Sega's ESPN College Hoops 2K5 has shipped to stores just in time for the start of the 2004-2005 college basketball season. While most of the country only pays attention to the sport for the season-ending NCAA Tournament, the road to the championship is paved with hard-fought wins as early as November and December. College Hoops 2K5 plays a quality game of roundball both offline and online, and the new legacy mode should keep wannabe basketball coaches quite busy over the course of several simulated seasons.
College Hoops 2K5 has arrived just in time for college basketball season.
Those who are familiar with the play of College Hoops 2K5's NBA cousin, ESPN NBA 2K5, should have a head start on the feel of its gameplay. As in ESPN NBA 2K5, players in College Hoops 2K5 move about with a good sense of weight and momentum. You can't change directions on a dime in College Hoops 2K5, particularly if the player you're controlling is already running hard. The momentum-based motion requires your player to take a step or two to stop and shift direction, which gives the game a more deliberate and realistic feel. The pace of gameplay is also reflected in the "isomotion" juke system, which allows you to perform crossover dribbles, spin moves, step backs, and more, to get past your defender. These animations are often fairly lengthy, so you'll need to observe carefully for a moment to see if your jukes are going to work before you decide to cancel out of them.
The post-up play in College Hoops 2K5 also works much like ESPN NBA 2K5, allowing you to fire up jump hooks, spin into the lane, or execute a drop step to try to gain position on your defender. Rebounding missed shots is made intuitive by the presence of a dot on the floor where the ball will hit. The dot appears as soon as each shot is released. If you can get to that spot, grabbing the board is just a matter of timing your jump properly. The passing game is also pretty good overall. In fact, you'll see players actually using the bounce pass, at times, instead of always throwing a chest or overhead pass. More importantly, you can lead players off their cuts with passes, allowing for a fluid offense.
College Hoops 2K5 isn't just a clone of ESPN NBA 2K5, though. There are a number of notable differences in the gameplay between the two. For one, College Hoops 2K5 retains the same default baseline camera angle that is standard for most hoops games. Another important difference involves the types of defenses you'll face. As in real-life college basketball, many teams in College Hoops 2K5 will apply a full-court press or a trap off of a made basket. This forces you to pass smartly to break the press. If you pass correctly, you'll be rewarded with an easy basket. However, if you make an errant pass or entrust the rock to a clumsy ball handler, you'll turn the ball over. Thankfully, your artificially intelligent teammates are usually smart about getting open for passes in trap situations.
In the half-court, you'll face a lot more zone defenses in College Hoops 2K5 than in ESPN NBA 2K5. Being able to recognize the types of defenses you're up against is a key part of the gameplay...and in being successful on offense. Against a 3-2 zone for instance, you'll want to send sharpshooters to the corners for open three-pointers from the baseline, while matchup zones are slightly more susceptible to dribble penetration. Players who enjoy running a more structured offense will find a wealth of scripted plays available, four of which can be mapped to the D pad at any time. You can also find a number of different zone defenses and traps in the defensive playbook.
Free throwing in College Hoops 2K5 is a lot different from that found in any other game.
The free-throw mechanic in College Hoops 2K5 is also completely different from any other game. There are no meters at all. Instead, you press and hold any button as the player at the stripe goes into his shooting stroke. Just before the player snaps his wrist to release his shot, you must release the button. If you time it correctly, the shot should go in. This new free-throw mechanic takes some time to get used to, because there are a number of different free-throw strokes in the game, each of which has a different timing associated with it. The game will also attempt to throw off your timing by presenting you with a different camera angle for every free throw attempt. Those who hated the free-throw mechanic of the recent ESPN basketball games will probably find this a welcome change, but we tend to prefer meter-based systems, because at least you have some visual feedback on why you missed your shot (when you miss your shot).
The momentum meter is gone from last year's College Hoops game, but it remains in spirit. Players and teams do go through noticeable hot and cold streaks. These are reflected by a simple biorhythm indicator that you can see in the matchup screen. A player who has sunk a few consecutive baskets can be marked as hot or heating up, so it would behoove you to apply a tighter defense or a double-team on a hot, opposing player to get the ball out of his hands. The biggest problem with the gameplay in College Hoops 2K5, however, is that there's a big difference in ability between star players and regular ones. While this can be true of real-life college basketball, the game can sometimes give you a feeling of helplessness when a sharpshooting guard like Duke's J.J. Redick is raining trey after trey on you, no matter how tightly you defend him. Meanwhile, your own mere mortal shooting guard is clanging shot after shot, including wide-open layups.