The battle between the two sport heavyweights SEGA and EA has been nothing short of intense lately. SEGA are licking their wounds after being dealt a major blow with the NFL license but also hopeful of bringing back the gusto to the baseball genre. One area where the two are still going hammer and tongs however is the NBA and while ESPN is out a few months later than NBA Live it is a far superior game. SEGA have once again managed to create not only one of the best looking sports titles but one of the best NBA games ever made for sim fans.
ESPN Basketball has a new game mode this year. Along with 24/7, Tournament, Street and Practice, The Association is now part of the game. The tournament mode is fairly self explanatory and really replaces the season mode. Rather than having an official season mode by itself, you have to create it which may not be welcome news for those who care not for all the management aspects of a franchise. However Association is so in depth it's hard to see just why people would not want to see what a real franchise has to offer and all the problems associated with it.
The Association mode basically introduces you to the world of an NBA General Manager, however on top of the trades, drafts, finances etc associated with a GM's job, you also control the team in terms of coaching and training. The club's fortune rests on your shoulders. It's not all done by you however. You can hire coaches at various pay levels to get the best out of your players while balancing the books and while you can go to quite a depth with the management if you wish, you don't have to and winning games is usually just enough to keep the club in business unless you go nuts on trades and draft picks. One of the key aspects of this mode is team chemistry. Every decision you have to make can affect the chemistry of the team in positive and negative fashion. The more chemistry the team has, the better they will perform so it's important you get the tough decisions right.
Killing two birds with one stone, ESPN has also included a street mode no doubt to compete with NBA Street V3. While it may not have the over the top capability of the latter title, it does manage to offer a decent street game and for the price it's going for, value for money is certainly present. You can play half court, full court, one on one or the classic 21 point game. The players you use are from the NBA line ups although as you would expect they are in normal clothing rather than uniforms and give smack talk due to the lack of commentary. Expanding on this is the 24/7 mode where you create a young player from scratch and build him up to be the best player around. So really ESPN contains NBA, Street V3 and NBA Ballers all rolled into one very cheap package. There is also a coaching mode where you pick your players, who shoots and then watch it play out in replays. It's interesting and feels like a turn based game.
This year the developers have really upped the style of the game putting it very much on par with NFL 2K5. The ESPN license (which they are about to lose, sadly) is really what makes the game so great in terms of aesthetics. Unlike last year, a half time and full time wrap up is available but the Sportscenter weekly update as seen in NFL 2K5 is still AWOL here. Also you don't get the atmospheric feel of actually 'watching' a sports broadcast that you get with NFL 2K5 possibly because of the lack of replay comments and 'text' on the screen. NFL 2K5 just seems to have something that this game can't touch, but it definitely is improved this year. Gametrack and Game Story provide half and full time comments with full motion replays and player of the match interviews.
The detail of the players is also like NFL 2K5 and seemingly better than the EA effort, with fluid movements to boot. This is helped by the Isomotion movement scheme where with a variety of buttons and stick movements you can make star players perform tricks only those in the NBA can do. The right stick by itself can perform dukes and spins around players in the key giving you a level of control not really seen before.
It goes without saying the style of the game is decent but there are a few issues we have. It seems that the graphics increase and decrease when needed, this only occurs during free throws but it's rather annoying. Other than that the stadiums, players and just about everything associated with the NBA has been replicated incredibly well. Commentary is provided by three ESPN commentators who do a great job, but again fail when compared to NFL 2K5.
ESPN NBA 2K5 is a great game that unfortunately came along three months after NBA Live. For those who waited, it was worth it because ESPN is the better game despite the missing all star weekend. The style of the game, visuals and gameplay make it one of, if not the best NBA game on the market today.