ESPN NBA 2K5 has to be considered to be the LeBron James of basketball video games, finally challenging the long-time number one, EA Sports NBA Live. So what makes this upstart so good? In a word - variation. The game mixes it up in categories, styles and options.
The major problem with all sports games is that they can be easily burnt - that is easily out played and disposed of, shafted to the back of the games shelf within a fortnight. NBA 2K5 steps up to fireproof status by variations such as its newly introduced 24/7 format. This involves creating a player, training him up (24/7) and then introducing him into the big league.
The drawback is that this new style literally means 24/7. Say for instance that you have worked on your player so that he is almost fully trained and things are going well, then suddenly you cannot play for a week. Unfortunately, your player's attributes will deteriorate dramatically. This is a farily major flaw, as not too many people have unrestricted time to commit to a video game.
The biggest revolution with ESPN 2K5 is the strategy behind it. Not only can you play the game as your favourite star, but you can also manage from the sidelines at the same time. This may vary from allocating different defensive patterns to choosing who shoots, how many times and when. This adds an exciting and involving dimension to the game play.
Its other in-game attributes are mixed. NBA 2K5 excels in intricate details and a very realistic atmosphere is created. This ranges from the new playable 'off the ball' system to the sponsors of the different shoes for each player. The 'off the ball' control system lets you focus not only on the players with possession of the ball, but what actually happens around the court. It allows you to experience a different form of game play than what you may be accustomed to. Sega must be given credit for trying to push the boundaries on gameplay, tweaking normal options into something different and innovative.
Unfortunately, not everything that has been tweaked has been successful. The games tries to create a more realistic approach for the ball carrier, but instead of giving him 1000 different ways to score as in other basketball games, ESPN 25K only allows about four! The biggest let-down is in the dunking department. The lay-ups-to-dunks are very realistic, there's just not enough of them and when they happen, they're very tame and boring. Dunks are what basketball fans live for, and fun should never be sacrificed for "reality".
As you might expect from an ESPN-produced product, the three stages of the game (pre-game, mid-game and post-game) are extremely enjoyable and realistic. The commentators and announcers compare one-on-one matchups, shooting percentages, team strategies, anything you would expect real NBA games to have. The commentators also outline the star players' form and tell you whether they are running "smokin' hot" or "cold as ice".
All up, NBA 2K5 is a solid game, but it's really a trial for sport gamers and a test for the creators. While a positive foundation has been laid out very well, it needs the corrections of its few significant flaws before we witness the annointing of a new basketball video game king.