Fake: the new real 

Life sucks, ya know? And I ain’t talking those moments when it forces you to get your knees dirty. It’s the ever-widening chasm between what you wanted for yourself and the reality that stares back at you from the bathroom mirror. How do you bridge that? Sex and drugs are too pricey.

Fortunately, the fine folks at Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have developed a cheap, low-impact alternative. For less than the cost of cable, you can purchase a game every month and escape to a new place: from exotic locales full of bug-eyed weirdos that you can (thankfully) kill, to sporting worlds that take you out of the lazy armchair and onto the playing field. Hell, thanks to the Internet, I don’t even leave the house — everything I could ever want is brought directly to my door. I’m the new modern dude/boy, a complete shut-in.

My cloistered existence has led some of my neighbors to call me Video Basehead. I don’t mind so much; everyone sucks the pipe for something — bling, juice, fame, chicks.

I know, some of you are asking, what kind of life is sitting alone all day in my room, peering at the TV, social intercourse mostly limited to the UPS guy and the dude who mans the party store counter? Considering the kind of people who live in my neighborhood, the limited interaction is a boon.

It comes down to preferences, and as I like to tell Timmy, the little 9-year-old Madden junkie from down the street, people who don’t need people are saving themselves a lot of disappointment.

I mention Timmy because he’s over today playing ESPNGames’ NFL 2K5, Madden’s archrival among console football games. I’m beating him like an alcoholic’s stepchild, and feel a bit of shame about the glee with which I’m doing it. While similar in most of its controls to Madden, there are a couple of subtle differences that Timmy hasn’t picked up yet, such as how, when the ball carrier’s hit, there’s a brief window where tapping on the X key can break the tackle (though the defense can also tap to wrap him up). Similarly, the quarterback can shake off sacking defenders with a wiggle of the right analog stick.

The game also allows you to reconfigure your audibles on the fly from out of your playbook on the play-calling screen. This is a vast improvement on Madden, which forces you to leave the game to change them. NFL 2K5 also offers four more receiver hot routes by utilizing the NW/NE/SW/SE poles of the joystick. Even the play-calling itself is more versatile than Madden, allowing you to pick your line stunts and coverages separately on defense. These subtle differences are allowing me to spank the little rugrat so bad, he’s fighting back tears. That’ll teach him about the world.

“Base,” Timmy asks, attempting to distract me with conversation, “why don’t you ever leave the house?”

This game provides my answer. Designed to mimic ESPN’s Sunday Night Football contests, complete with grainy scoreboard replays, half-time highlights shows and color commentary, it’s as though we’re watching a televised game. And isn’t the whole idea of playing video games to obliterate the distinction between fantasy and reality? While deficient in its franchise mode and other back-end features (does anyone really want to play a Carmen Electra- or David Arquette-voiced computer opponent?), its game play is the equal of Madden. Add to that the first-person mode — which allows you to get into the helmet of your players, spy running holes or open receivers — and you have a fine rival, at half the price of Madden.

As for the basketball version of the ESPNGames franchise, NBA 2K5, like its EA Sports counterpart, NBA Live, is a flawed game. Neither game captures the speed and essence of basketball, instead settling into a frenetic, mind-numbing up and down tempo more akin to arena football or porno than hoops. Basically similar to NBA Live in its controller options, NBA 2K5 has stiffer handling with mildly inferior graphics compared to its rival. While NBA Live’s franchise mode isn’t the equal of the EA Sports NFL and NCAA football games, it’s far superior to NBA 2K5, which creates a wealth of talented free agents who spend the majority of their careers unsigned.

On the plus side, NBA 2K5 has a couple of nice features, in 24/7 and the simulation’s “full authority” mode. Its enjoyable streetball style is mediated by its relative ease, and the results depend on the player’s skills and the defense played, in a variation on rock-paper-scissors. Simply put, for sheer fun, NBA 2K5 pales next to the console football games.

Putting the finishing touches on my rout of Timmy’s hapless Lions, I finally reply to his query. “I’ll go out,” I say, “when the world comes equipped with save, pause and reset buttons.”

Chris Parker is a freelance writer. Contact him at letters@metrotimes.com

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