NBA 2K3 Review
The Dreamcast-born basketball series has certainly come some way. Making its debut under the 2K line, Visual Concepts has one-upped itself with each and every new carnation. With the only competition in sight being NBA Live 2003, NBA 2K3 does indeed bring some new things to the table, and the end result is quite good.
Visually, though, the game boasts but a marginal augmentation over last year's iteration. The players, jerseys, and various team courts all hold much bearing to a look that was manufactures a year ago. Likewise, the crowd and background on goings also bear miniscule upgrades. A little crisper all together is about as much of an improvement as there is. Looking almost identical to that of NBA 2K2, some will be disappointed. However, on the whole, the graphics are definitely above average.
The whole presentation is quite different this year, ultimately because Sega has acquired the ESPN license which totally glorifies the presentation into a TV-style output. Geared towards ESPN's Sports Center name, the stylistic presentation is quite innovative and also is very similar to Visual Concept's NFL 2K3.
The 2K series has always been plentiful of game modes, and this year's version is no exception, as it's stockpiled with modes to chose from, including Street ball, Practice, Tournament, Playoffs, Season, and, of course, Franchise. In addition, though, players can also set up a network where they can hone their skills against people all around the nation.
The Franchise mode is obviously the meat of the game, and it's certainly been improved this year. One of the first additions players will notice is that they can change the simulation quarter minutes of the other teams, so that it'll correspond with the minutes you've set your team to play with. Last year's version didn't include this, so if you played with three minute quarters, all the other simulated games being played would come out with some outrageous scores like 90-86 and so on, leaving any hopes of a good stat sheet in the dust -- as well as an MVP or All-Star spot. Therefore, this minor change that was made actually goes a long way with the mode and helps it drastically, statistically speaking.
The new and more lifelike animations are easily the most noticeable things that have been added to the game. Not just a few new dunk animations or a few new juke moves, we're talking a ton of animations -- for all the different facets of the game. Passing, for one, looks so much better now. Players throw and catch the ball with so much life, and movements they make before and after are also convincingly good. Also, passes now have more style, as players can palm the ball with one hand, swing it around a bit, and then bounce pass it to a player that's setting up for a backdrop and has his hand in the air to catch it. Furthermore, players can now even make spectacular diving and jumping saves to stop the ball from going out of bounds. Stuff like this makes the whole aura of the game come to life.
The passing game has also been rearranged in other ways, too. On the good side, the passing is now pressure sensitive, just like passing in football games, so players can lob a pass as well as hum it, whichever the situation calls for; and you can also pass with the R analog stick, which at times can be easier. However, Visual Concepts has strangely taken out the command to pass to the person nearest the basket. This execution made fast breaks tremendously simpler and also made it easier to pass it for an easy bucket to a center or other player who was under the basket. Because of this deduction from the game, fast breaks are now more complicated to execute and players under the basket will usually have to get the ball from an icon pass, which takes more time and thought, as passing with the direction pad isn't nearly as reliable as it could be.
Players can also pivot step and pump fake with their feet. Doing so sets up for some amazing one-two punch animations and dribble jukes. Crossovers, in-between the legs to behind the back, and spin moves all aid players in eluding the defense. And the animations, again, going from one move to another all flow fluently.
Now that players have myriad ways of taking it to the hole, Visual Concepts of course needed to add more dunk and lay-up animations, and that they did. Players will see many new animations on both the aforementioned, most of them being refreshingly awe-inspiring; but for some reason, the pretty lay-up animations fall apart when a large percentage of them are missed. No ball player in the NBA is perfect, but when around 30% of your lay-ups rim out, you know there's a problem somewhere. Props to Visual Concepts for encouraging players to not try to always drive to the whole, but too many wide-open lay-ups end up frustratingly not sinking.
Speaking of rimming out, the animations used to illustrate the ball hitting the rim and interacting from thereon looks spectacularly real. Never in a game will you see so many different ways that a ball can go through a basket. Most basketball games will have the majority of the made shots with a nothing-but-net animation, while a few shots end up tipping the rim before going in, but that's not the case at all in NBA 2K3 -- most of the buckets made actually don't even go in nothing but not, but instead will toilet roll in, bounce a few times around the rim, and even sit on the back of the rim at times before rolling in. And when it does go in the rim nothing but net, it never looks generic because there are numerous animations for a nothing-but-net make, as well. You'll also miss quite a bit, too, and when this happens, it looked equally as great, toilet-rolling out, going in and miraculously bouncing out -- every type of miss that'll frustrate you in real life at a nearby court.
The percentage of made wide-open shots has also been reduced significantly. Last year's version had it so that players that were wide-open would almost always make it, about 80% to be precise, but NBA 2K3 puts a more realistic grip on jump shots. While the more jump shot-savvy players will still hit a good percentage of shots, the numbers won't be anything godly.
When games get tight down the stretch and the other team is trying to run down the clock, you'll obviously initiate some intentional fouls to send the other team to the charity stripe, in hopes that they miss. Well intentional fouls have never looked so good, as players wrap their hands around the other player's body, instead of the usual two-handed push that looks both manufactured and lame.
Leading your team to an NBA Championship is rather simple with the precise controls that are at hand. The face buttons will shoot, pass, juke, and pull up passing icons, while the shoulder buttons will execute a pivot step, make your player run faster, call for plays, and back-down the defender. The pressure sensitive analog buttons are also put to use, letting L3 call for a pick and R3 initiate a pass fake.
Aurally, the game delivers in all categories. While setting up a game, the menus coexist nicely with by upbeat music to get you ready for the game. Once starting, the game's color commentary will accompany the squeaks and horns heard in the game; and the play-by-play is rather precise, with the inclusion of jokes, sarcastic comments, and witty metaphors.
NBA 2K3 is one of those games that's great in its own sense, but the need for a purchase is really a harder question to answer. Those who own NBA 2K2 should be satisfied sufficiently with that top-notch basketball sim for now. NBA 2K3 is an excellent basketball title, but the initiative to upgrade to it just isn't that high, since the game holds minimal improvements overall. But by all means, if you're not a proud owner of NBA 2K2, then 2K3 is a great buy.
10/26/2002 Joseph Comunale