Review: Oh! Sweet touch playa!
Visual Concepts has been delivering solid basketball titles year after year, ever since the Dreamcast days. The latest entry, NBA 2K6, is being brought over from the Xbox and PS2 platforms. Both versions are stellar basketball titles, so it's only natural to marvel at the release of a graphically superior game. NBA 2K6 for the Xbox 360 doesn't come without its shortcomings, but if the console had to be narrowed down to only one hoops game, this is it.
While Visual Concepts presumably spent some time getting attuned to the new hardware, hardly anything was sacrificed in respect of features and play. For those who love all the pre and post-season responsibilities, The Association is a perfect place to start. Assuming the role of general manager, you can engage in a fantasy draft, import a draft class, make trades, and so much more. In turn, your status as a GM will be reflected. Ultimately, the goal is to improve your team as much as possible, establish a memorable career and, even better, a dynasty. A basic season mode is also available if you would rather not be subdued to all the off-season nuances and burdens.
NBA 2K6 is a basketball simulation at heart, but the urban lifestyle of street ball was also pointedly incorporated. Road to the EBC puts players in the shoes of a neophyte baller. Using a create-a-player feature, players have to muster up a character from scratch. There is a whole menagerie of parameters to sift through, from musculature to tattoos to clothing to accessories. The options vary enough so that nearly any type of physicality can be furnished. However, creating a small baller can present some problems during some of the drills, namely the ones involving rebounding balls and blocking shots. Then again, an abnormally large player has his downfalls as well. A refreshing extra incentive, you will travel to compete in the most prominent facilities nationwide. Climbing the ranks amongst the elite ballers is fun and will definitely help hone your skills in ball handling and technique. Along the way, you can enhance your baller's attributes by completing drills particular to different areas of your game. Entering a drill costs development points, which are earned by beating NBA players and, though less often, celebrities. If you are successful, there will be a spot with your name on it at the renowned Rucker Park, home of the Entertainer's Basketball Classic.
The myriad drills certainly help the different facets of your game, and they hold true on the street, but developing schemes on offense and defense is essential in hanging with the big dogs in the NBA. The directional pad initiates assigned play formations on both sides of the ball, and it really helps a lot. Different circumstances will call for different schemes. For instance, if you are playing a team that is slaughtering you in the paint, you may want to start running a 2-3 defense--a formation derived to guard against penetration in the interior. On the other hand, you may want to run a full-court press if you are behind late in the game.
Setting up plays and counter schemes makes winning a whole lot easier, especially against the tenacious AI. The computer-controlled players constantly attack on offense and aren't any slouches on defense either. They crouch and defend their zones well, so driving to the basket every time is no longer an option. Even if you get to the rack frequently, putting the shot down is not at all a guarantee. The players really move and interact so lively, all playing with similar tendencies as their real-life counterparts. The Suns have a knack for creating turnovers and scoring on the fast break. And if you play the Pistons or Spurs, they will methodically bring the ball down court and proceed to tear your defense apart in the half-court setting. All the little mannerisms and subtleties the players yield liven the experience. Even players without the ball aggressively sift around and fight for position. Thankfully, there are not any collision detection issues, so backing down a defender or boxing out a player never seems to be problematic.
As for the rest of the controls, they are tight and responsive. The face buttons assume basic commands such as shoot, pass, block, and switch defender. Making a jumper is centrally focused on releasing the button at the apex of your shot, which you work on in practice mode. Once the basics are learned, you can get into some of the more advanced maneuvers through use of the shoulder buttons. Post moves and hop steps are useful for a strong interior presence, while calling for a pick may be more appropriate for shots on the perimeter. The juke system gives you a precise method of breaking down the defense. The same left stick that's used for dribbling can also be manipulated in a number of different combinations to string together various ball fakes. The combination you use has an appropriate effect--quickly pressing the stick from left to right will pull off a crossover, and so on. There are all sorts of animations that can be performed. Obviously, a large center cannot do nearly as much as a point guard, as the ranges of moves fall within the context of a player's ability. Also, controlling a point guard does not necessarily mean you can pull off a dazzling array of jukes.
While the controls are intuitive, there's one area that may present some problems: free throws. To start the animation, you have to press the right analog stick downward. As the shooter is about to release the ball, you have to push up on the joystick--just as if you were actually shooting the ball. Pushing it up to the right will create a brick off the right side of the rim, so it's imperative that you meticulously move the stick upward. Timing is a key as well. After a shot, you'll be notified with how well the shot was released (perfect, slightly late, too early, and so forth). Of course, the window of opportunity is slimmer for a player not as equipped in this area. Thus, trying to make a shot with Duncan or Shaq can be quite the chore. In fact, it'll take a surgeon's precision to pull off such a task. Be that as it may, becoming inured to the system is possible, it's just a somewhat steep learning curve when compared to its predecessors. For those feeling hopeless, you can work on your free throws in practice mode. When going online, there's an added camera effect that shakes when you are at the stripe, making a pressure shot even more nerve-wracking. Giving significance to a real NBA strategy, you must get the ball in the hands of the more accurate shooters late in a game. Overall, it's a pretty ingenious system, and one that definitely creates some tension in late-game free throw shootouts.
The whole game really does transpire smoothly, and none of the animations seem forced. No matter where a player is on the court, be it the high post, the paint, or the baseline, there are a wealth of moves to be seen, each one applying to the context of player positions. Versatile players like Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant boast a whole repertoire of illusive moves to reach the basket, and watching Shaq or KG back down a hapless defender to make a turn around bank shot is also a sight to see.
The 2K games have always had an easy-to-navigate online setup, replete with features and options to explore. You can navigate lobbies, compete in tournaments, and even challenge someone in street ball. Results get submitted to arbitration and rankings are provided. Of course, you can also download updated rosters--a necessity if you are anal about having everything up to speed. The steadfast play holds true just the same in online games, and the added vacillate effect elevates the intensity during close games. The only time we encountered any problems was when the 2K Sports server was down. During such, we had a few mishaps where the entire game was muffled with huge stripes and blotches, making it impossible to continue play; however, we only encountered this problem a few times. For those without the convenience of Xbox Live, the roster system within the game can be edited to however you see fit.
Throughout each game, Craig Sager, Kenny Smith, and Kevin Harlan sit courtside to cover the action. The color commentary is fair, which is about as much as you can expect from a sports game. Their ebullient personalities are welcomed, and they don't constantly recycle through the same lines. Also, you will hear familiar fan chants and NBA tunes, adding a nice element to the overall feel of the game. Unfortunately, listening to the guy covering the action in street mode is far less enjoyable. He tries a little too hard to be suave with his dialect, constantly spewing out the same annoying catch phrases. It actually becomes quite monotonous listening to him talk, and it's even more disconcerting when the computer starts putting a whooping on you, as he will repeatedly talk trash. As for the soundtrack, it is primarily composed from underground and mixtape-birthed hip-hop acts, and many of the songs fit nicely in tune with the game.
Graphically, the game has its ups and downs. The player models are the high points. The faces look accurate and animate nicely, and each face comes chock-full of fine hair stubbles, expression lines, glistening sweat droplets, and similar intricacies. One of the visual surprises is with the jerseys. Instead of having a painted-on look, they are separate from the players' bodies. Even better, they ripple and wave back and forth in the cinematic replays. The replays utilize a nice focus effect, where the key player is clearly defined and the background is blurred out. The way the camera maneuvers and changes focus throughout a highlight looks great too. Indeed, the whole presentation thoroughly portrays a TV broadcast, despite the fact that Visual Concepts no longer has the ESPN license. On the flip side, the stadiums' innards, including the fans, aren't as pleasing to the eye. This lackluster design is even more palpable in the game's street parks.