Not 2 Good.
From the witty repartee of the sharp-tongued hosts to the rapid fire end of the
day highlights set to grinding, thumping break beats, ESPN’s emphasis on frantic
energy stands in stark contrast to the bare bones insight of old-school sports
reporting like Howard Cosell or, in spirit at least, Bob Costas. Call it style
over substance, though it’s just as entertaining.
ESPN NBA 2Night 2002 captures the flashy mood of the show with lots of
noise and energy, but fails to deliver the gameplay goods.
NBA 2Night 2002 features all the game modes you’d expect – Exhibition,
Season, and Franchise. Franchise mode has some really nice touches; namely,
the ability to play GM and a well-planned trading scheme. You can also set the
Season length to a kickass 14 games, which means a guy like me who plays too
many video games can actually finish a season and vie for the title. Yay team.
There’s also a Player Creator, though the skin choices are somewhat paltry.
Thankfully, there’s a set skill point allotment, so you can’t create a 7-foot
invincible point guard.
Things seem to look good, as the game features a solid framerate and smooth
if somewhat sparse graphics. The animations are a little rigid and the face
mapping is shabby, though, dumping this somewhere in between the pretty NBA
2K2 and the dated NBA Live 2002.
The gameplay, however, is far worse than either of those games, due first
and foremost to the tough control. While it’s simple enough to move players
around the court, someone forgot to include the programming that tells players
near the basket to dunk, or lay it up, or really do just about anything other
than a 2-foot jump shot. Every so often the CPU will understand that the open
man you just passed to on the fast break should start a dunk animation rather
than stop and pull up with no defender in sight for a 10-foot jumper, but usually,
it doesn’t. This gets insanely frustrating.
Apparently someone knew this, because at any time you can press L2 while shooting
near the basket to manually make a guy take it up strong. But this leads to
another big problem – offensive fouls. On every difficulty setting, the defense
plays really close man-to-man. There’s a juke button, but it’s useless as you
never seem able to juke anyone. So what happens is that you get in close, start
driving to the basket thinking you’re around your man, hold L2 and shoot and
watch your man bowl over the defender for the inevitable offensive foul. Every
Artificial Intelligence consists of players running around randomly. You can
call plays on the fly, which is nice, but good luck trying to execute one. Tack
on to this some obvious pathfinding problems (players will run into one another
and get stuck) and you’ve got stupid computing.
The best way to win is to pass the ball around like crazy until you spot an
open guy, then shoot. This is harder than it sounds, though, since the auto-passing
is dumber than a bag of rocks. Passes never seem to go to the right guy. You
have to almost exclusively rely on the ‘icon passing’ by pressing L1. When you
couple this with pressing R2 for turbo and the aforementioned L2 for manual
dunks, you’ve got very, very clumsy controls.
You’ve also got clumsy announcing, thanks to Brent Musberger and, strangely
enough, Stuart Scott, one of the ESPN anchors. Musberger sounds like he’d rather
be fishing and Scott sounds like his little retarded friend. His attempts at
color commentary are random and recorded poorly. You might think the line “Shorty’s
got range!” demonstrates some kind of funny insight, but when he says it twelve
times about the 7-foot Dirk Nowitski over the course of one game, it takes the
wit out of the witticism.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the heinous menu music. During Franchise
mode, there’s this rap song – I think it’s rap – that sounds like a reject from
soundtrack. It’s neither hip nor hop.
To be fair, there are a few nice touches here. Blocked shots actually look blocked thanks to players swatting correctly, and the dunk animations, when you manage to dunk, look good. Perhaps the coolest feature is that players will try to save a ball going out of bounds by diving after it and hurling it behind them back on the court. It looks very cool and actually works.
But again, this isn’t enough to make up for the annoying gameplay hitches.
Compared to games like NBA 2K2 and even NBA
Street, there’s really just no room on the court for NBA 2Night 2002.