Style. Biggin’ it up. That’s what the NBA’s about. The players get onto the pages of NBA jam mags with enough bling bling, ice and rides to make Dr. Dre blush. NBA 2K2 catches the essence of the NBA while managing to support the technical and strategically inventive side of the great Canadian game of basketball.
From the trash talk on the street court to the ability to dial in sets, board crashing, tempo and rotations on the hardwood, NBA 2K2 is undoubtedly a fantastic basketball simulation. Sega Sports and Visual Concepts are reaching Madden-like props with this installment of the series. While the game certainly has room for improvement, the competition is still left eating Nike smoke from the crossover that Sega/Visual Concepts blew by them with. Sports fan? BUY THIS GAME.
On a side note, Sega knows that this series is quickly becoming the crown jewel of its sports line up. Like the lucrative Madden for EA sports, Sega can cash in on millions of young NBA fans with their cross console roundballer. Sega and Visual Concepts are certainly respecting the significance of their franchise and are doing an excellent job advancing it with each installment. For the sake of Cube owners I will compare this title to Nintendo's own NBA Courtside 2002 throughout this review so that you have a point of reference.
Visual Concepts established an excellent rule for their graphics: they have to be a function of the gameplay. This is ultimately achieved via the smooth flow of animation sequences and the “loose” feel of the players. NBA 2K2 is “loose”. When you watch Mike Bibby drag his feet on a lazy dribble up the court you’ll know what I mean. Even when C WEB backs down a power forward in the paint like one of Ja Rule’s girlfriends busting up a homey, you can see the fluid movement of the ball handler. Whereas in Courtside 2002, the players seem to move like boards and back up the opposition like they “aren’t gonna’ fall for no banana in the tailpipe man.”
There are some serious graphical concerns though. Both of them have to do with string sequences of animation -- when you initiate a sequence of action via a button press and the AI does everything for you. For instance, on defense, you can attempt to steal the ball, or jump up for a block. Both of these animations are obscenely exaggerated and leave you very badly exposed to annihilation by the thug with the ball that you’re trying to defend.
Granted, in real basketball, when you jump up for a block and you’ve guessed wrong, then you’re as toast as Michael Jackson shooting a Pepsi commercial. Therefore, I can let that animation slide. But the steal animation is so exaggerated that it leaves you totally out to lunch. The way to curb this a bit is to get in your “set” position using the L button when you attempt to steal. While this doesn’t eliminate the problem, it certainly curbs the animation a bit. Also, the crossover animation seems really quick and convulsive. The animation itself is super smooth but the speed in which a crossover is executed seems way too fast. Sega/VC, set these bad boys up for the 2K3 version on the Cube.
Because I’m accustomed to the pace of Courtside, the thing that I initially thought was that the graphic speed is too fast. I actually like the more methodical pace of Courtside (although it should be slightly sped up). In NBA 2K2 you can actually slow down and speed up the gameplay. The problem is that the slower pace seems way too forced. It’s almost like running through wet cement. This is a minor gripe but something that could be addressed.
As for the menus… The in game menus are intuitive and a pleasure to use. Just hold down on the C stick to dial in a strategy. Press start for a whole host of coaching, gameplay and other options that are all easily manipulated. I have to make note that I really love the overall presentation of the menus. They operate on a drag and click idea and it’s really fresh. Where NBA Courtside seems tight with its robotic feel and presentation, NBA 2K2 flows from the smooth Team Select menus to the Team Management menu. Nice presentation, nice work by Artie Kempner, Daniel Dawson and David Northcutt!
Why do you think that NBA arenas play tunes during gameplay? Because unlike the turgid, crushingly violent, incredible and brilliant sport of hockey, NBA basketball is really about dancing. Seriously. Both from a macro and micro perspective, basketball is about flow and what better way to kindle that flow then music. The macro flow is how the team operates within a system and with cohesion while the micro is the ballet of the individual players’ movements as they cut through defenders. I love the soundtrack of NBA 2K2 and in no other sport is it so crucial to have a great musical accompaniment, aside from ice dancing and figure skating (pardon you?).
What’s even more impressive (and equally dominant over NBA Courtside) is the great audioscape that fills in the game. From the coach hollering his approval when you properly maul an opponent and crash the boards, to the trash talk during street ball. You’ll even hear players call “Ball! Ball!” when they’re open in the post.
The commentary is really intuitive and leads to some great insight into the play on the court. It’s really satisfying to hear the commentator give you props on a sneaker-burning crossover during an action replay. While the announcers may show some signs of repetition, they annihilate Courtside 2002’s repetitive and boring commentary. The commentary is definitely solid.
While the C stick usage doesn’t match up to the brilliant implementation by Left Field in Courtside 2002 (point and pass), it does fit into the overall control scheme very well. While the majority of the game is icon passing, there is a form of directional passing in NBA 2k2 though as well. Just point in the direction of the player you want to pass to and press A. The problem though is that when you aim at the player you may just turn the player with the ball into a steal or double team.
The biggest difference between Courtside and 2K2 is the shooting mechanism. With NBA 2K2 you have to release the B button at the right point in your shot in order to increase your chance of sinking the bucket. I don’t know why but Left Field totally missed the boat on this one in Courtside. Work on your release point in NBA 2K2 and you’ll improve your shooting percentage.
Another huge element of the game is the L button. On defense you stand up an opposing player and just as importantly you back a player down in the paint. This low post element is a fantastic part to the “grunt” work of the big men in the NBA and Visual Concepts nailed it. Of course, there are tonnes of controls here as well. From crossover dribbles to calling for a pick etc. Mastering them all is a pleasure. Just a hint, on page 7 there’s a coach’s corner where the different positions are represented via buttons for the passing. Memorize that chart.
One final comment on play control, the free throws are a bore. Sega and VC need to make this part of the game WAY more challenging. Way more. It’s just too easy to hit a basket.
Play modes are many and well executed. There’s an exhibition, practice (where you can scrimmage against other teams), street ball (wickedly fun for a pick up and play game), tourney, playoffs, season (excellent) and an incredible fantasy mode. In the fantasy mode you can create a fantasy tournament or league. The franchise mode is also brilliant. In this mode you manage, coach and play your team through multiple seasons! If you thought that trying to beat the Lakers was hard, imagine trying to resign stars with a hard salary cap! UGH! Track your progress as a GM in GM watch, read the news, check your scouting reports, sign/cut/trade and create players/team. For hardcore sports enthusiasts this level of creative control and management is outstanding. Don’t blame Sega if these more extensive modes take up a lot of memory on your card. Blame Nintendo for not accommodating developers with the appropriate memory capacity. I mean, the current memory card is laughable when compared to the Xbox’s hard drive.
Also, in keeping with it's namesake, Allen Iverson, NBA 2K2's A.I. has to be mentioned. Whereas in Courtside players stand around stunned at the play around them. In NBA 2K2 you'll see players work off of double teams to get open for a look at the basket. Even cooler is how players work off of screens. One really neat thing is to see how your teammates hussle through screens to get to their assignments on man coverage. The A.I. here distinguishes NBA 2K2 in the same way that Madden does for its series.
Now take all of that beautiful gameplay goodness and throw in a full selection of Legends like Dr. J, Magic and more. What the hell is going on here? This game is mad…sucka’!!!!
VERY IMPORTANTVisual Concepts/Sega, if you're reading this, you forgot the most important passing option of any game, the GIVE AND GO PASS. With the icon passing you should be able to hold down a button, move your original player through a screen, release the button and get the ball back in your hands for a wide open look. Please implement this option in NBA 2K3 because this series would really take off with that kind of passing flow.