- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

Sega knew it had to make a change. The venerable gaming company already was out of the business of making consoles, and its sports games, while critically praised, just weren’t hitting sales figures comparable with those reviews. That’s what happens, of course, when a company tries to go 1-on-1 against a juggernaut like EA Sports.

So Sega did a couple of things. A few years back, it paired itself with another failing series of games, taking on the ESPN brand. This year Sega made an unprecedented move for a first-run sports game: It dropped the price. And that’s just proof that sometimes you can get more than what you pay for.

Take ESPN College Hoops 2K5, for instance. For $19.99 — half the price of EA Sports’ college basketball game — you get everything you would expect from a major title: every Division I team, a career mode, full play-by-play and commentary, solid game play and online capability. Sega went on the cheap, but it clearly didn’t skimp.

The game features an improved Legacy Mode, which allows you to play up to 40 seasons in two different scenarios. In the first, like a normal career mode, you can choose the open method, which allows you to coach any school.

More interesting, however, is the second option, in which you become a first-time Division I coach with a three-year contract at a small school (options include Navy and Howard). You set your coaching abilities, everything from teaching to recruiting, and pick assistants who can make up for some of your faults. By completing certain goals, which can be anything from finishing with a winning record to winning the national title, you can earn points to improve your attributes and move on to a higher-profile job.

No matter what you choose, there’s more to the Legacy Mode than picking lineups and playing games. Each week, your coach and assistants have a limited amount of time that must be spent on coaching, scouting teams and recruiting and scouting players. The more time you expend sending e-mails, calling or visiting recruits (high school, junior college and international players), the less time you have for game preparation during the week. So you have to find a balance between making your team better now and in the future.

ESPN adds some flavor both during the game and in the menus. After each game, you can check what looks a little like ESPN.com with a fairly generic write-up and a short movie from the game itself. Jay Bilas and Mike Patrick return to do the commentary during the games, and ESPN’s familiar graphics fill the screen.

What won’t be familiar — but will feel instinctual — are some of the game’s mechanics. Taking a nod from football simulations, ESPN College Hoops 2K5 allows you to lead players with passes for easier scores on the break. Also, the game doesn’t use any sort of meter for free throws. Instead, you must release a button when the player’s hands are in proper position, much like any shot from the floor. It’s not as easy as it sounds, however. Players vary in both form and ability, meaning the release time differs.

If there’s a flaw here, it’s in the controls. There’s no dunk/layup button, for instance, so you have no control over the type of shot. Making things more difficult, the IsoMotion control — the right thumbstick — isn’t all that effective at times. A crossover will give you space, but it’s hard to juke past a defender.

Still, those are minor complaints about ESPN College Hoops 2K5, a worthy college basketball simulation. And there’s no complaining about the price.

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