Takin' it up strong.
When Visual Concepts first unleashed NBA 2K on the Dreamcast, basketball fans knew that hardwood gaming would never be the same. It raised the bar in terms of graphics, control and depth, effectively stealing the crown from EA Sports' somewhat inflated head by firmly stomping on the tired NBA Live series.
However, the two series were never really in direct competition since the 2K games were strictly a Dreamcast affair and the NBA Live series never made it over to that system. But the demise of the DC has led to what b-ball fans have always wanted - a competitive landscape for video game roundball. No, those crummy Shootout games don't count.
Too bad it's really sort of no-contest. Though it could still use a few tweaks before reaching the Hall of Fame, NBA 2K2 is easily the best simulation basketball game currently out for the PS2 and trounces NBA Live in its first head to head challenge.
The modes are ubiquitous but effective. NBA 2K2 gives you a bevy of options, from Quickstart and Exhibition to Season and full Franchise modes. While the depth of Franchise mode doesn't quite rival that of the football games, it's still pretty solid, allowing you to take one team through multiple seasons, do basic signing and trading and have to manage a salary cap. Nothing remarkable, but certainly on par.
When it comes to gameplay, though, NBA 2K2 is anything but ordinary. The folks at Visual Concepts pride themselves on nailing the details without sacrificing the overarching mechanics, and they've succeeded once again.
Teams come closer to following their real-world tendencies. The Jazz, for instance, rely heavily on the pick and roll with Stockton and Malone, while the Kings either pound it in to Webber or let Stojokovic bomb away from behind the arc. You rarely see big men taking outside shots or scrubs performing the same kind of fancy moves as the stars. It just feels good.
The good control helps matters, particularly on defense. In addition to typical steal and block buttons, NBA 2K2 lets you play the passing lanes. This lets you try to snag passes out of mid-air, a feature that in the past always seemed random. If you anticipate passes well, you can actually go for steals that look right and aren't just a result of pounding the 'steal' button. It's a great addition and gives defense a much needed boost.
To keep up with the recent NBA rule changes, 2K2 lets you call zone defenses on the fly. It's nice finally seeing someone recognize the change and allow you to emulate last night's TNT match-up in full glory. Plus, it will teach you why even a 2-3 zone can't stop Shaq.
Offense is largely the same as it is in every single basketball game on the planet - find a hole and take it inside for a dunk/foul/layup. Though the opponent AI is decent, it's still a little too easy to penetrate the lane with a decent slasher, and players rarely miss shots from inside the key, regardless of their size. I'm shooting about 75% from the field with Kobe, and roughly two-thirds of those shots are from within about 7 feet.
But in truth, that's not always due to going around screens and whatnot. NBA 2K2 features team players who will actually make a cut every so often, and the fast-paced flow of the game leads to some terrific passing sequences reminiscent of the Lakers from the '80's. You'll want to pass the ball, and since the opponent will occasionally throw double-teams your way, kicking it out to the open man is often the best plan of action.
Whether you're pounding it inside or raining threes, NBA 2K2 looks fantastic. The player models are accurate, the arenas are faithful and the blazing framerate is rock solid. The crowd actually looks like a real crowd of people, rather than a big cheap bitmap with a few animations thrown in to spice it up. Some of the facial mapping could use some work, though, as some players wind up looking like Sam Cassell with bulging heads and misplaced eyes. Hehe.
Despite its playability and general thoroughness, NBA 2K2 still misses the mark in a few key areas. The sound effects are fine, but the play by play is horrendous. The commentators are incredibly repetitive and often make the wrong call or say nonsensical crap. It's painfully clear that very little effort was put into this.
I don't know why basketball developers feel the need to go for street cred, but here it crops up in the form of Street mode, which is pretty extraneous. It pretty much boils down to exactly the same thing as any other mode, except now you're playing on a street court. No new moves, no outlandish dunks - it seems like an afterthought and is hardly worth the time.
There are also some problems associated with fixed player animations. You'll be in position to block a shot, jump to block it and your center will go into some stupid animation that isn't appropriate for the situation, like throwing both hands up in the air as if trying to swat a field goal. On other occasions, players will opt for ridiculously complex underhanded scoop layups rather than just taking it strong to the hoop. Likewise, juke moves can take your player directly out of bounds if you're not careful.
But these are relatively small potatoes. NBA 2K2 offers enough graphical flair and gameplay depth to be considered the cream of the current crop of PS2 basketball games. Look for this one to go deep in the playoffs.