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ESPN NHL 2K5 PlayStation 2

Published by Global Star Software
Developed by Visual Concepts
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £19.99

This season could well be the darkest moment in NHL History. As fans of the sport know the whole season has been cancelled due to failed negotiations over a salary cap. As ESPN points this means that there will be no Stanley Cup winner for the first time since 1919 when a flu epidemic forced the competition to be cancelled. In the US there seems to a real feeling that disaster has struck as the sport was already less popular than football (the US variety that is), baseball and basketball. Surely the sport will survive though, but you'll have to get your NHL fix from ESPN NHL 2K5 and play out the season that never was.

I've played several hockey games (we call it ice hockey here in the UK) over the years but none have impressed me as much as last years ESPN NHL Hockey on the Xbox. The game was sensational in every way and I had trouble coming away from the game because it was so addictive. For someone who lives in the UK and doesn't follow the sport (although I've watched a few NHL games in my time) this is saying a lot. In fact NHL Hockey has to go down as one of the best sports games of all time. When NHL 2K5 arrived for review on the PlayStation 2 I expected the game not to be as visually impressive but was still hopeful that that the game would play out just as impressively and to a large degree, that's exactly how it turned out.

ESPN NHL 2K5 is loaded to the brim with modes. Exhibition, Season, Play Offs, Franchise and Tournament modes all make a return. You'll also notice Dream Team, Skills and Party modes as well as an Extras mode which includes games such as Mini-Rink and Pond Hockey to name but a few. In addition there is also a Party mode which offers four games (Battle, Arcade Quick Game, Arcade Tournament and Elimination) and support for up to 8 players (2 Multitaps required). The Franchise mode has been improved and includes better player scouting amongst other things. A minor league now exists and this allows your minor league players to actually play and you to keep an eye on their development. You can't actually play the minor league games though. There have been many other subtle tweaks and improvements to the Franchise mode which all add up to make it a more satisfying experience.

Most of the game mechanics have remained the same in this year's game but to be honest ESPN NHL Hockey was an excellent game and didn't need much improvement. The game now sports a new fighting engine for when things get heated. Holding the L button allows you to skate backwards and assume a defensive position whilst your opponents are in possession, and using the right analogue stick will allow you to have greater stick control. The right analogue stick can also be used for 'Intense Contact Control' as the game calls it which basically allows you to get nasty with the stick if you want to. Of course you'll end up giving away penalties and your opponents will use these dirty moves on you too. On the lower difficulties you'll also find it easier to score than it was in last year's game. Personally I think this is a good thing as it prevents frustration creeping in for newcomers to the sport.

Graphically the PlayStation 2 version of the game isn't quite up to the standard of last years Xbox title. Loading times are more noticeable and the frame rate is not quite as impressive although it's still very good. The presentation of the game is impressive though and the game is just like watching the real thing on TV. The player animations are also very good and life-like. The crowd graphics aren't as impressive as in NBA 2K5 but I suppose it would take more CPU power to have duplicated that kind of detail in the larger hockey arenas. Overall the game looks very good on the PlayStation 2 but if you have the choice I'd go for the Xbox version and it's definitely a game that will go on my wish list for the near future.

As with NFL 2K5 and NBA 2K5 deaf gamers are just missing out on elements of the games presentation rather than any important content within the game itself. The game commentary for instance isn't subtitled and announcements that are made during the game aren't subtitled either. Like all other sports titles though it makes little difference as all the important information, during a game and in other modes such as the Franchise mode, is shown in text so you'll have no problems with the game at all.

With no NHL season in the real world then it's even more important that the virtual hockey you play this year is as good as possible and the best game on offer has to be ESPN NHL 2K5. The improvements on last year's game are not huge but they don't really need to be. The Franchise mode is more satisfying and if you have a few friends around you can enjoy the additional Party modes. Like in the other ESPN games this year, the online mode has been trimmed from NHL 2K5 and once again this is unfortunate. Hockey is a game suited to online play and it would have been great being able to go online with such a superb game. Still at £19.99 the game's a fantastic bargain and all hockey fans who own a Xbox or PlayStation 2 should definitely pick this game up.

Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10

There may be no NHL season but at least when you need some virtual hockey there's a game of this calibre which should satisfy even the most demanding hockey enthusiast.

Deaf Gamers Classification:

(Click the letter or here for details)

There's no announcer or commentator subtitles but whilst this is unfortunate it in no way prevents deaf gamers from enjoying this great hockey game.