A lot of factors go into making a great video game—from graphics to playability to walking that fine line between making a game challenging and making it too challenging. A few weeks ago, Sega and ESPN Videogames tried to add another variable into the formula with its NFL 2K5: bargain basement pricing.
If a game stinks, most gamers won’t buy it even if it is $5 or $10 cheaper. But what if the title is as good or almost as good as the king it’s trying to dethrone—and, most importantly, is less than half the price? Video game sales topped $10 billion in 2003, and every company is trying to get as much of the pie as possible. However, with hundreds of titles coming out annually ranging from $29.99 to (in most cases) $49.99, it’s difficult to convince a gamer that your product is worth the cash.
EA Sports’ Madden NFL 2005 is the most highly anticipated release of the year on any gaming format. No other annual title consistently dominates its competition as Madden does. It not only crushes other football games, but any game brave enough to come out from the first week of August through the start of the NFL season. ESPN has been trying to sack Madden for a couple years, and while it has always been a decent game, it just doesn’t come close to the MVP of video games.
But this year is different. Sure, the game play is improved on NFL 2K5, but the real question is whether a $19.99 price tag makes it a better game than the nearly $50 Madden? The answer is no, but that doesn’t mean that Sega (which is preparing to launch its NFL title at the same cheap price) has failed.
As a game, NFL 2K5 falls short in many areas. The biggest difference? The game play doesn’t have the same realism as Madden. Playing as the same team in franchise mode—the Pittsburgh Steelers—on the default difficulty level, I found Madden to be incomparably better. NFL 2K5’s Steelers are a dominating force to be reckoned with; the team is as good as my skill as a player. But in Madden, while my game play enhances the team, I’m still faced with certain limitations when it comes to the skill and speed, for example, of the perfectly simulated players. Add innovative defensive controls, and the innovator of video football creates an untouchable product.
But ESPN’s non-game-play innovation is not a failure; in fact it may be an industry-changing revolution. It’s amazing, actually, that a price war has never occurred in the modern gaming era before. While Sega may have lost the battle on the virtual gridiron, the real-life war taking place on store shelves across the country just got a whole lot more interesting.
Reviews in Brief
NCAA College Football 2005, EA Sports, Rated E, $49.99
While its corporate cousin Madden gets all the hype, NCAA quietly asserts itself as probably the best pure football game on the market today. Madden may be a better overall game because it’s a hybrid sports/role playing game, but this is unequivocally the best football game play simulator on the market. You want realism? Pick your school and go for the Top 25. Do it with a lesser-known school and you’ll get realism, my friend. My University of Akron Zips were undefeated and finished seventh overall. Getting screwed by the BCS—now that’s college football realism.
Catwoman, EA Games, Rated T (teen), $39.99
You think the Boston Red Sox are cursed? The Sox have a better chance of lifting the curse of the Bambino than video game companies have at making a movie-based game that people actually want to play. The look of the game is fantastic, but clunky controls and a pretty lame story (albeit the fault of the movie’s screenwriters) make it unbearable.