It's easy to spot ESPN NFL 2K5 on the shelf: It's the one that's $20, making it the least expensive sports video game available for PlayStation2 and Xbox.
After last year's game lagged behind Electronic Arts' wildly popular Madden NFL 2004, 2K5 used its price tag to lure customers and its innovative game play to win them over before EA's Madden 2005 ($50) was released Thursday.
The game makes its mark with its so-called "virtual identity profile system." When you play someone -- either in person or online -- the system tracks their style of play. Then, when you play by yourself, the computer mimics that player's skill level and play calling.
ESPN NFL 2K5's game play is also more realistic than its predecessor. Players can no longer change direction like a racecar; they need to take a small step to go the other way, just like in real life.
Tackling has been upgraded. Users can choose how hard their defenders tackle: They can simply wrap up, or go for the big hit.
ESPN also gives users the opportunity to play over some of the greatest moments in the NFL. In about an hour, I drove the Bills down the field and used Scott Norwood to make a field goal against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV, used Dallas to make a goal line stand against Green Bay in the Ice Bowl and enabled Kevin Dyson to dive one yard farther so he scored the game-tying touchdown against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV.
This much is clear about ESPN NFL 2K5: It's better than last year's game, and in a market filled with sports titles that cost more than twice as much, this is one of the best bargains in the industry.
-- Jon Gallo