Since ESPN 2K5 or All Pro Football 2K8, EA Sports has had no competition for an NFL football game. The age of exclusive licensing deals means that Madden is consistently renewed despite minimal, if any, improvements in recent years. For me personally, it’s been at least five years since I last purchased a Madden title for myself. The game-play never really feels improved, only rehashed to a style from a few years prior. The modern editions of the game also feel very robotic while the franchise mode receives no attention. This is all without even mentioning micro-transactions yet, which are immensely unpopular.
It’s been over 16 years since ESPN 2K5 was released on July 20, 2004 and remarkably, the game holds up quite well as of 2020. 2K has always had excellent game engines, as evidenced by the company’s basketball titles. The NBA 2K games have consistently improved over the last 15 years while garnering a reputation for stunning, realistic visuals and feel.
ESPN 2K5 was no exception. The graphics and presentation for this game were way ahead of its time. It truly felt “next gen” to play and was leaps and bounds above more pixelated games of the time. With the right resolution on PC, the visuals hold up for 2020. The realistic feel of the ESPN ticker, half-time show and replays add so much that modern Madden games seem to skimp on.
As for game-play, ESPN 2K5 has long been praised by NFL fans for its realistic game-flow. Big stops, sacks and back-breaking touchdowns truly feel like they’re impacting the game. Madden has never quite been able to grasp this, at least not since the 2000’s.
Featuring Terrell Owens in an Eagles uniform on the cover, ESPN 2K5 certainly carries a heavy nostalgia factor for 2000’s NFL fans. If there ever was a perfect year to have a one-off NFL title, 2005 could be it. This was the golden age of the Peyton Manning Colts and the early beginnings of the Patriots dynasty. Running-backs were more valued and there were certainly many greats from this era. It also felt like a “changing of the guard” period on defense. Playing ESPN 2K5 with current rosters is a-lot of fun, but using the rosters of the day might just be better.
What really makes this game feel like you transported back to the 2000’s is the “crib” feature. ESPN 2K5 featured a player-owned house in which one could store trophies of in-game achievements and watch classic SportsCenter commercials of the time period. This is particularly awesome considering that this game was released during the golden age of ESPN. It’s pretty cool to sit down in the home theater and watch commercials featuring the late, great Stuart Scott, peak Chris Berman and popular athletes of the times from other sports. The crib even had an air hockey table; so yeah, 2000’s.
The player also had the option to play celebrity owned teams. If victorious, the player could add the celebs to their phone-book. The celebrities included Carmen Elektra, comedian Jamie Kennedy and keeping with the 2000’s theme, Steve-O.
ESPN 2K5 was also well known for its first-person mode. This allowed players to do exactly as it sounds, which is play NFL games in first person. Some NFL fans absolutely loved this game mode and look back on it very positively.
Another fantastic element of this classic game was the ESPN 25th Anniversary mode. This game mode allowed players to relive classic NFL moments and games such as the “The Ice Bowl”, “The Catch”, “The Drive”, the legendary Packers Super Bowl XXXII drive and “Fourth and Twenty-Six.”
ESPN 2K5 is truly one of the greatest sports games ever made and arguably, the greatest NFL game. Madden had some great titles during this time period as well, but the realistic feel that 2K5 brought to the table has yet to be replicated. It will be years before we ever get another NFL title outside Madden, if we ever get one at all. With that said, ESPN 2K5 is still fun with both current rosters or the nostalgia factor, as of 2020.