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Platform:  Playstation 2
# of Players:  1-2
Developer:  Sega
Publisher:  Sega
Ratings:  Everyone
Memory Req.:  
Wandering the hallowed halls of capitalism (the mall) has become more and more excruciating as time wears on. If not for the deadly combination of Annie?s Pretzels and GameStop, I?d never enter those double doors again. Luckily for me, the Internet had become a viable place to purchase any video games I want, though with one minor problem. The Internet has severely hampered my ability to impulse buy games, which has led me to some of the best games I have ever bought. Why is this relevant? ESPN 2K5 was a game that I most assuredly would have overlooked, had I not been desperate to buy a new game. Luckily for me, I am an advertisers wet dream, as I buy just about anything when the mood befalls me.

The choice behind purchasing ESPN vs. Madden is better left to the football fanatics, though to be honest, I don?t see why anybody would pick Madden over its competitor. In a highly publicized move, Sega is offering this years game for a budget price of $20, while Madden remains full price. The general populace would be inclined to think that this makes for a bad game, as years of conditioning have instilled the belief that cheaper is inherently bad quality. They?d be wrong in this case.

Featuring just about every option and feature that Madden has, ESPN even improves on some of the elements that made the Madden franchise a household name. The basic gameplay is almost exactly the same as last year, but with some noticeable improvements. Take for instance the passing defensive game. Last years ESPN had some major issues with the way that the defense responded to your commands, this year the controls are airtight. For once playing defense feels just as fun as playing offense. The slightly broken ?first-person football? from last year returns, though with decidedly less fanfare. The feature doesn?t even appear on the box, and rightfully so. What makes this game better than Madden, in my opinion, is the way it takes the essentials of football and cuts the excess, leaving a remarkable game in the process.

The franchise mode this time around is more complex, though Madden still has more features in this area. If you want to play with hot dog prices, feel free to buy that game instead. If you are more concerned with getting your team to the Super Bowl, you might want to look into the depth of 2K5. In the franchise mode you are given 60 hours in which to train your team every week. Everything from massages to full on scrimmages can be ordered, making your team stronger in the process. You can then break the training into drills for individual players, for maximum efficiency. Successful training sessions raise your selected players stats. Poor training methods can result in horrible results on the field. The level of micro-management is so complete you can even set the AI script for your coach. Your choice can end up making him an angry coach who instills the fear of God into players, or a kinder coach who inspires Ronald Reagan movies. Treat your players too bad, or work them too hard and your team will sustain more injuries and the results could be devastating.

Graphically ESPN takes the trophy again, but only if you buy the X-Box version. The Madden game looks the same across every console, and does look a bit nicer on the ?box, but not enough to really notice. For a $20 game, the graphics are astounding.

In addition to all these features, ESPN has used its clout to obtain famous announcer Chris Berman to supply the commentary for the game, along with other announcers from the network. Less exciting is the addition of celebrity who challenge you to random matches, with all the bad voice acting this implies. What exactly does Carmen Electra have to do with football? I don?t know, but I do know hearing her comment on plays in extremely annoying. Luckily these matches are optional, though they do supply points for your Crib.

The Crib returns this year (obviously) and expands on everything that last years had. More unlockables, more music and bobble head galore make this particular section of the game strangely addicting. I couldn?t stop playing until I obtained every bobble head there was, and I bet I?m not the only one. Through the Crib you can also (On X-Box) add custom soundtracks, and even add sound bites from your favorite song to play during key moments in the game.

Online play is often the deciding factor in making a purchasing decision, and this year ESPN easily beats out its competition for the best online experience. In a move that should have been implemented years ago, Sega has made it so that 32 players can team up to create an entire season amongst themselves. It?s implemented so well, I know next year Madden will have the same thing. Also available online is the VIP feature, which acts as a profile for your gaming preferences. It keeps track of your favorite plays, and even the routes you most use during the actual game. The best part of this featuring is downloading the profile of somebody that is beating the tar out of you and using his strategy to better your defense. Revenge is sweet, but online it is sublime.

If you are a fan of football, you are already having a great year. Not in over 5 years has there been a viable contender for the Madden throne, but this year ESPN has proven it can compete with the best. Either game you get will be excellent, but having every feature that Madden has, minus a few frivolous ones has shown the merit of Sega?s game. Add to that the remarkable price of $20 and you simply cannot go wrong by purchasing ESPN 2K5.

M. Shawn Darnell

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