Review: If this is life in the NBA...I'll stick with my real one.
Chances are, if you grew up a fan of basketball, you dreamed of one day being in the big time, better known as the National Basketball Association. You dreamed of living the life, hitting the shots, being the man and leading your team to a world championship. But of course, you can't hit your free throws, don't have a good jumper, can't rebound, and simply aren't athletic enough for the real thing, and thus it remains just that...a dream. Sony understands your plight, armchair NBA superstars, thanks to NBA 06. Instead of simply releasing your typical NBA game with franchises and the like, NBA 06 instead places you in a dream situation; living the life of an NBA player, from the lowly pre-draft days to hopefully being the guy who hits the final shot in game 7 of the NBA finals. It's an ambitious project and is in many ways a revolution in your usual single-player sports game.
Simply known as 'The Life, Volume 1', NBA 06's homage to the NBA attempts to play out like a film, with an elaborate introduction that looks like something you'd see in a theater. When you finally escape that point, the game begins, and reveals its first flaw to boot. Naturally you can then create your own player, by giving him a name, customize body features, and whatnot...but that's it. Unless I'm totally blind, there's no option to change position or height/weight ? you are simply a six-foot-three point guard. Which is a downer. Eventually you move to pre-draft drills, where you and other players will compete in a series of scouting events. It's merely a tutorial-like setup, as it teaches you all of NBA 06's moves using the right analog stick, as well as introduce you to the revamped shooting mechanic loosely based on the one from NBA on PSP. Strike two against The Life shows up here ? instead of briskly getting you past these drills and into the real deal, you are placed into this seemingly endless series of events that make things quite boring. One can only do crossovers and spin moves followed by a dunk so many times before getting tired of it.
If you can manage to get past this yawn-inducing beginning, The Life takes shape, as you get plopped on an NBA team and work through the ranks until you get the opportunities to make big plays and get known amongst your peers. All the while you get to deal with off-the-court nonsense and the usual NBA politics; for a simple sports game there's a surprising amount of depth to the plot of The Life. In all it's an ambitious, risky proposition to create something like this, but seeing how Sony's hoop series really hasn't been relevant for years now, they might as well do something like this to give it an identity. With the PlayStation 3 around the corner, a fresh start using this novel concept of a 'sports RPG' as a base would really make for an interesting launch-era title. Let's hope that it's already in the cards.
Moving away from The Life, NBA 06 also offers a League option for those not interested in rising the ranks. Alas it's just a simple single season option, but it's there. Along with that is the usual in-depth online options that Sony has done a very good job with since introducing their Network Adaptor some 4 years ago. There's not much else, however, as clearly the emphasis is on The Life. So in other words, it's The Life, or online play, without much else.
On the court, NBA 06 offers fast, fluid gameplay that falls on the arcade-style side of the fence. Players tend to skate around on the court, like it was a hockey game. If there's any sort of proof about the arcade emphasis, it's in the scoring ? in almost every game, on the default difficulty level, the computer AI made 90% of its shots. At the same time I made about 90% of mine too. There's no defense in the game, as even if you get a hand in the face of a shooter, the shot usually goes in. So it just becomes a shooting clinic without hardly any skill involved. It's great if you want to have a high-scoring contest, but even NBA Live is more realistic than this. Hell, NBA Street is more realistic than NBA 06's gameplay.
What NBA 06 does have going for it is the fun shot mechanic that was a complete mess in NBA on PSP, but refined here. Though it's way too easy to abuse, the game rewards you for shooting the ball and releasing at the peak of a shot; if you shoot way too early the meter goes red and the ball will be way off. If you get it in the yellow it might go in, but most likely it will simply clang off the rim. However if you time and release perfectly, the meter will show green, which means the ball will go into the basket. At least it's been fixed enough so that we're not in some block party where even Earl Boykins can reject someone's shot. But at the same time seeing that Sony forgot to program defense into the game, it's probably a bad thing. The whole thing also hurts The Life, as such a great concept is ruined by poor, skittish gameplay.
Visually the game looks okay, but you won't think that highly of it (granted it's difficult to go back after playing NBA games on Xbox 360). The player models are decent but as mentioned they skate along the court as if it was a hockey game. One of the most amusing visual snafus is how a swish doesn't even look like it went into the basket; the net moves but the ball is nowhere to be found. It's amusing. There's no play-by-play in games, with just the cheering of the crowd and a PA announcer to make note of scores, fouls, and the like. In The Life, the voice talent is pretty good, a whole lot better than I expected from a game such as this that seems so incomplete and broken in far too many places.