ESPN NBA 2Night 2002 Review
Every now and again, a sports series comes along and redefines the way we play our favorite pastimes, forever changing what our idea of a sports game can be. Sega's 2K series is one fine example, as well as the Tony Hawk Pro Skater franchise. These games revolutionized multimedia sports entertainment. Of course, not every series that comes along is able to recreate such magic, and ESPN's NBA 2Night series is a classic example. Like so many movie licensed games, such as The Crow: City of Angels and The Mummy, the ESPN NBA 2Night series apparently tries to capitalize on its name as opposed to the quality of the product, perhaps with the notion that simply slapping the letters ESPN on the cover somehow enhances its value. But gamers around the world know that you can't judge a game by its title, and the good name of ESPN has been dragged through the mud with this latest installment in a series that is sub par at best. With overly simplistic graphics and gameplay that is lacking, to say the least, NBA 2Night is a game that not even a die hard basketball fan should touch with a ten foot pole.
You would think that in this age of incredible next generation hardware, NBA 2Night would look at least somewhat realistic, or at least mildly impressive, but you would be wrong. With some of the grittiest looking and least detailed player models seen in a sports game in this generation, even making out the numbers on a player's jersey is often impossible, and forget about being able to tell your players apart from each other. The textures in this game are so rough that aside from team colors, each player on the court is pretty much identical to the others. This problem is compounded by extremely poor anti-aliasing, leaving jagged edges sprouting from you favorite basketball stars like cactus leaves. During a time out or other scene which shows the players close up, these problems are somewhat alleviated, however they still falter considerably. Worse than the poor character modeling is the movement in this game. When moving around on the court, players seem to move like elderly citizens with calcium deficiency, extremely stiff and slow, with no real energy to speak of. When trying to shake an opponent, your player looks like someone suffering an epileptic seizure, spazzing out in an apparent attempt to do something, but it's really quite hard to tell just what that something is. Also, the crowd seems about as pumped up as a group of people at a John Tesh concert, but then again given what they are watching, it's not surprising. The fact that any crowd would watch the action taking place in this game is amazing enough.
Like many sports games, after a critical or exciting play, a slow motion replay comes up on screen, detailing the fine play exhibited just seconds earlier. In NBA 2Night, this feature only serves to exacerbate the graphical problems by showing players running through each other, arms and legs akimbo in weird looking positions, pausing at unlikely spots, and basically showing how poorly the graphics and animation in this game really are.
Of course, the heart of any sports game is the gameplay, so at least NBA 2Night fails where it really counts. Some of the most apathetic and lethargic gameplay ever seen can be found in this basketball sim, with erratic pacing and ridiculous controls. Basic player movement is done with the left analog stick, while the majority of controls are handled by the action buttons. Passing is done by pressing the X button, or by holding the L1 shoulder button and one of the four action buttons. By just pressing X, you will automatically pass to a default player, but not always the open man. This means you often need to use the more laborious second method, which takes too long as the response time before icons indicating who you can pass to come up. You can shoot or call for a shot by pressing the circle button, and shooting is a relatively easy task. However, if you wish to drive the lane for a dunk you must press the L2 shoulder button, and the majority of the time you will either blow right past every defender or run into someone 2 feet away and get called for charging. You can also use the L2 button to toss an alley-oop to a player under the basket by holding L2 and pressing the pass button. Successfully completing an alley-oop is based more on luck than it is on positioning, however, making an attempt risky business. If you wish to get fancy, you can do so by pressing the square button to perform a series of jukes and dekes, the only problem being that you can't predict with any accuracy just how or where you will fake, so doing so often results in nothing more than wasted time if not a loss of possession.
Just as important as offense in the game of basketball is a solid defense. Pardon? Yes, defense, something that NBA 2Night apparently forgot all about. When falling back on defense, your best bet is to simply let the CPU run your team, cause any manual attempt on your part to defend is going to lead to nothing but points. You can face up to a player by pressing R1, but this is nothing more than an invitation to get burned, as the majority of the time your opponent will blow right past you. Other than that, there really is no way to control your players on defense, so simply picking your best rebounder and placing him under the net is the most prudent course of action. While the game does offer various elements of the game that are supposed to keep it true to life, none of these seem necessary. For instance, unlike real life, you can play an entire game without ever substituting one player, except in the case of injury, which is extremely rare in the first place.
Replay value is always one of the bigger factors that one must take into consideration when purchasing a sports game. There has to be a reason for you to keep coming back, which means offering variety and depth. NBA 2Night does that by offering various gameplay modes, such as Season, Franchise, Playoffs and Quick Start. These are your basic options found in most games- Season is a regular season of up to 82 games with stats that change throughout the course of the year, and if you're good enough you might just make it to the Championship. Franchise mode lets you take control of your favorite team as General Manager, negotiating trades, drafting rookies, dealing with issues both on and off the court while building a dynasty all your own. Quick Start lets you jump right into the action by having the teams and home court randomly selected so you can begin playing immediately. Of course, all these options don't really amount to much since the gameplay is unsatisfying, so don't look for a lot of replay value in NBA 2Night, because the games mechanics leave much to be desired.
One of the first things that players will notice when they begin a game is how Konami tried to liven things up a bit with music and sound. You'll hear a lot of hip-hop beats fused with rap for most of the soundtrack, with a little bit of rock popping up here and there. If you are a fan of these musical genres, then the in game music for NBA 2Night is right up your alley, but if you aren't crazy about the hip-hop scene, then the soundtrack is simply annoying. In fact, NBA 2Night has mostly forgone traditional basketball style soundtracks, the kind most often found in NBA stadiums across the country, apparently in an attempt to make the game more edgy and exciting. Depending on your tastes, this is either a blessing or an aggravating flaw.
One area of sound that really irritates, regardless of taste, is the commentary. Basketball is one of the fastest paced games in the world, and it is hard to give truly realistic coverage of the game in a sports sim. However, it would have been nice if there had been at least some work put into this aspect of the game. Commentary is bland, sparse, and often way behind the curve in reporting what is happening on screen. The voices often seem completely robotic, especially when speaking of specific entities such as teams or players. Worse than that, the color commentary is so unlike real world basketball as to warrant turning the sound off, as it takes on a kind of street dialogue, or at least tries to, but it is often unintelligible if not down right ridiculous.
The most important aspect of basketball is ball control, making it the most important part of any good basketball simulator as well. And this is perhaps the biggest failing in NBA 2Night. Controlling your characters is awkward at best; horrible at worst. Characters move sporadically, often pausing for no reason, or at least not for any logical one, at weird times, like when catching a pass. Being able to lead a player with your passes is incredibly important in basketball, and was not addressed at all in this game. Instead, you will have to wait for your player to stop, catch the ball and regain his composure before he can continue. In fact, every time you change action midstream, whether to shoot, pass, or rebound, your player will inevitably stop, then resume moving in a herky jerky motion that makes it difficult to really find your rhythm. It is very rare that you find a good fast break in this game, and even more unlikely that you can set up a good half court offense, because your players rarely move without the ball.
Overall, NBA 2Night is little more than an example of a game that could have, and should have, been done a lot better. The lack of effort in this game is almost palpable, and what little work was put forth does nothing but simply propel this game to the middle of the pack at best. If you are a casual fan of basketball games, this is certainly not the title for you, simply because it is not representative of what the industry is capable of when it comes to making a good basketball game. If you are a die-hard fan of basketball, you would be best off by sticking with your NBA 2K2, or some reasonable facsimile. There are some series that don't belong in this industry, and this is certainly one of them. To put it another way, ESPN NBA 2Night is the Army Men of basketball games.
4/15/2002 Ryan Hartmann