ESPN College Hoops 2K5 Review (Xbox)
My favorite basketball game from last year, "ESPN College Hoops", is back with this year’s version, "ESPN College Hoops 2K5" (“College Hoops”). Let's take a look at it now.
As always, VC (Visual Concepts) has the best graphics in sports gaming and “College Hoops” is no exception. Every team has a different court and most arenas are different and extremely accurate. I don’t give credit to games that get the big arenas like Cameron Indoor or the Comcast Center correct, but "College Hoops" gets smaller arenas like George Washington’s Gym and American University’s Bender Arena correct. VC must be commended for their commitment to accuracy.
The player models are the same ones used in "ESPN NBA 2k5" and look great. I love that many of the players have similar looks to their real-life counterparts. Due to NCAA rules, college games can't use the names of real-life players and many game makers shy away from creating players that even look like the real-life players. In previous years, VC and EA (in their "March Madness" series) would have the positions and ratings of players correct but would sometimes change the skin color and look of the player to avoid crossing the line. The good news is that in “College Hoops”, many of the star players' appearances are dead on. J.J. Redick looks like J.J. Redick - and this is a welcome addition to the series.
This is the only part of the game that is sub par. The commentary once again is very good; Mike Patrick and Jay Bilas are back again and their commentary adds to the game instead of distracting or annoying the player. I rank their commentary among the best in the sports video game business and only slightly below "NCAA Football 2005" and "ESPN NFL 2K5".
That’s the good news - now here's the bad. Last year’s version of “College Hoops” had a horrible sound bug where the band would play while the ball was in play. This never happens in real life and it took away from the presentation of the game because the music would overwhelm the crowd. Thankfully, VC fixed this bug and the band doesn’t play at the wrong time this year; but there are times where the band just cuts out abruptly. The crowd seems to be louder than last year, but at times the crowd will go completely silent. Now I’ve been in arenas with over 20,000 people and I know that when the away team hits a big shot, the crowd will become deflated and get quiet to a degree - but I’ve never heard an entire arena go silent. VC needs to work on fading out the band and crowd sounds in order to make them sound more realistic.
“College Hoops” uses the "NBA 2K5" engine and it fixes every major issue with the engine. First, the infamous “timeout bug” does not exist in this game. The CPU calls timeouts at appropriate times - like during an opposing team's run and at the end of the game. Unlike "ESPN NBA 2K5", the CPU will go to its star players until you stop them. I played against Memphis and Rodney Carney, Memphis’s star guard, had 24 points at the half - and the CPU continued to go to him until I double-teamed him. The same thing happened with Gerry McNamara of Syracuse and Ryan Gomes of Providence. For years, I’ve been begging for a game that makes me strategize against the team and their best players. I’ve finally found one.
Two other additions that I absolutely love are the new free throw meter and the realistic substitution patterns. For the longest time, basketball games have used free throw meters that rely more on timing and not enough on the player’s real-life free throw ability. Now if you were controlling a bad free throw shooter, the meter would go faster, but with enough practice any person could master it and make over 90% of their free throws. I'm tired of making all of my free throws no matter who was on the line just because I could time it right. In “ESPN College Hoops” the new system takes into account when the player releases the ball and the player’s free throw ability. So even if you release at the height of your shot, there is still a chance you will miss if your player is a poor free throw shooter. This greatly adds to the realism and should be added to VC’s NBA game next year. The substitution patterns are the best I’ve ever seen in a game. Anyone who watches Duke knows they only play 7 or 8 players at the most and I'd had to deal with games where Duke would sub in ten players or more in a game because the AI only subs in one player for each position. For example, Melvin Scott on North Carolina can play the point or shooting guard positions, and in real life Roy Williams subs him in for both guard positions. In other games, Scott would only sub in for the point because he’s listed as a point guard and some other player who never plays in real life would sub in at shooting guard. In “ESPN College Hoops” Scott subs in for both positions and North Carolina uses a short bench just like in real life. It’s a small thing on the surface, but it’s a much appreciated addition that greatly adds to the realism of the game.
I’ve found that "College Hoops" is the first game that allows you to get an accurate number of fouls in a game. If you maximize every foul slider, you will see a ton of fouls. You will pretty much see fouls on every play, and that’s a good thing. It’s good because you can tailor the slider to your own taste. It seems that everyone has a different opinion on what is a realistic amount of fouls and this way everyone can be happy.
One of the biggest additions to this series is accurate team play styles. North Carolina and Princeton run two of the most distinctly opposite offenses in college basketball. North Carolina constantly pushes the ball and looks for a fast break, while Princeton’s offense involves a large amount of passing and backdoor cuts. In “College Hoops”, both teams play exactly as their real-life counterparts. This really adds a lot to the game as you really have to plan against each opponent.
Even though I prefer the animations from EA’s "NBA Live" engine, I think that the majority of the animations in the game are solid. Small touches, like the way players fall or adjust their shots when taking contact or how players hold their hands up after making a three adds to the presentation. The major things that keep the animations from being on par with the animations from the "NBA Live" engine are the post moves and the inside animations. Too often, players resort to leaning lay-ups, hooks and fadeaways when the post player could go straight up and finish strong. I used to place the blame on VC failing to put the right post game animations in the game but I’ve found that the animations are in the game; it's just that they aren’t always activated at the right time. Power post players like Lawrence Roberts or Jason Maxiell shouldn’t have to resort to fadeaways in order to get their points.
Other small additions to the game include preseason tournaments, halftime highlights and ESPN.com articles. While not a huge part of a college basketball season, preseason tournaments are a nice addition. One thing I love about VC is that when they add something, they usually don’t go halfway. “College Hoops” features over 20 preseason tournaments and even though many of them are named differently, any person who follows college basketball can easily identify the tournaments. This year every game features highlights from the game during the half and at the end of the game. As an added bonus, after every game there is an article that covers the past game. The article also features a highlight from the game.
I must admit I have never enjoyed a "Dynasty-type" mode in a game as much as I have in “College Hoops.” This mode features everything you could think of in a "Dynasty" mode. Once again you have the option of a career "legacy" or an open "legacy". With a career legacy, you must become the coach of a low-ranked team and work your way up through the coaching ranks. You can choose any team to coach in an open legacy. Some of the new features added to the game are controls over game preparations and added recruiting features. The Coach’s Meeting feature lets you designate the amount of time you and your assistant coaches allot to scouting the other team, as well as to training your own team and to recruiting future players. I like this feature as it permits a player to become involved in the day-to-day aspects of a team and makes you feel that decisions you make outside of the game affect your team. In recruiting, you can designate tasks to your assistant coaches. They can email a recruit; phone recruits, watch a player’s game if he lives near your school or request game tape if he doesn’t. All of these features will keep my interest in my dynasty until next year’s game.
Even though I absolutely love this game, there are some problems. Even though I haven’t tried it, there are reports that there is a bug when trying to import a draft class into "ESPN NBA 2K5". I’ve also heard reports of people having problems with the game freezing during games or in certain menus. Also, some people may have problems with many of the star players being too effective. At times it can appear that star players can be unstoppable, but with the right defensive adjustments and double teams, they can be neutralized. What it comes down to is personal taste, and if you feel star players are too explosive, that can be changed with sliders.
Typically all "ESPN" videogames play well online and "ESPN College Hoops" is no exception. I had no problems at all with lag or with connecting to the server. Also this year, the game features online leagues and 64 team online tournaments. All the stats from those tournaments can be accessed on the ESPN Videogames site. Most people will be totally satisfied with the offline aspects of the game, but if they aren’t, the online side of the game will still provide hours upon hours of entertainment playing the game.
If you've read any of my basketball reviews on this site, you may notice that this review is a little shorter then most of my past reviews. I’ve found is that it's easier to write a lot about all of the things that a game does wrong then what it does right. I found myself playing this game as I always do when I’m trying to write a review. During the first few hours of playing the game, I’ll love it. Then a couple hours later, I'll start to nitpick and I’ll find problems. Then a couple of days later, I'll see the game for what it is, both good and bad. I’ve always had the understanding when reviewing a game that the other shoe always drops. There are always major problems with a game, no matter how good it seems at the beginning.
Well…I’m two weeks into playing this game non-stop and the other shoe hasn’t dropped. I can't find a major problem with this game, and I’ve just been enjoying it.