College Hoops 2K5's franchise mode has been revamped and renamed "legacy mode." There are two different flavors. One is called career, and it requires you to take a coaching job at a small, downtrodden basketball school, such as Dartmouth in the Ivy League. From here you are forced to hire relatively weak assistant coaches while attempting to give rise to the weak program to attract the attention of bigger-name schools that might be looking for a new coach. Of course, it's a lot of hard work dealing with a deck that's stacked against you in terms of talent, recruiting, and more. This mode may appeal to hardcore basketball fans, but most players will probably opt for the "open" legacy mode, which allows you to pick any of the game's more than 300 schools. If you attended a university with a division one basketball program, chances are, your alma mater is represented.
Recruits are judged on quite a number of different criteria.
Over the course of a season, you'll need to deal with adjusting your team's practice regimen, handling its year-round scouting and recruitment of high school players, playing games against a full schedule of nonconference and conference opponents, and, of course, participating in the postseason tournament. You'll have a pair of assistant coaches to help you in this endeavor, each of whom is graded on different criteria, including skill at teaching offense and defense, recruiting, and scouting ability. In those weeks where your team has fewer games, you and your assistants will have more "time" points to spend flying out and scouting high school players to determine their true abilities and potentials. Of course, time spent recruiting and scouting is less time spent training with your current team, so you'll need to carefully balance the need to woo new players with the need to keep your team in tip-top shape for upcoming games.
When it comes time to play each game, you can simulate the match while relying on strategy sliders that allow you to choose how hard your team will crash the glass, what your primary and secondary defensive schemes are, how often you apply a press, and more. You can, of course, choose to play each game yourself, or, as a compromise, you can play each game in coach mode. In coach mode, the game plays out as normal, except you don't have any direct control over the players. Instead, you call out plays, control substitution patterns, and even make more-subtle adjustments, such as creating specific defensive matchups and choosing how much pressure to apply on each opposing player. If one opponent is starting to get hot, for example, you can instruct your best defensive player to guard him tightly, or you can always apply a double team whenever that opponent has the ball. Coach mode is also available from the quick play menu, and while it is a nice change of pace from playing the game yourself, there isn't any time savings from it, so it's hard to say that it's a good compromise between time spent and control over the outcome of your game.
As far as presentation goes, ESPN College Hoops 2K5 is every bit as attractive as its pro counterpart, ESPN NBA 2K5. Players are well-detailed, especially in close-ups, and they animate fluidly in all aspects. The developer has also done a pretty good job at modeling the arenas of major schools, so you'll also see cheerleaders and team mascots applauding their teams from the baselines in front of the crowds. There's not much music to speak of in the game, unless you count the ESPN-branded tunes in the menu screens. Major schools will have their fight songs played in-game, but the highlight of College Hoops 2K5's sound is definitely the commentary from Mike Patrick and Jay Bilas. Even if he is a bit long-winded at times, Bilas does a wonderful job at providing insightful color analysis.
Overall, College Hoops 2K5 plays a great game of basketball.
College Hoops 2K5 also offers online play on PS2 and Xbox. The suite of features on both is pretty standard, so you can play ranked matches, view opponent stats and tendencies via the leaderboards, and set up tournaments. What's most important is that the online play is extremely smooth. In our online play-testing on both platforms, the gameplay was lag-free and pleasantly responsive...perhaps representing the smoothest action we've ever experienced with an online basketball game. Hopefully this experience will hold up as more and more players get online with the game.
Like its NBA cousin, ESPN NBA 2K5, College Hoops 2K5 offers up a great game of roundball. While the balance of gameplay still hinges on star players, there are still enough intrinsic nuances to give the game a college basketball feel. If you're a fan of college basketball, the attractive presentation, smooth online play, and deep legacy mode are all good reasons to check out ESPN College Hoops 2K5.