Takin' it up strong.
When Visual Concepts first unleashed NBA
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
However, the two series were never really in direct competition since the
games were strictly a Dreamcast affair and the NBA Live
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.
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
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
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.
you're pounding it inside or raining threes, NBA 2K2
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
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.