|Sega's Visual Concepts rejoins developer Kush Games to bring the "2K5" edition of ESPN NHL to the virtual ice. This 2004 release is designed to retain the solid, core play of previous years' hockey games, while adding new features and a refined presentation. New moves are included to allow gamers to more fully take control of their players and the puck, and the fighting system has been redesigned. The Franchise mode has also been thoroughly revamped, and a new "Party" mode has been added. Even the "Skybox" feature has been enhanced, with a number of new unlockables. As in earlier versions of the title, ESPN NHL 2K5 features all of the National Hockey League's teams and players, based on the most recent full season (2003-2004).
In many situations, the right analog stick can now be used to directly control a player's hockey stick. On defense, gamers can make their players sweep at the puck, or poke-check a passing opponent, even while skating backwards. The fighting system in ESPN NHL 2K5 is tied to a tension meter that rises and falls according to the mood on the ice; when teams are hitting harder (or playing dirtier), tensions rise, and players are more likely to drop the gloves at the slightest provocation. Players involved in a fight can move freely around the ice, and retreat or charge into the brawl at will. A wider selection of punches and grabs is available, but good tactics are required, as each attack drains some the player's stamina.
The series' Franchise mode was rebuilt for this 2K5 version, designed to produce smarter GM opponents who make more realistic trades and staffing decisions. The gamer's own staff now consists of coaches, scouts, and players, all the way down to the minor leagues, and gamers can check out up-and-coming prospects first-hand, instead of just guessing at their styles of play based on statistics. All minor league games are simulated, and virtual managers can keep an eye on prospects in their farm teams throughout the season, or even influence the rosters to give a hot minor league rookie the ice-time he needs to develop his skills.
Over the previous few years, the SegaSports hockey games have gained a reputation for highly realistic, almost simulation-style gameplay, especially in comparison to EA Sports' popular, more action-oriented NHL series. In contrast to the authentic style of ESPN NHL's standard modes, this year's version of also features a "Party" mode, designed to entertain players of all skill and interest levels with its accessible, forgiving action. In addition to the ability to relax rules and turn off penalties, a number of party-style mini-games are included, in which gamers compete to score the most goals or deliver the most checks in fast-paced free-for-alls.
Online multiplayer gaming is once again supported, on PlayStation 2 through the PS2 Network Adaptor accessory, and on Xbox through the Xbox Live service.