Prettier than Iverson's crossover.
One of the big trends in pro basketball lately has been remodeling. From the logos to the uniforms to the arenas, nearly every team in the league has tweaked its look to keep up with the growth of the sport and the style of the players.
Of course, change isn't always a good thing. New corporate sponsored arenas reek of big money and little tradition. The Lakers no longer fast-break in the cozy Forum - now it's the Staples Center. The Sixers are in the 'First Union' Center, the Rockets box out computer geeks in the Compaq Center, and the Heat will warm up the American Airlines Arena on December 31. What's next? The Celtics in the Starbucks Stadium? Pass the ball, not the latte.
Well, it looks like the times are indeed a-changin', as developer Visual Concepts (creators of the highly acclaimed NFL 2K) bring their Dreamcast expertise to the court with NBA 2K. With outstanding graphics and excellent gameplay, NBA 2K marks a new breed of b-ball sim. However, several bizarre glitches and some typical basketball game problems mar this otherwise exquisite effort.
NFL 2K introduced gamers to an entirely new level of graphical splendor. NBA 2K continues the tradition with far and away the most incredible graphics ever seen in a basketball game. Every player and coach in the league is here with complete facial and body mapping. Every player on both teams, the two referees, and both coaches are fully rendered 100% of the time. You can zoom in on the bench and see your specific players sitting there watching the action. From the courts to the scoreboards, the arenas are here in detailed glory. Players heads move to actually track the ball. Simply put, this is a supremely gorgeous game.
Exhibition, Season, Practice and Playoffs are the standard gameplay options these days, and indeed you'll find them all in NBA 2K. You can also trade players or engage in a fantasy draft, as well as create a player from scratch. However, there's no multi-season franchise mode, which might be a downer to you Madden style sim fans.
For the most part, NBA 2K plays like all of the other basketball games you've seen - just better. The control is excellent, including the ability to position for rebounds (a common problem in other games). Thankfully, the game improves on the past in several areas.
Free-throw shooting traditionally utilizes the "T" bar, which NBA 2K promptly rejects for a newfangled mechanism. Using the analog triggers, you must carefully align two arrows into one. The worse the free-throw shooter, the harder it is to keep the arrows together. It sounds rudimentary, but it actually takes skill and is a welcome addition.
Another area of improvement is in the AI. Players on both teams play solid defense and run plays appropriately. Each team follows the tendencies of its real-world counterpart, from the pick and roll of Utah to the pounding inside game of the Lakers. With a slew of playcalling options, this is a very authentic feeling game.
Perhaps the most startling aspect of NBA 2K is its attention to detail. Many players in the league have specific free-throw techniques, like Karl Malone's delayed release or Jeff Hornacek's cheek rubbing. It's all in the game. Players have changing expressions - smiling during their introduction but all tough stares and mouths agape while throwing down a tomahawk jam. The referees actually jog along with the action, then make the correct gesture to match the penalty. It's the little things that count, and NBA 2K really does a great job at fleshing it all out.
However, there are still some problems that somehow made it by the playtesters. For one thing, I found a pretty major substitution glitch. During a dead ball, the computer will sub in players from both squads - first one team, then the other. While these occur, the game is NOT frozen, which leads to some bizarre errors.
Let's say the ball bounces off the opposing team out of bounds. As my center picks up the ball to throw it in, the horn sounds and substitutions are made for the other team. However, I keep pressing A because I didn't notice. My center begins to throw the ball inbounds, when suddenly the horn blares again and my own players begin substituting. Suddenly, the guy who was supposed to receive the inbound pass magically disappears and the ball is redirected to the guy who took his place...even though he's standing out of bounds waiting to enter the game. The result? I throw the ball clear across the court, out of bounds and into the other team's hands. This irritating glitch happens quite frequently, and the only solution is to sit tight and not touch any buttons while substitutions occur.
Smaller glitches are also evident. A teammate will often get 'trapped' behind a defender and fail to catch up to the pass you threw. Fouls are called somewhat randomly, and you'll sometimes witness some brutal mid-air collisions that go unnoticed. The testers really should have caught some of these things.
Like all b-ball games before it, NBA 2K falls prey to an unbalanced scoring system. Try playing a game set on 12 minute quarters (same as in real life) - you'll wind up with scores nearing 200 apiece. I found that I would arrive at more realistic totals by playing 8 minute quarters.
Easily the worst part of the game is the announcing, which is surprising considering the excellent sound in NFL 2K. The lame play-by-play and color commentary guys repeat the same phrases ad nauseum, and the syncopation with the action is pretty bad. Where's Chick Hearn when you need him?
Despite these problems, however, NBA 2K is a very good game. Its astonishing graphics and strong gameplay carry it past the glitches. It certainly deserves a spot in any basketball fan's library and gets my recommendation. And who knows? Maybe next year it will be called Home Depot's NBA 2K, or NBA 2K-Mart, or...