Dominating the paint.
The Xbox hasn’t been shy when it comes to sports games, and the fact that Sega
and Visual Concepts have decided to port their top notch basketball franchise
over to the machine only makes the lineup stronger. 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 Xbox, trouncing both NBA
Live and Microsoft’s own NBA Inside
Drive 2002 without even breaking too much of a sweat.
For all intents and purposes, this Xbox version is exactly the same as its
PS2 forbear. Really the only noticeable difference lies in the graphics, which
is expected since the two machines have different architecture.
NBA 2K2 gives you a bevy of options, from Quickstart and Exhibition
to Season and full Franchise modes; all the modes you’ve come to expect are
here. 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 while managing 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 also 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
2K2 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.
sort of expect more graphical flair when they ported it from the PS2 to the
Xbox, but aside from smoother textures and edges things look the same. Still,
this is a great looking game. 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.
Despite its playability and general thoroughness, NBA 2K2 still misses
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, made even more aggravating since this is a port and they
could have actually fixed this. Argh.
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, and NBA 2K2 easily stands
out as the best basketball choice for Xbox gamers. Though you get the feeling
that more could have been added to differentiate this from its PS2 counterpart,
it’s still a great game.