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NBA 2K3 (Xbox) Review

Background Info
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Xbox Screens (5)

With EA Sports coming back strong with NBA Live 2003, SEGA Sports has to maintain the quality of their NBA 2K games this year to cut into NBA Live 2003's market share in the basketball genre. Did SEGA fix some of their gameplay issues from NBA 2K2 and put out another quality game? The Short answer is that SEGA did indeed fix the problem of high field goal percentages; but new gameplay issues have come up.

Presentation/Graphics : 85
The graphics are overall better than the other games out right now. The faces in NBA 2K3 seem to be the best portrayal out of the basketball games. This isn't a real big deal for me, but I know there are a number of people who pay close attention to such details. The whole in-game environment definitely gives the feel of a basketball game. A few new animations were added to the game. Most noticeable are the attempts to prevent balls from going out of bounds and the juggling of deep lob passes.

The overall animations in the game are adequate at best. It seems like all shots are always high archers. The number of camera angles and the semi-customizations are several ways in allowing the user to find an angle best suited for them. The main issue with the graphics is the collision detection. It gets rather annoying when I have my players just kind of freeze up for a few seconds when I bump into a defender.

Presentation/Audio : 80
The commentary in the game is average and as with most sports games these days, it quickly becomes repetitive. The game has a good number of unique lines, but sometimes it is not entirely accurate. The booth guys shouldn't be talking about how a player step over the half court line for a back-court violation when the ball was actually passed into the backed court. Besides a few other minor issues, they say enough about the right things for a basketball game but the same things said over and over.

The sound effects also add to the authenticity of basketball in NBA 2K3. The squeaks, crowd noise and other basketball sound effects are well implemented. The half time show helps try to add to the whole ESPN TV presentation feel.

Interface/Options : 95
One of the biggest additions here is the ESPN-style interface and presentation. The implementation of the ESPN favor in NBA 2K3 is nicely done. From the menus, to the in-game updates of other games and everything else, certainly gives the ESPN feel.

The biggest addition is gameplay sliders. Gamers are now able to tweak a good number of gameplay settings, such as the frequency of the CPU shooting three's and such. Last year's game there was a huge problem with the high FG percentage. This year the problem was solved. However, now with the sliders, gamers are able to modify the sliders further if they still feel the percentages are too high.

The game modes include: Street (2 on 2, 3 on 3, 4 on 4, 5 on 5), Franchise, Season, Playoffs, Tournament and Practice. You are able to import rookies from NCAA 2K3 onto the hard drive. Most of the features in the franchise mode are the usual. The game allows you to trade players, sign free agents, sign coaches, set the offensive and defensive game plans, view statistics, play pre-season games with your franchise team, amongst other options. After a season is completed, the draft order is determined and thus starts the whole scouting process and trying to determine which rookie will help your team the most.

The game also features a nice training camp mode. Most of the awards given out in the NBA are also included in the game. The number of stats you can track goes on and on. The only quirk I have is that player ratings are not available during the actual in-game sub screens. Only the overall rating of each player is available.

The game does have a Maximum Passing feature that lets you determine the speed of a pass by how hard the pass button is tapped. This didn't really help me that much as I ended up using the right analog joystick to do most of my passing.

Gameplay : 85
NBA 2K3's gameplay is more sim oriented than NBA Live 2003. You won't see the crazy jams that are in NBA Live 2003 show up in this game. The dunking is more accurately portrayed in NBA 2K3, unlike NBA Live 2003. To be fair, the developers of NBA Live 2003 probably weren't trying to realistically portray dunks.

The post-game is more challenging than in the past. No longer can you just dump the ball down low to Shaq and have him back the opposing center down. It is really a lot more difficult to just get your center and have him back down any opposing player. This results in you having to work for a shot and not be able to get the sure basket each time down by tossing it into the post. A good touch is that you actually see the players battling for post position. One of my favorite things about NBA 2K3 is how the star players get a lot more shots. I don't have to see Pierce and Iverson being out shot by their teammates anymore.

Sega also allows gamers to dive for balls going out of bounds. Unfortunately, that is the only time when you can dive for the ball. That means don't expect to be seeing any scramble on the floor for a loose ball. The AI of the CPU offense is one of the bigger improvements in the game. T-Mac will sometimes be isolated on one side while teams such as the Celtics with no post presence will get a majority of their points from the outside. Also, the CPU does a good job of holding for the last shot at the end of the quarters.

After playing NBA Live 2003, I think NBA 2K3's crossover could be improved so that users have more control over the crossovers and jukes in the game. The crossovers in the game don't appear to be too effective and definitely do not give you the satisfying feel of faking out a defender.

The defensive AI could definitely use some work. Defenses fail to utilize the zone defensive set, as well as doubling opposing players effectively. The double teams appear to be random. There is no way Tim Duncan should need any help trying to guard against Samaki Walker in the post. On fast breaks, I've had defensive players just let my guy go straight to the hoop coming from the sideline while choosing to cover someone standing by the free-throw line.

In addition, the amount of lob passes reduces the number of opportunities to get a fast break going. The fact that players also tip the ball to themselves too frequently also hinders fast breaks in NBA 2K3. Also, when trying to pass the ball up the court, sometimes the players just come to a stand still to get the ball.

Some other issues are the way replays are shown. Most of the time, everything on the screen is all grayed out while the focused player is displayed in color. I can see how Sega wants to emphasize a particular player, but when everything on the screen is all grayed and blurred out, it looks as if ghosts are running the court. Also, there seems to be a bug with the white button as it allows you to hop around.

Replay Value : 85
The game definitely has a good amount of replay value with all the options and features available. It is disappointing to see some of the key rookies not included in the game, such as Yao Ming (Editor's Note: In 2k3's defense, Live does not have Ming either). The rookie drafts and free agent signing process, as well as the training camps in the franchise mode, contribute a great amount to the replay value of NBA 2K3. As long as you can overlook some of the weaknesses of the CPU AI, this game will keep you coming back for more.

Overall : 85
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NBA 2K3 is a good game, but not a great one. There is no great basketball game out right now. I don't understand the number of 95/100 scores I've seen by a few reviewers given to NBA 2K3. We aren't hating on Sega Sports at all. In fact, our reviewer who reviewed the PS2 version awarded the game a 92 out of a 100. How you enjoy the game is different for each individual.

I think the game is definitely a good game and being a fan of basketball sims, I can say the gameplay is no doubt more suited for the sim crowd. The problem with that is a basketball sim has so much to do, it that it usually never gets all the important aspects right. For NBA 2K3, some of the major AI problems (specifically the lack of fast breaks and effective CPU team defense) mentioned above definitely took away from my enjoyment of the game.

If you are a fan of the NBA 2K series, this game won't disappoint you at all, especially with the ability to play online with Xbox Live. However, if you are new to the game, give NBA 2K3, NBA Inside Drive 2003, NBA Live 2003 all a try and see which game better suits your style.

By: James Chheng 11/17/02

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