It was the best of times it was the worst of times. That classic phrase describes ESPN NHL2K5
to a “T” as the latest incarnation in this hockey franchise has some of the best hockey game play ever to grace a CRT but it’s beset by bugs and quality issues that tarnish the overall product.
This year’s version includes a host of new features to compliment the usual salvo of graphical tweaks. The biggest of them is the “Intense Contact Controls” which allow you to slash, hook, and check other players while you don’t have the puck. The controls are very reminiscent of the new “Hit Stick” feature in this year’s Madden game and add a lot of spice to the game. You do have to be careful when you use these features as they can result in penalties or if executed poorly, your goalie could be facing a one or more on none situation. It’s a pretty cool feature and really adds a lot to the game.
Another new feature of the game is that whenever you take a face-off you get a picture in picture window showing you the side of the face off. This allows you to see the ref dropping the puck and timing your button press accordingly. It’s a pretty sweet feature but it does result in a slight frame drop as the game removes the window and switches back to the full screen. It’s a bit jarring at first but you get used to it after a while. Depsite being a nice feature, it would have been good for them to have eliminated the stutter before the game shipped.
The other big addition in this year’s version is a set of “party games” that are mini-games you can play with your friends. These consist of shooting, skating, passing, and puck handling games. None of them is particularly memorable and may be a little too frantic to play without four people as the game will fill in computer AI players if you don’t fill in all four slots. This can be off putting as the AI can dominate the games while you are learning them. Some of them are kind of fun but it’s something that will probably be perfected in the next version of the game.
Where ESPN NHL2K5
comes alive is the actual on ice play. Last year’s game set a pretty high bar in terms of game play and this year’s version continues that tradition. While the player models have been upgraded, the real improvement is in the player animations. So while the game only looks a little better than last year’s version, it feels and flows a lot better. There are tons of new little motions that add a great deal of realism to the game.
Game play isn’t anything without controls and this is another area where ESPN NHL2K5
shines. This franchise has always had solid controls and this version continues the tradition. Besides the afore mentioned Intense Contact controls, another new addition is a the variable flipping of the puck in the game. Rather than just flipping the puck, you can control the strength of the flip shot by how long your hold the Y button down. It’s a lot like the slap shot control and it does take a bit of getting used to (the first few times I just flipped it to the opponent instead of over them which lead to a few breakaways the other way).
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