Shooting out the lights.
It's a brand new season, full of unexpected surprises and improvement in last year's rookies. One such Herculean leap can be found in this game right here. NBA Shootout '97 has finally propelled itself into the upper echelon of the remaining basketball games out there (don't say I didn't tell you so--see last year's NBA Shootout review). Along with NBA Live '97 and In the Zone 2, this game is a playoff contender in the NBA Finals of this year. Although not perfect (of course, what is?), it comes very close, and I would rate it just a notch below NBA Live.
NBA Shootout '97 is a landmark improvement over the original, which is really great to see. Sony has once again stepped up to the challenge and delivered in the clutch (see Gameday '97 and Faceoff '97), while indirectly leaving the pressure on EA to produce. I love it! The first Shootout was easily the most highly touted sports game of the year. Graphically it looked like something out of Lawnmower Man, and the opportunity to strike was enormous, being that EA was a little lazy with NBA Live '96. Because of faulty play mechanics and a bad engine all together, this was not only bad, but close to being the bust of the year. So a little pixie dust and a quick slap to the face (I have to handle my business), and what do you know...presto, exactly what we were looking for. All joking aside, Sony has done themselves proud.
Although the graphics and camera angles (far and away the best in any sports game) are not quite as good as last year's version, they are still the best and a sacrifice well worth it. The polygons are mapped out very well with very little clumping, with an improved frame per second rate that makes the game flow much smoother. It even includes the accurate faces of most of the NBA stars in the game and especially distinctive ones like Grant Hill, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. You can even select a distinct face for your created players. There are about 7 different dunk sequences, including the Airwalk that Brent Barry used to win the slam dunk championship last year (only I can't seem to find a way to do it from the free throw line).
I only had two beefs (actually a beef and a half). Firstly, it's kind of unrealistic to see 7'7", "Slam Master" Shawn Bradley doing airwalks and windmills without breaking his leg or hitting his neck on the rim. I wish there was a way to distinguish what types of dunks a certain player is capable of doing, based on height or just the way one plays (excluding Shawn Kemp, who could dunk on King Kong if he had to). Another weird thing was after a crossover, or any move, the CPU doesn't respond on time. So after faking someone out and making a move the computer wasn't ready for, you might end up floating or dribbling out of bounds only to soooaaaar backwards (yes, backwards) for a hell of a dunk. It's almost like doing one of those 20 hit Killer Instinct combos and throwing down the control pad just to watch the pay off.
The sound is top-notch. Blocks sound like something I'd do on the playground, something real, like a piece of popcorn popping or something. They're more like 'gangsta slaps' than blocks, which I happen to love. I really love the way you can hit 3's in people's faces and dunk on someone "with authority" (the PA announcer is great too--he even does nicknames for players like Stacey Augmon).
The control is excellent, almost perfect. It at first seems a little clumsy, but you easily get used to it. One of the biggest problems at first was utilizing all the various controls with the limited buttons you are given. Despite the lack of in-depth strategy, it takes a while getting used to, especially the ICON passing that made Gameday and Faceoff famous. After learning it, however, you'll find it works better here than in either of those two games. You eventually make less accidental passes which makes your offense much more efficient (sound like a coach, don't I?). I can end up averaging a good 10 assists with about 4 players, and about 20-30 from my point guard alone, which can add up to beacoup points.
I really do like the crossover/behind the back dribbling option, although it seems as if you go directly "through" people when using it. It just looks sooo real, and coming from a certified hoopster, I would definitely know. It seems to be a trend started by In the Zone 2 , and maybe Live '98 can pick up where these two left off. Rebounding, a problem in most hoop games, is very good here with realistic jumps and positioning.
Other little things are here in their entirety, none particularly revolutionary or rudimentary. My only complaint would probably be the overzealous stealing in the game, which, although a nice extra, takes away drastically from the challenge, especially when you catch on to the benefits of the full court press and keep it on (I've averaged a triple double with Joe Dumars in points, assists, and steals). This takes away from the AI, which is better than in the previous installment. Unfortunately, this can become just another 82-0 season of basketball where the challenge is not winning, but winning by 100 or more. I wouldn't trip too hard (it's not the first time), but to see (or even help... hint, hint) a game company develop a realistically challenging AI would be a dream come true. I do realize the intense complexities of the problem (which is why it hasn't been done up to this point).
The strategy and stats in this game are decent, more than enough to live on, with standard options like stat tracking, trading, and releasing and signing players. Player creation (man, it feels good for that to be a standard feature now) is included as well. There is also a neat little option to compile stats with the "big boys", to make it really seem like your player/character is a part of the game. The stat tracking is good though slightly limited, because you can only see the top eight in all league leader categories and can't see anyone's stats other than your own. The player creation feature is a good start, and I like the challenge of not being able to create the perfect player. It peeves me that you can only make up about 10 players; they cut you off just when it starts to get good. But I do like the fact that your player is engineered based on his physical attributes, so that a player 6'4" and 250 lbs looks like Charles Barkley, and someone 7'7" and 250 lbs looks like Shawn Bradley.
The only really annoying thing is the extensive loading time it takes just to cycle through the teams, and to access any other part of the game. This has got to be taken care of next time around. All in all, the features are very adequate (hope I didn't scare you), and when you consider the jump from last year, phenomenal.
This is really an above average package, maybe a notch below Live (but hey, you say tomato, I say tamato...). NBA Shootout '97 is a very welcome addition to the sports family; I congratulate Sony, and wish them the best in years to come (like that speech, don't you. . .?).