PUBLISHER - SEGA Sports
DEVELOPER - Visual Concepts
In 1991 Electronic Arts began the transformation of basketball titles with Lakers vs. Celtics.
Since that time, EA has been solely responsible for the best playing basketball titles for virtually
every platform. It is nearly impossible to talk about a sports title and not mention EA's influence
on the genre. EA, making steady improvements on their sports titles for nearly a decade, has
given Sega (as well as other developers) a working paradigm to follow.
In Sega's first offering
for the Dreamcast, NFL2K, they virtually stole every aspect of the gameplay from the king of all
franchises, Madden football. In doing so they created the best football game to date. As a
consumer we could only hope that Sega would continue to follow EA's lead as they had in the
past. Virtually everything that made Madden great was there to be seen in NFL2K. Not only this
but Sega then went on to improve upon aspects of the Madden franchise. The changes were few,
and it seemed as if the old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" was followed. I wish I could
say the same thing for NBA2K; however, this title ventures out on its own too often.
never been more important for Sega to top EA than it is right now. With EA currently dedicating
their sports' prowess to the PSX2, Sega can ill afford any mistakes. After playing NFL2K,
expectations across the country are very high for Sega Sports' second offering. It's time for a total
dissection of NBA2K.
Upon turning the power on we are treated to a terrific intro. Once again, Sega opted to go with
real game graphics in the intro rather than cinematic displays of higher resolution, or actual
footage of NBA players. At the start of each game, pre-game introductions are near perfect
aside from the very bland voice of the announcer (more on that later). Here is where the incredible
detail in the arenas is first seen. It appears as if they have it all, right down to the seating charts. Individual fans reacting differently to each event is a nice touch. The lights then darken for the home team and for the first time we are witness to the incredible likenesses of players like Patrick Ewing and Kobe Bryant. The presentation, which includes a laser light show similar to the NBA, is top notch in terms of pre-game hype. When viewing the players from a close range via instant replay, foul shot, or otherwise, the detail is simply astonishing. The expression on their faces, the words on the ball, and the fluid motion in which the players seem to move during the action replay is performed with the most intricate detail we have ever seen as console gamers. There is little doubt that as far as character rendering is concerned, Sega has nearly perfected the art via digitization and motion capture. Once you have gotten over the pre-game awe, you'll soon be sent to the tip-off, or jump-ball.
During the opening tip off there is no way to select a camera angle to your liking; however, once the ball is tipped you can pause the action and select the desired camera angle (more on this later). When play begins, much of the awe-inspiring graphics seem to dissipate. In the heat of battle, the difference in the way the players look is nominal from the default view. When close enough to observe the detail in the players, the lack of distance prevents you from seeing the round-ball action in its entirety. When the view is adjusted so one can see the entire arena of play (most often this entails the 3 point circle, the base line and the basket) the distance disallows one to view the players in detail. This leaves the player to witness the astonishing detail only in pre-game intros, free throws, and replays. Don't misunderstand, the in-game graphics of the players is better than previous hoops titles, but only nominally. Suffice to say, the difference in the in-game detail and graphics from NBA Live 99 to NBA2K are nowhere near equal to the jump NFL2K made over Madden.
The sound of the slams is definitely good. The crunch is heartfelt, especially when practicing with Shaq in the quiet practice arena. The sound is complimented by a groan and the player is left to witness the rattling of the backboard. The sound effects are all very well done, from the bouncing of the ball to the swatted down shot, and everything in-between. Along with a fantastic sound when you hit nothing but net, you can hear the sound of the sneakers squeaking when landing from a jump-shot or executing a cross-over dribble.
Occasionally, player voices will urge you to play defense or to get the ball up the court. While
that particular voice-over works very well, others fall short in capturing the excitement of
round-ball action. Toward the end of the shot clock, and or quarter, normally the gamer is left
hearing a loud series of beeps as the clock ticks down. In this title it is hardly noticeable and often leads to the clock running out while the ball is in your hands.
The play-by-play commentary leaves much to be desired. The voices are average at best and seem more suited toward an NHL game. The main problem with the commentary resides in its accuracy. Far too often, the announcers comment on happenings that are not occurring. At least four times a game you will hear, "and the Knicks seem to be a little too patient on this possession" while you are making a half court pass, leading to another half court pass to Ewing who lies in wait of the cherry picking dunk. Is there any way possible to be LESS patient? This is just one example of the many inaccuracies of the play-by-play commentary.
The last and most important aspect of a basketball game's audio is the arena announcer. If one is accustomed to hearing the extremely exciting announcers in NBA Jam or NBA live, then there is little doubt that the arena announcer in NBA2K lacks heart.
Being set up in the identical manner of NFL2K, the options and menus are above average. For a first generation title it has enough to get by although similar problems exist in both games' options screens. At the first menu, you have the option to practice, play an exhibition game, embark on a season, go straight to the playoffs, or customize players, teams, and user records. In adjusting the actual game options, the choices include changing the NBA rules, the manner of game play, the presentation and controller configurations. There is also a section for codes.
Far and away the most innovative feature in the options is the ability to practice with any number
of teammates. After selecting which players you would like to use in the practice combine, you
are brought to center court. Here is where you can practice your shots while reading a text
display at the top of your screen that lets you know whether your shot was released too soon or
too late. You will also be notified when you have released the shot with perfect timing and
accuracy. It's even possible to position one of your players under the rim to gather, and pass
back out to you, all of the shot attempts. You can also get all five of your players out on the floor
and although you can't practice set play, you are able to adjust yourself to the icon passing if you are not already used to it. I found that this is an excellent arena for playing common hoops games such as H-O-R-S-E and Around the World.
The arcade mode turns off all of the options (such as fatigue and injuries) that make this title the simulation that it is. Playing the arcade mode will offer more dunks and a faster style of play. The arcade mode will inspire NBA Jam type play; however, this action is better suited for a two-on-two match-up. If this is the style of basketball you seek, then look elsewhere. NBA Showtime may be the perfect game for you. Other than monster dunks and alley-oops, NBA2K is hard pressed to showcase any of its features while in arcade mode.
While the exhibition mode is identical to virtually every title in years past, differences exist in the season and playoff modes. You will have your choice as to the season length: 14, 28, 56, or 82 games. Likewise, you can select the number of rounds each playoff match-up will entail. Once again, as in NFL2K, when selecting a playoff mode, a season is simulated offering you no choice as to which teams will be represented in the playoff tournament. As in the exhibition games, the option to select the length of quarters is present in both season and playoff modes. It is almost impossible to imagine not giving the user the full power to decide how long his games will last; however, Sega falls short of delivering on this aspect. It is only possible to select three, five, eight, or 12 minute quarters, and no time in-between is an available option. It would take little or no effort for the programmers to use one-minute increments in quarter length, which leaves one to wonder why Sega wouldn't do it. It has become apparent in past basketball titles that a six-seven minute quarter length will offer scores to equal proportions of the actual NBA. Five minutes is too short, eight is too long. What were they thinking? This is a question I had asked myself far too many times when playing NBA2K.
There is also the option of selecting more than one team, thus allowing for multi-player seasons. This is now a standard option since EA released it in 1997. The problem in the season mode is identical to that of NFL2K's problem: the only way to view your team's schedule is to view that of the entire league. At times this can be extremely confusing. After experiencing the level at which one can view your team's journey throughout the season in all of the recent EA sports titles, NBA2K's lack of depth in the area shines greatly.
Customizing teams and creating players, as well as arranging your own custom season is an asset. The detail in these areas is exceptional, in particular when creating a player. Like NFL2K, everything down to the socks and shoes of your player is represented.
Aside from customizing the above areas, one is also able to customize the controller configuration. Like NFL2K, the user has an option to change the controller commands only to other pre-set configurations. The total freedom in choosing your button commands is simply not present. While this is only a minor setback, it will take some time to get used to the button commands in this game. Again, this is only a minor gripe, for virtually every great sport title in the past took some getting used to.
In the area of game options NBA2K falls short, but just barely. The actual options are there, all of which you can imagine needing; however, their actual use is arguable. Rather than go with the perfect system seen in EA titles as well as in NFL2K (which allows you to slide the penalty levels up or down to your liking), NBA2K offers only three options on all adjustable penalties. All (call all fouls), most (call most fouls), and none (call no fouls), this gives the player only three levels to choose from, and none of which seem accurate (more on this later). These levels can only be set to certain fouls such as reach-ins and shooting fouls. Fouls that are absolute, such as traveling and the 24-second clock, are subject to a logical on/off switch. My biggest gripe over the foul calling options is that the charging and blocking fouls are represented by, and on, the same bar. Since these two contradicting fouls needed adjusting in prior titles to get the chemistry just right between a charge and a block, how the hell did Sega represent them on the same bar? Turn up charging, and you turn up blocking. How does that make ANY sense? This is not to mention
that regardless of your tinkering, the offensive penalties will rarely if ever get called. This affects the gameplay a great deal. It is highly suggested that you spend a good deal of time tweaking the fouls. I have found that having all adjustable fouls set to "most" is a fairly good combination, which will eliminate most of the woes surrounding this area.
Once again, it is impossible to save settings and a season on separate files. In order to save the settings that must be tweaked to get the gameplay right, one must use the full 198 blocks on the memory card. I'm shocked that Sega opted not to fix this problem since it was so apparent with their NFL launch title. Frankly, there are so many no-brainer options that are not available, it leaves one to wonder what the future of Sega Sports will be like.
As gameplay is by far the most important aspect of any sports game, here is where the majority of attention should be focused. There are some very promising aspects to the gameplay of NBA, likewise, there are many aspects of the gameplay which are inexcusable for they knew where to look when it came to replicating a great hoops sim. There are many innovative features in the gameplay that have been incorporated via its detailed graphical precision, much the same as NFL2K offered new aspects of gameplay through fully functional 3D designs in its players.
First and foremost, like in NFL2K, the ball reacts well when bouncing off a player's hands, chest, head or leg. It is easy to see how an improvement in graphics not only adds an aesthetic appeal to the game but offers new situations as well. In NBA2K the ball will bounce off an opposing player's body and follow a proper physical path after contact. This is presented best in both the passing and shooting aspects of NBA2K. Along with behind the back and bounce passes comes the possibility of the ball being redirected from an opposing player. No longer will any player who touches it simply suck in the ball. Now, unless the player actually gets his hands on the ball, it will immediately be redirected. Many passes being tipped out of bounds and/or deflected upwards represent this. In shot blocking, the ball can react in several ways but all too often it simply seems to fall directly down onto the floor. Swatting the ball into the stands is difficult at best.
The problems in the passing game are more than apparent. The jump pass, which was first seen in the original NBA Jam, is there intact, and there are a variety of new renders, which are quite fun to observe when passing the ball. Oftentimes on a fast break, we find that a player has to stop to accept the pass. There seems to be no fluidity in some fast breaks. Exceptions to this are far too few to warrant a well-paced, fast-breaking hoops title. Also missing from this game is the ability to hold the pass button down and maintain control of the same player. In doing this, the give-and-go could be executed to near perfection in past titles. In NBA2K you will have to rely on a working play call, rather than manually controlling the action.
This title is obviously held back by the lack of the dual shock controller but if manipulated in the correct manner they could have come up with a system that is satisfactory to even the biggest critics. They did include icon passing, and once you are used to the controller it is fairly easy to distinguish which player you are passing to, and getting the pass attempt to the proper player.
Other problems lie in several areas. Foul shooting stands out as the most mindless change to previous basketball titles. In having an absolutely perfect system in NBA Live, Sega neglected to learn from the best, and opted to venture out on their own. There is little doubt that Sega wanted to show off its analogue triggers but in this manner it simply does not work. As far as I can tell, there is no difference in going to the line with either John Stockton or Shaq. The amount of strategy this takes away from the game is obviously apparent to any round-ball fan. The game prompts you to squeeze both analogue triggers simultaneously to execute a free throw. While at first it may seem challenging, after one or two games you will never miss a free throw. This is not to mention the fact that the sheer excitement of the game is abruptly halted to execute a free throw. When at the foul line a player can take his time adjusting, and readjusting his shot. This leads to situations like, "Oops, I messed up, let me do that again." Although there is a time limit on the free throw itself, it offers little consolation to the absurdity of the process. It was perfect in NBA Live, so why change it? Not wanting to rip off other companies' ideas is not a valid excuse for we are all witness to the manner in which Sega drew from the best regarding a football title.
The ability to post up on offense and defense is groundbreaking. Although these aspects have been available in past titles, never have they been so well represented. Nudging the post player with your behind while backing in to take a shot can be quite fun. Player attributes such as strength and weight are taken into consideration when deciding whether or not you will be able to back a player up or not. Having trouble? Simply release the "L" button and spin around for the drive. One can also use the turbo button while nudging his way inward to get as close to the basket as he can before executing the hook shot or the fade away jumper.
The gameplay itself feels a bit stagnant. While the speed can be increased via the options screen, even the fast mode will leave you reeling when it comes to loose balls. Players simply are not quick enough to react to loose balls, thus making that all-important save extremely difficult. Although the graphics and polygons are pushed with ease and gameplay is fast, the pace at which the game moves along seems a bit stop-and-go due to being filled with rendering rather than on the fly movement. Everything from bending over to pick up the ball, to being knocked over by a charging offensive player and getting up to participate in the action, is over-rendered. While the frame rate itself is not in question, it's the manner in which these players move from render to render which causes a choppy feel (especially when picking the ball up off the floor in the paint). Expect to see fluidity that pales in comparison to both Soul Calibur and NFL2K
All this talk about the gameplay, and still no mention of the view at which you will witness the round-ball action. Another highly underestimated aspect of sports gaming is the angle at which play should be viewed. The default angle should always be the best, thus offering itself to online play, tournament action as well as competitive league play. There should be little or no argument that the default view is the best for playing the game. Unfortunately, there is a valid argument that the best view in NBA2K is NOT the default view. The default view is below average. Arguably the best view is the "Side High" camera. From this view most gamers will be able to see the action in its entirety; however, it will need adjusting so that it will zoom in when playing in the paint.
From the default view, even with this zoom intact, the camera is too far away from the action. It
can become very difficult to tell exactly what is going on under the basket and in the lane. This
lends itself to even more passing difficulty. Aside from the confusion it creates, there is little this
angle offers in terms of graphical appreciation. The players are now small enough to eliminate
any detail which was so painstakingly put into them. In the default view, most will be left wishing
they were closer to the action, while others will simply desire a different angle such as the press or
diagonal cam (neither of which are available). When standing at the top of the key, most of the
screen is left behind the baseline, making the actual court appear a bit too small. While the court
is the right size, this illusion is created by the fact that your camera is sitting in a terrible position,
way too far behind the action. Less than half of the television screen at this point is used for on-court happenings. Making matters worse, you will have to pause for turnovers as the screen must adjust to the change of possession. Avoiding the default view altogether may be your best bet if you wish to actually see what is happening on the court.
There are other views available which were directly taken from NBA Live. The problem is that while taking the views available from Live, they neglected to take all of them. There are virtually no playable close-up views available, only high and medium. The traditional press and diagonal cam are non-existent; unfortunately, these are the two views which offered the best gameplay in NBA Live 99. The close views are in the form of action and cinematic angles which offer little in terms of gameplay. Where this leaves the consumer is either playing the default view with "close ups in the key" on or the "Side High" view, again, with the zoom on. The fact that there is a debate over the best camera view, once again, hurts this title. In playing many games, most will find the "Side High" angle far more playable than any other view.
The rebounding game, aside from one fatal flaw, is the best we have yet to see in a console game. The players jump much more realistically, and it is now more important than ever to time your jump properly in order to block a pass or get a rebound. You can also jam on the buttons to throw elbows while keeping the ball safe as you land on the ground. Again, a feature taken from NBA Jam that suits this title nicely. Although you won't find the opposition flying ten feet to the ground, it is more than a sufficient way to clear out space. Tip-ins, put backs, and rebound dunks are all very nice as well. Excellent touch. The one problem is that it's near impossible, if not IMpossible to get your own rebound and put it back for the dunk or tip-in. On the ball's direct path back to the ground, it seems to evade only the player who put up the shot. Once hitting the ground, only then will the player who made the shot attempt be able to recover the ball. Weird.
The VMU plays an interesting part in the game. Looking down at anytime you are able to view player fatigue for your entire team. On the opposing team's inbound, you can take a quick look at your VMU to determine which player you would like to control. All of the players are labeled with a button, much like the icon passing. Pressing the button will immediately bring you control over that player. In NBA2K, it seems that every good point brings to mind a bad one. What's missing? Well, in NBA Live, not only could you use icon passing, but on defense you could use icon selection. This is done in a near-identical manner as selecting your man on the opposing inbound pass. NBA2K does allow you to get closest man to the hole on defense, but then again, that option was available in past EA titles. What's not available in NBA2K, and sorely missed, is the ability to pick ANY defender at ANY time via icon selecting. This option is essential in basketball titles yet it's missing from this one.
The turbo button fairs quite well, as do the majority of the controls. Obviously, holding down the
turbo at all times will tire your players out in a hurry. Play calling is also very well done. While
there isn't quite the variety in play-calling that we have seen in previous titles, there is more than
enough to keep avid hoop fans busy. The method of selecting the plays is done via the D-pad. In
reading some other reviews, I can't help but notice that there have been complaints about the
D-pad being used in such fashion. The fact is that the D-pad need merely be pressed for an
instant and all of the available plays will be displayed on-screen. If one can't find time to slide off
of the D-pad for one half second to call a play, then someone isn't playing enough video games. While I have for some time called for a sports only gamepad (especially for the N64), the Dreamcast controller is just fine for this title. The problem is not in the actual gamepad, but in the lack of options, and lack of ingenuity which Sega has displayed in its button assignments. While the PSX dual shock offers two more buttons and is by far the best sports playing gamepad available, everything you need accomplish in this game could be done with the standard Dreamcast controller.
Though this may be true, as in NFL2K, the improvement in detail has led to a number of new aspects in the game play. The ball can carom off of a player's knee, shoulder, stomach and hand, all of which are represented very well graphically. This is another instance of rendered 3D graphics and physics models combining to make sports titles a bit more realistic. It succeeded in NFL2K to near perfection; however, in NBA2K it is simply a subtle treat that is overshadowed by a few mishaps in design. These mishaps bear their heads in the audio, options and gameplay areas of the title.
Once finding the proper camera angle and embarking on a season or playing a friend, most will find this title very enjoyable. The improvement in graphics, the speed at which the detailed characters are pushed, and the manner in which the rock reacts hitting off different objects is terrific. Once getting used to the button assignments and different feel, NBA2K will prove to be the top basketball title to date. With a little more tweaking and a more intelligent approach to the playable options, this title could have ranked amongst Dreamcast's best.
Understanding that there is much to be desired in this game, the fact remains that the game is pretty darn good for a first attempt on a 128-bit system. There is no question that NFL2K has spoiled us quite a bit. There is also little question that Sega Sports made a few poor decisions when it came to their hoops title.
This sports genre lends itself well to replay factor. Even with all of the problems which occur in this title, the consumer with a consistent human opponent will enjoy this game for quite some time (possibly all year). Playing against the CPU will induce little excitement over the long haul. Avid players of sports sims will undoubtedly be whipping up on the computer in their very first season. Three difficulty settings are available, only the most difficult of which will warrant a lasting challenge.
It is safe to say that NBA2K is worth buying if you are the owner of the Dreamcast and a hoops fan. If you want to play 128-bit round-ball, you have little choice other than this title.
While it's easy to be the best on the block when you're the only one on the block, it's difficult to
imagine any other publisher other than EA topping this hoops title. NBA2K is that good. If you're
on the fence about this game, or are not the biggest hoops fan, your money will be much better
spent on future releases for the Dreamcast. All this said, there is little doubt that
this is the best hoops title available to date. Whether it remains so till next November remains to be seen.