It's no secret that television ratings for the NBA have dropped off this season. Is it because of the rules? Is it because of the stars? Is the average basketball fan just simply sick of the game?
Luckily, I don't have the sportswriter credentials to answer that one. But this much I do know - if NBA Shootout 2001 is any indication of what has happened to contemporary basketball, someone better call the Doctor. No, not Dr. J; I mean a real doctor, someone who can operate on the head of whoever gave the final seal of approval to this stinker.
Truth be told, we all know that 989 has had a rough time with sports games. The Faceoff series is weaker than EA's NHL; Gameday is never as good as Madden (with one exception); and of course NBA Shootout can't touch NBA Live. With a brand new system to work with, I hoped things would change. Then I hoped I didn't kill anyone when I threw this game CD out the car window.
The problems with NBA Shootout 2001 range from the obvious to the minute. But first, the bright spots.
Uh, make that spot, singular. The intro sequence kicks ass, and the producers get much respect for using Eric B and Rakim's 'I Ain't No Joke.' Very old-school.
The game is essentially the same as it ever was. You can choose to play an Exhibition or Season game as any team in the league. The rosters are all up to date, plenty of stats are tracked, and unlike past games, every single player is here. I guess MJ and Charles Barkley's retirements signaled the end of the licensing problems.
Still, the NBA Live series has always included extras like a three-point contest and a one-on-one mode. Shootout 2001 doesn't have any of that. Considering the increase in system power, there really should be an extra gameplay mode here somewhere.
Graphically, NBA Shootout 2001 doesn't so much do things wrong as fail to do things right. The game claims motion-captured players, but it seems to be missing 'transition' animations - the change from dribble animation to shooting animation is abrupt and ugly. The faces are decent enough and the court itself is reflective (they must use a lot of Turtle wax to get it so shiny), but the overall feel is barely a step up from the PSX. I expect more from my PS2.
Even weak graphics can be offset by great gameplay, right? Right. Too bad that's not the case here. NBA Shootout 2001 dribbles the ball off its leg and out of bounds in its aggravating, flawed gameplay.
It starts with the game engine, which just isn't very good. Passes blaze across the court as if shot out of a cannon, at times almost teleporting into different players' hands. The sluggish control makes deft moves in and out of the lane and dribble-drives totally impossible. Clipping errors are common. Rebounding is random at best.
Even shooting is awkward. As in every b-ball game since Dr. J vs. Larry Bird, you need to release at the right time to better the chances of making a shot. Here, the jumping animation sucks so bad that it's incredibly difficult to figure out when to let go of the button. Just press, let go and pray.
In fairness, there's a cool optional feature called 'Touch Shooting' that gives you a little meter every time you shoot. Let go when the meter is in the 'green' and you'll drain the shot. This has been in many 989 basketball games and actually gives a decent feel to the otherwise weak shooting.
You can play the game in Arcade mode, which let's you romp around without ever getting tired or injured, or Simulation mode, which factors in elements like fatigue and is supposed to simulate a real game. Theoretically, at least. For some reason, it's impossible to make any of your players tire.
I ran around the court with 37 year-old Ron Harper attempting to get some indication of fatigue. I held down the turbo button. I jumped up and down like a bunny on speed. I dribbled, I shot, I drove the lane, I bombed from downtown - I pretty much went haywire with the guy for a good 5 straight minutes. Then I went to substitute, and found that his fatigue meter hadn't depleted at all. And yes, I checked the Options to make sure "Fatigue" was "on."
I gotta tell you, it really makes it hard to want to play when your team is hopped up on some kind of uber-steroids and never gets tired. I'll just play Shaq and Kobe for 48 minutes. This isn't supposed to be NBA Jam. Someone shoot the play testers, please.
Then, someone shoot whomever decided that dumpy covers of 'Takin' Care of Business', 'Wooly Bully', and 'Respect' should be played after every other home team basket. It's ridiculous. Plus, it's cheap as hell, since the exact same three tunes - exact - can be found in 989's own Faceoff 2001. Did you think we wouldn't notice? Someone make a new mix tape already!
I should also mention that there's a Player Creator here, but even this is screwed up. They give you way too many attribute points to dish out. Why would you choose to make an average player when you can create from scratch a monster with a 99 rating? Doh!
989 should just stop with these crummy sports games already. They can't currently compete with the folks at Visual Concepts and EA Sports. If this is next-gen basketball, then I'll stick with the good old days.