NBA 2K2 Review
Basketball sims have become quite popular as of late, unfortunately, with the exception of one (NBA 2K2) pretty much every ball sim on the market is an overall flop. NBA Live 2001 was a good first attempt, but not different than its PSX counterpart, gameplay wise. It was even worse for Live 2002 as it was nearly identical to 2001. Sony's Shootout games were a travesty better left un-spoken of. Then we have our college hoops titles, Sony's Final Four 2001 didn't do the job, and neither did 2002. Where is EA when you need them, right? There was no March Madness 2001, so unfortunately PS2 owners were out of luck. Thankfully, EA has produced March Madness 2002, but once again sports gamers are left feeling jaded as the game is so half-assed that it's a hard recommendation to casual sports gamers. So let's see, nearly 8 ball sims (counting those other 3rd party titles), and only one is exceptional. Sigh, does Sega have to do everything around here? Thankfully Visual Concepts' sports know-how has gotten them somewhere once again! Specifically, at the top of the sports-gaming list. First they produced the finest pig-skin title, and now the finest hoops action.
Visual Concepts has spent a noticeable amount of time upping the polygon count and smoothing out the background textures. The player's faces and bodies hit good and bad notes. The faces of the more popular players such as Iverson and Jordan are easily recognizable and intricately detailed while the lesser known players lack detail and shape. But aside from the players, VC has put a lot of attention into the whole background environment. Bench players, cheerleaders and the coaching staff all move around at the side line and are fully 3D, looking almost as good as the players on court (excluding those ultra blocky coach models). Moreover, the crowd is very impressive also being rendered in 3D and active. The squeaky clean courts are also impressive, reflecting all of the on-court movement. VC has also added a bunch of little things, that might normally go unnoticed, but are a great addition. A lot of accessories on various players such as headbands, US flags, tattoos, and even the arm brace that Iverson wore at last years playoffs. This goes to show you that VC does, in fact, pay attention to little things as well. On top of all this, the framerate is always running sharp with no frame drops or slow-down.
There's a whole bevy of gameplay modes that should occupy anyone for quite some time. Practice mode is pretty deep giving you an array of options, whether it's just timing your jump shot, practicing your free-throws, or running drills with your playbook. Then there's a Fantasy mode for players who like drafting free agents, trading players, and whatnot. Season mode lets you take your team all the way to the NBA Finals, but those of you that are more impatient can just start in the playoffs. Then there's the core mode, Franchise, which lets you take your team through fifteen grueling years in hopes of establishing a dynasty.
NBA 2K2 also features a Street Ball mode which lets you show off your ‘skillz', brake some ankles, and shake the competition in nine different real-life locations. A lot of the courts can also be found in NBA Street such as Rucker Park, The Cage, and Venice Beach. In Street mode, you duke it out alongside a teammates to try to reach 21 points before the opposition does: two point shots count as one, while three pointers count as two (a'la NBA Street).
The controls have made a nice move from the DC controller to the PS2 controller. The controls are mapped well and incredibly responsive. The left analog moves your player and also directs your passes, while the right analog is used for calling different team plays. On offense, L1 and L2 backs down your defender and calls for a pick, respectively. R1 gives your player a turbo boost and R2 passes to a teammate nearest to the hoop. After pressing turbo you can pull off some ankle brakin' moves, given the player can pull them off in real life, with the circle button. In fact, if you're not careful you will find yourself spinning right out of bounds, trying to perform a cross-over or spin move. Although, the juke button does prove to be effective among the ranks of the top NBA ball handlers (i.e. Allan Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Steve Francis) while the bigger, less coordinated players (Dikembe Mutumbo, Arvidys Sabonis, Patrick Ewing) will usually stumble and lose the ball resulting in a turn-over. Square shoots the ball and is pressure sensitive. Letting go of the square button at the peak of your jump results in the best shot percentage while letting go too early or too late makes you throw up a brick. Triangle pulls up pass icons over each of your teammate's heads, while X passes (where you pass it is determined by the direction of your left analog stick).
On defense, X switches to the defender nearest to the ball and square jumps up for the shot block. Circle makes your player reach in for the steal. Triangle gives you control of the player closet to the basket, which is great for trying to stop a fast break or going for the rebound. L1 makes you face up to the offensive player preventing him from running past you. The R2 button initiates an intentional foul; and lastly, the L2 button calls for a double-team.
The free-throw system is the same one that is found on the Dreamcast version but with a small control tweak. Instead of aiming your two arches with the shoulder buttons, you will, instead, aim with the analog sticks. You have to press both analog sticks inward so that both arches -on the two sides- line up right above the basket. Once this is done, you then press any one of the shoulder buttons to shoot the ball. It shouldn't take anyone a long time to figure out and make a free throw shot. Hell, it took yours truly (Arnold) one attempt. One advantage (or disadvantage) to this way is that the difficulty doesn't vary between players. Therefore, it's just as easy to make a free-throw with Shaq (horrible shooter) as it is with Glen Rice (around 90% shooter). Take it as an advantage, or disadvantage, but I'm sure hardcore sim freaks will be turned off by this arcadish setting.
Defense in the NBA is a key factor to pulling out the win, maybe even more so than offense. Well, Visual Concepts realized this and has made the defensive portion of the game a huge factor. The AI is ‘hair-grippingly', ‘controller-smashingly' smart, to the point that you no longer think you're playing against just a computer. You will pay big time if you aren't on your man like white on rice. The AI will make about 90% of their shots if they're open (on the Pro and All-Pro settings) and will pull off the pick-and-roll to the basket more times than you can count. Unfortunately, your teammates act as rookies compared to the monstrous veterans you're playing against. The rebounds, shot %, and steals all seem to go in their favor. A downside, though, is that is it very hard to make a jump shot and is nearly impossible if someone is guarding you--even if you have a good shooter. Although, uncontested shots will usually fall in and calling for picks is a good way to get that knat (read: defender) off your back. (Keep in mind this is all referring to challenging levels such as All-Pro).
There are a whole slew of gameplay improvements, over other basketball titles on the market, that have been implemented into NBA 2K2. For one, you can catch passes on the run which lets you make fast-breaks without having to stop to catch the ball. Another improvement are the plethora of lay-up and dunk animations. There are times when we've (Arnold and Joseph) gone through a whole game without seeing the same dunk or lay-up done twice. As mentioned before, shooting is vary hard and is now more of a strategy then just luck. Shooting with a hand in your face will almost always result in a brick. This makes you move around, set plays, and set picks, for the chance at a wide-open shot or open lane. The AI has also been stepped up by playing smart basketball. If they're loosing toward the end they'll keep on fouling and if there's only a few more seconds on the clock and they're down by three they know that they need to hit a three to tie it up. The coaches also call timeouts to help you, however, timeouts are best left on manual because at times a coach can call one, at the wrong time, which can completely take a piss on everything you had going -- be it an aggressive offensive positioning or fast break). VC has done a great job implementing the new zone defense rule and it actually has advantages and disadvantages towards different teams, according to how it affects the teams in real life.
All sports games have to have the tight beats, and basketball is no exception. 2K2's soundtrack is jammin' with most of the tracks being done by Jermaine Dupri and his boys at SoSo Def. The track at the opening scene as well as the menu track are both hip-hop at its best. However, there aren't too many tracks throughout the game.
The commentary offers clever lines and sometimes even smart ones. But what really hurts it is the inaccurate/late comments, and the repetitiveness. For instance, during a game, Iverson drove it down the lane for an easy lay-up. However, they didn't mention Iverson's LU up until 10 seconds later, when the opposing team had already made a basket. Little things like this detract from the overall commentary but it's still enjoyable and sometimes humorous, nonetheless.
One of the coolest features in NBA 2K2 is the isometric camera (Iso) which makes it resemble an actual game while still giving you the right views to see what you're doing. It looks like a diagonal-type view (similar to the old NBA Live games on the Genesis), but zoomed-in some. Anyway, this view makes the whole representation feel more accurate and is a fresh look from the traditional "top-down" camera view.
NBA 2K2 isn't without its faults, but all the great things easily overshadow them. The gameplay is enough alone to warrant a purchase, but it also has a sweet soundtrack and impressive graphics to boot. In the end, both Snake (Arnold) and I, strongly believe that NBA 2K2 is the best basketball simulation out there, on any console. We'll have to wait and see if EA will do something different for a change, *cough* by putting more effort into the next Live entry *cough*. NBA Live fans, lend us your ears! Put down your lackluster title, and go pick up NBA 2K2, you won't regret doing so.
1/22/2002 Joseph Comunale and Arnold Katayev