NBA Shootout 2004 Review
When it comes to games from 989 it's virtually the same thing every year; "Last year's version was bad, but this year it's a little better." In every sport, 989 consistently offers up the worst game year after year. They are certainly aware of this issue and while they are working hard to correct it, they simply aren't getting the job done. NBA Shootout 2004 is just the latest in a long line of games showing that 989 remains a step behind the competition.
NBA Shootout's greatest strength is the sheer number of options it offers. You can play online, use a collection of the 49 greatest players (There are 50, but no Jordan, so let's be serious), practice, and even take a player from the summer leagues to the NBA. There's even a create-a-dunk mode for those people that can't quite replicate the big boys on that 7-foot goal out in the backyard.
NBA Shootout 2004's biggest weakness is where it matters most - the gameplay. Simply put, it's just nowhere near the level that NBA Live and ESPN Basketball are, and that alone is enough to relegate it to "what's the point?" status. Even with all the improvements that have been made, the only thing you need to do to be successful in the game is hold down the turbo button and run around until you get a clear path to the lane. While that strategy works most of the time, if it doesn't, you can just run around and draw a triple team and make one pass to the guy standing under the bucket for an easy jam. Yes, you can call for different offensive schemes with the headset, but there's really no point because the game never forces you to get that crafty.
The game's controls are also lacking when compared to the other hoops games for the Playstation 2. This year you now have the ability to control the ball handler's dribble via the right analog stick, but it's nowhere near as responsive or effective as it is in other games. You can adjust your shot in mid-air, but it involves hitting the R1 button after you realize that you're going to need to make a change, and that's just not enough time.
If there is one thing that 989 has gotten down pat, it's the online model. There are tons of options, the menus are easy to navigate and the game plays smoothly. You can send emails, see what users are on even if they are playing other games, post to a message board, and even create your own tournaments. There is even a ticker that goes across the bottom of the screen that updates real scores in whatever games are playing that day. The voice chat during the game is also a nice addition, though it's a rare occasion that someone actually has a headset plugged in.
When I went online to test it out for the review, what I saw broke my heart. 989 has created the best online sporting environment, easily beating the pitiful excuse for online that EA has for NBA Live, yet there were only 3 people online. Three people! To make matters worse, they were all idle, and I had to wait an hour for someone to play. When we finally did play, the game was a lot of fun and ran well, but the smoothest online in the world is worthless if there's nobody there to play.
Not to sound like a broken record, but from a visual standpoint, NBA Shootout is a distant third. The players look reasonably like they should, though there are always a few guys on each team that don't look much like their real-life counterparts at all. There are some nice animations and the dunks all look ferocious, but the game seems to be lacking when the players aren't doing a special move. It's hard to describe, but they don't look lifelike at all when switching from one move to another, and they love to stand around and do nothing when the ball isn't in their hands. The arenas are extremely average looking and the crowds are downright pitiful. They are blurry blobs that move every now and then - they're really pretty embarrassing.
The key culprits when it comes to the bland visuals are the inconsistent framerate and the poor camera. The framerate isn't too bad when the action is slow, but if you make a long pass or you are using turbo to speed around the court, the framerate turns to mush. Often times the game will slow down with a kind of "real time" replay when you drive to the hoop, only to have you pass out of the shot, which usually results in a turnover. You don't have to pass out of the shot, but a lot of times you'll see that you're going to get packed, so you simply dish off. This may have been so the defense isn't penalized for giving you extra time to change your shot, but irregardless, it's annoying. There are also inopportune replays after you score, of the teams hustling back down court. This does nothing but slow the game down and prevent you from starting a fast break. Perhaps this is done because the defensive players are so slow getting down the court, but like the turnovers during the shot replay, it's not fair.
The game's play by play is done by Ian Eagle, and the color commentary is provided by Bill Walton. It's not bad and usually does a nice job of keeping pace with the action on the court, but as is the case with most games, it does get repetitive quickly. The rest of the arena and menu music is the usual average licensed stuff and doesn't do anything to add or detract from the game.
Well, it's better than last year, but it's still not worth playing. 989 knows the problems, but they just can't ever seem to get over the hump with their games. The controls are shoddy, the graphics are plain, and the online community is non-existent, so there's really no point in even renting the game. There's always next year, but it's likely to be more of the same.
11/29/2003 Aaron Thomas