Ice Hockey is a sport which hasn't really taken off in the UK like it has done elsewhere around the world - there are teams that play regularly and it does seem popular, but it's simply not on a par with the more established sports such as Football and Rugby. Don't however let that put you off Take 2's ESPN NHL 2K5.
With the NHL season being abandoned in North America this year due to a row over players wages, 2K5 could well be as near as you get to NHL action during 2005, and thankfully the ESPN branding gives what appears to be a good representation of TV-style coverage - complete with some fairly impressive commentary which continues on with smalltalk even during the less active match moments where usually AI-commentary would fall down with nothing to say.
It doesn't take long to get very engrossed in the action, and it's clear to see why Ice Hockey proves so popular both for players and the public which are watching behind the tall glass screens which surround the rink. With six players on each team it's frantic action, and the control system allows the game to remain fast-paced without leaving you feeling as though you're out of control
Scoring goals seems particularly hard in 2K5, and most games resulted in less than a couple of goals in total - it certainly is possible to score but seems to rely on a goal-hanging style approach with the reliance on your team mates getting the puck to you for a last minute whack in to the back of the tiny net.
Well worth a mention are the party modes which feature in NHL 2K5, and they really do add a surprisingly large amount of enjoyment to the game giving a chance not only to have a less-serious game of hockey but also help you learn how to control your player on the ice and work through some very tight gaps with the puck. All of which helps with your technique in the main game.
In addition to the party mode is a "Skybox" which has a couple of minigames including an air-hockey and shuffleboard, along with a collection of classic Hockey shirts and heritage giving an insight in to the sports history, although the Trivia quiz seems a fairly pointless addition, and seems hardly likely to be of any real interest to anyone other than the most clued-up of NHL fans.
Fights are one aspect of Ice Hockey which seem synonymous with the sport, and sure enough they feature in ESPN NHL 2K5, with the ability to push and shove the opposition player and even drag them about on the ice in an effort to release some of the tension which has built up during the game.
Team management also makes a major appearance in 2K5 as the "Franchise mode", and offers the ability to scout players which you wish to add to your team, train them up and set them loose in the rink - hoping they don't end up disgraced in the Sin Bin.
Unfortunately this management side of the game doesn't work too well though, as the endless menus and statistics really aren't best suited to a console due to the multiple joypad movements and button presses which are required - making the entire mode feel very tedious and time consuming without giving much reward.
ESPN NHL 2K5 is one of the better ice hockey titles that we've seen during the past few years, which when coupled with the broad range of modes really does make it more enjoyable than expected - and with a £20 retail price it's an absolute bargain addition to your collection.Overall score: 8 out of 10
Publisher: Take 2
Recommended Price: £19.99
Available: NowBuy ESPN NHL 2K5 for the PlayStation 2 from Amazon