Still at the top of its game.
For better or worse, contemporary pro basketball is more about flash than fundamentals. The young guns all grew up wanting to be like Mike, so they spent more time working on their crossover than their jump shot. Consider this: the average team field goal percentage from 1980-1990 was 49%. Then from 1990-2000, it sank to 45%. Better defense? Maybe, but how often do you see guys go on shooting streaks anymore?
As if to reflect this trend, most basketball video games put the emphasis
on the dunk animations rather than the actual gameplay. By and large, the genre
hasn’t really seen the kind of attention that football games like Madden
series, though, has bucked that trend since first showing up on the Dreamcast
back in 1999. NBA 2K took basketball
gaming to impressive new heights of gameplay and graphics. A few sequels later
brings us NBA 2K3, the first in the series specifically designed for
the next-gen consoles (last year’s NBA 2K2 was a port
of the Dreamcast version). By smoothly combining finesse and function, this
is clearly the Michael Jordan of console roundball.
Things feel different from the get-go thanks to Sega’s deal with ESPN. From the opening video to the menu graphics, the whole experience feels like an ESPN broadcast, complete with appropriate music and visuals. Though ESPN isn’t exactly known for their basketball coverage (TNT holds that title, currently), it still gives the product a familiar flair.
Familiarity abounds when you consider the game modes. Exhibition, Season,
Playoffs, Tournament and Practice are all here again and have changed very little.
The game also features a ‘Street’ mode, which sounds alluring but really boils
down to just the exact same NBA 2K3 but on ‘street’ courts instead of
The real prize here is Franchise mode, which has been significantly expanded.
All the typical elements are here, including full stat tracking, full trading
and signing ability, and even the foibles of dealing with salary caps. New to
the mode is the ability to hire and fire coaches, who actually have an effect
on your players in several categories. You can engage in full scouting and drafting
during the off-season, represented graphically by a lottery event. You can run
players through a training camp in the pre-season and even import college players
from the upcoming NCAA 2K3.
This is, hands-down, the most thorough career mode in any b-ball game to date
and is worth the price of admission alone. Though it doesn’t touch on the NBDL
like Shootout 2003, it certainly does everything
But like any action game, the most important part of NBA 2K3 is the
gameplay. It’s very good, though there are still some annoying flaws that haven’t
The developer, Visual Concepts, improved the offensive game by adding some
nice new moves. A spiffed-up crossover dribble and a new pivot foot option lead
to plenty of new ways to fake out your opponent. You can also modify your shot
in mid-air by pressing the shoot button again, which can come in handy if you
think you might get swatted. Low post moves have been expanded as well, and
passing has been improved thanks to a pressure sensitive ability to throw chest
passes or bounce passes, in addition to icon passing and right-control stick
Players, however, still have a tendency to stop moving in order to catch a
pass, which can really kill a fast break. There are also some problems with
momentum during juke moves and drives; players can be tough to control in these
instances and often step out of bounds.
In general, it is much easier to win in NBA 2K3 by driving or shooting
from short range rather than relying on outside shooting, which I suppose is
true of real NBA ball as well. But even weak inside players like point guards
tend to make just about every shot from inside the paint.
most of last year’s game has been kept intact. You can still try to intercept
passes, which is a great feature. Shotblocking has been made a bit more difficult
(thanks in part to the midair shot switching) and zone defenses actually seem
to work correctly.
The AI works pretty good on either side of the ball, leading to shot percentages
that are more realistic. Teams don’t really follow their real-life tendencies,
but you’ll find that the good players play well and the scrubs don’t.
Unfortunately, some frustrating glitches are still evident. Occasionally after
inbounding the ball, the opposing team’s player will just freeze up and stand
there, ending up with an 8-second violation. Your players miss far too many
dunks, which gets irritating when you’re talking about Kobe Bryant or Jerry
Stackhouse, who miss maybe one in about 30.
It is often said that graphics do not make a game, and I am firmly in this
camp. However, a simulation like NBA 2K3 relies heavily on how closely
it can emulate a real-world experience, and therefore the graphics become more
important to the overall gameplay. You want it to look right, and if it doesn’t,
you get pissed.
But you won’t get pissed off by NBA 2K3, which is the best-looking
basketball to date. Players are accurately modeled right down to the knee brace.
Muscle textures really help the buff guys stand out from the thin ones. Sega
has talked at length about their ‘sweat’ feature, and while it’s overhyped,
it’s still quite cool. Players will gradually get sweatier and sweatier as the
game goes on. Tack on hordes of sweet animations, incredibly accurate stadiums,
spot-on lighting and a great framerate and you wind up with a simply gorgeous
Unfortunately, the sound isn’t so hot. Though the effects are fine and the
play-by-play isn’t bad, the color commentary is horrible and repetitive. Plus,
they get it wrong half the time. I know for a fact that Derek Fisher is not
a terror in the paint, but the announcer seems to think he’s Wilt Chamberlain
because he made a layup.
The PS2 version also includes the ability to play online. It works, that’s
for sure, but your success here is heavily influenced by the quality of your
connection. I’ve had my ups and downs with internet lag thus far.
At the end of the day, most of NBA 2K3 is filled with ups. Despite
its random flaws, the game’s gorgeous graphics, solid gameplay and top-notch
Franchise mode make it an easy All-Star.