall, the games are well designed and balanced. Some modes, like the racing modes, do favor speedy players, like the Los Angeles Kings' right winger Ziggy Palffy. Other minigames require more strength in checking, so the more-physical forwards tend to dominate. Our hands-on time in party mode with four players was a total blast, and we did everything that we possibly could to not yell too loudly in the middle of the office, which would have disturbed the other hardworking editors.
Overall, we're quite impressed with the way the game is shaping up, and we're looking forward to seeing how the final release looks when the game ships in early September. Stay tuned to GameSpot, because we'll have more on ESPN NHL 2K5 soon.
- Release Date: Aug 30, 2004 (US)
- ESRB: ETitles rated E (Everyone) have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older.