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The Sports Desk – Is ESPN NFL 2K5 Still Good After All These Years?

by Matthew Kato on Nov 28, 2016 at 09:00 AM

When it comes to video games, I'm not one for nostalgia – especially when it comes to sports games. I have lots of great sports game memories, but in my opinion, it's a genre whose progress tends to largely negate what came before. Naturally it's preferable to play with update rosters, etc., but oftentimes the iterative design progress from year to year makes it hard to go back and enjoy the older titles.

I was therefore curious to revisit one of the most lauded football games of all time: Visual Concepts' ESPN NFL 2K5. This is the last licensed NFL title that the developer made, and is also famous for being priced at $19.99, which freaked out rivals EA Sports and its Madden franchise – who inked an exclusive deal with the league thereafter. I gave it a 9.5 back in the day (GI issue #137), so the game was certainly notable other than its price.

I wanted to go back to the title and see if it still held up. After all, there are people who still love this game, but I wondered if this was due to its quality or just that they didn't like EA/Madden and the exclusivity deal. Does the game hold up?

The first thing that jumped out at me after not having played it in about a decade (I played the Xbox version on the 360 via backwards compatibility) was the comprehensive nature of the feature set. A number of elements in the game are not only cool for the time, but some of them we still don't even have today: First-person football, the ability to create your own team and bring it into franchise mode, historic teams, the Crib, choosable TD celebrations, customizable divisions, pre-/halftime/post-game shows using in-game character models, and the power on the Xbox to import your own stadium music.

The Xbox 360 wouldn't come out until the following year at the end of 2005 (and the PS3 a year later), so the feature set on the Xbox and PS2 was at its peak and a far cry from the stark decline that followed in EA's NFL titles. When the subsequent console generation started, EA retooled all its sports franchises – a decision it's still trying to recover from.

Even if you think that features like first-person mode are gimmicks (I think it has its moments), the customization options are the kind of user-friendly amenities that go a long way with the fanbase. The ability to spend points on couches, bobbleheads, trophies, etc. to populate your Crib apartment is the kind of investment loop that fans still talk about, and is valuable enough that you see a version of it in the NBA 2K series.

These features are nice amenities, but how does it hold up on the field? Better than I thought. While some technical limitations naturally show the game's age – such as questionable A.I. awareness by defensive backs, the feeling that runners aren't grounded when making cuts, and reduced number of animations compared to contemporary titles – it's still very playable. The Maximum Passing gives quarterbacks some control to place the ball away from defenders, the boost moves (initiated by holding down on the face buttons) are arcadey commands that can save your hide, and overall the gameplay foundation represents video game football as its still played today.

I'd even forgot about a couple of gameplay hallmarks that were remarkable for the time: defensive playcalling is split between assignments for the d-line and the linebackers/secondary, and gang tackling is something competitor Madden only just worked meaningfully into its game in recent years.

ESPN NFL 2K5 holds up much better than I thought, and even contained some pleasant surprises. I'm not sure I could play it as my de facto football game day in/day out, but there are people who offer roster updates for the game if you choose to go that route. Still, the title is more than just a novelty or a case of its reputation exceeding its value, a rare feat for the genre in my eyes.

The weekly gameplanning feature was unwieldy, but its heart was in the right place

Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

Have a suggestion or comment? Put it in the comments section below, send me an email, or reach me on twitter at @mattkato.

 

RELEASE LIST

Steep (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) December 2
Don Bradman Cricket 17 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) December 16. For more on the game, check out this previous preview.

 

THE TICKER
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week.

Konami Introduces Free Trial Version Of Pro Evolution Soccer 2017
This version doesn't sound super different than the demo, but it should certainly benefit from any gameplay changes since the demo's release. It also features a skills trainer and acts as a gateway to the eSports-orientated PES League competition. That being said, I wonder if this trial version will receive the same updates that are planned for the regular version.

New Thrustmaster Gran Turismo Sport Wheel Coming
Buried in the press release for the new T300RS GT-branded wheel is the tidbit that another wheel is coming from the company at the launch of GT Sport in 2017 (whenever that is). This unannounced wheel is "a new very high-end racing wheel positioned above the T500RS," according to the press release.

Forza Winter Expansion Coming in December
The Blizzard Mountain Expansion hits on December 13, and includes 50+ new events and challenges (Hill Climb, Descent, and more), the titular Blizzard Mountain, seven new vehicles, and more.