screenshot from 'ESPN 2K5'
Courtesy Sega  /  AP
"ESPN 2K5's" new VIP system is the most innovative feature this season.
updated 8/27/2004 2:42:44 PM ET 2004-08-27T18:42:44

This year's virtual football championship matchup pits "Madden NFL 2005" against "ESPN NFL 2K5" from Sega's ESPN Videogames division.

While both excel at delivering the National Football League experience to your living room through a combination of excellent controls, online gameplay and improved defensive features, some key differences could affect which one of these E-rated titles you'll want to buy.

Price is a big factor: "NFL 2K5" has rolled out a polished game for the bargain price of $20, while "Madden NFL 2005" goes for $50.

"NFL 2K5" has impeccable graphics, smooth controls and a deep franchise mode that matches Madden at every turn.

Players look and play like their real-life counterparts, and the top-notch presentation has been taken a step further this year with its exceptional use of the ESPN license.

A polygonal Chris Berman hosts halftime and postgame shows with video highlights on the Xbox and freeze-frame photos of key plays on the less-powerful PlayStation 2 and GameCube consoles.

Video: New video fooball games ESPN's Suzy Kolber conducts postgame interviews, and Trey Wingo and Mel Kiper Jr. lend their voices in weekly SportsCenter segments and the NFL draft. Only some inexplicably poor lip synching for Berman and Kolber keep the spots from having a perfect broadcast feel.

The new VIP system of "NFL 2K5" is the most innovative feature for any football game this season.

Your VIP profile tracks all football playing tendencies and stats, from your favorite "hot routes" to the kind of defense you like to use on third and long.

You can then load and play against your own VIP profile, practice against a friend's profile, or download an opponent's VIP profile from Microsoft's Xbox Live online service to get a glimpse of their playing strategies. It's the closest any game as come to mimicking human playing tendencies.

The ability to chain moves together, slide between blockers and carry tacklers for extra yards makes running on "NFL 2K5" realistic and enjoyable. Establishing a solid running game is important in the NFL and it should be here, too.

"NFK 2K5" gives you some extra control with context-sensitive tackling. Tapping the correct button on your controller can make your defender shove the ball carrier, while holding down the same button triggers a vicious wrap-up tackle.

'Madden' beefs up defense
On the other side of the virtual gridiron is "Madden NFL 2005" by EA Sports, the sports game division of publishing giant Electronic Arts.

While last year's Madden game reinvented offensive play with playmaker controls, this year's version shifts the focus to the defensive side of the ball with great success.

"Madden NFL 2005"
Electronic Arts  /  AP
"Madden NFL 2005"
Defensive playmaker controls let you alter the pre-snap assignments of every player on the field. You can shift entire units of linebackers, defensive backs and defensive lineman as before, but now you can also adjust individual player assignments using the right analog thumb stick.

There are endless combinations of easy-to-use adjustments and defensive "hot routes" that have an impact on every play and reward strategists.

The new "hit stick" is a risk-reward feature using the right thumb stick. Flick the thumb stick quickly toward a ball carrier to unleash a teeth-rattling tackle. Mistime it and your player will dive aimlessly into the turf. It takes time to master; but when done right, the tackles cause fumbles, dropped passes and injuries.

Unfortunately, Madden has upped its defense at the expense of key offensive elements, and establishing a realistic running game on the All-Pro and All-Madden levels is unrealistically hard.

Even the most talented running backs get caught on offensive lineman on inside runs and blocking artificial intelligence is poor on outside running plays.

Madden's renowned "franchise mode" adds radio host Tony Bruno, who discusses league news, takes phone calls from listeners and interviews players and coaches. Local and national newspapers reporting weekly game stories, injuries and player milestones also feature prominently.

"Madden NFL 2005" brings a lot to the table and is available for a wider range of systems, including the PC, Xbox, GameCube, the PS2 and the original PS1, as well as the Game Boy Advance. "NFL 2K5" is available only for PS2 and Xbox.

Both games do a great job of recreating the thrill of professional football, but I'll have to give the edge to "NFL 2K5" for its lower price and superior graphics and presentation.

"NFL 2K5": four stars out of four. "Madden NFL 2005": three and a half stars out of four.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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