ESPN NBA 2K5
$19.95 MSRP (For XBox, PS2 and GC)
As we approach the NBA All-Star Game this weekend, it's a good time to review the best hoops games on the market. This is certainly one of the all-time best, and from quite an unexpected source. Sega's previous basketball efforts have suffered from a lack of realism and clunky controls, but this game may have set a new standard for NBA games. Most hoops-based games are either cartoonish, where every single shot is a mega-slam dunk or a 40-foot three, or a frustratingly hard defensive game where the final score ends up being 8-6. This game tries to split the difference - and pulls it off.
As opposed to its chief competitor, EA Sports' NBA Live, the Sega ESPN series lets you choose what kind of game you want to play: a realistic simulation or an arcade-style game. Both have their advantages. In the sim mode, players behave remarkably like real life. Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant will hog the ball; Jermaine O'Neal will dominate the paint and Shaq will run rampant over defenders. The arcade mode lets you play 146-145 shootouts.
What sets this game apart are the variety of modes. In the Association mode, you're required to hire assistant coaches, stay under the salary cap, and deal with different player personalities. Schedule too many heavy practices and team chemistry will go down; give Ron Artest (appropriately labeled as "Personality Type ?") the wrong answer to a question and team chemistry will plummet.
There's also a 24/7 mode, where you create your own player and train him against top pros; and a robust list of fantasy teams and all-time greats.
Not only is ESPN NBA 2K5 $10 cheaper than its EA Sports counterpart, it's also more fun. The only drawbacks are a difficult free-throw system and the inability to change uniform numbers. That means Artest will be #15 instead of his infamous #91 brawl jersey.
Also, no matter how hard you try or what buttons you press, Artest will never run up into the stands and beat the crap out of some fans. Other than that, this is one of the all-time great hoops games, easily outclassing its competition