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ESPN NBA Basketball Review for PlayStation 2 (PS2)
Posted on Thursday, May 06, 2004 @ 11:41:39 am E.S.T

ESPN NBA basketball, the sequel to NBA 2k3 is probably the best sim-basketball title on the market today. It offers a realistic pace, a great franchise mode and a fantastic online experience. Now, does that prevent it from having some major problems? No, but it still is a hell of a lot of fun.

The entire 2k series has always gone for a more simulation basketball experience, and the first title in the new ‘ESPN’ series follows suit with previous iterations. However, you’ll now be able to do some crazy cross-overs and alley-oops with the help of the new Isomotion feature. Another new addition is the 24/7 mode where you’ll be able to take a single player you create to the top by building his skills in street basketball.

The new Isomotion feature gives you a lot of new moves to play around with, but it ends up really being a mixed bag. It’s quite easy to do – just tap the right analog stick by default and depending on the direction it’s pressed, you’ll do some sort of fancy dribble, whether it’s a crossover or otherwise. When performed correctly, it can help you to blow past your defender and get the game winning bucket. On the other hand, most experienced players (and higher level difficulties against the computer) can anticipate the move and draw an offensive foul almost every time. Other situations will get you stuck doing the dribble-through-the-leg behind back court, forcing you to get an 8-second violation or pass it way down court and risk it being picked off. It’s really a trade off – sometimes it’ll win you the game, other times it’ll prevent you from even getting off the final shot.

The new free throw shooting method is intuitive, and after a few attempts it’s rather easy to get the hang of. It’s as simple as holding in the right and left triggers a certain amount (until the meter on the screen lights up) and press the shoot button when the ball lines up correctly. The mix things up while playing against a human, your opponent can hit the triggers on their controller to make the shooter’s controller rumble.

My main problem with the controls is that you’re incapable of deciding whether you’ll attempt a dunk or a shot – both functions are mapped to the same button on the controller. I’ve had fast breaks where I’d take the ball down court only to take the two-foot jay – only to miss. Another minor annoyance is that a player of yours has to actually be holding the ball to call a timeout – i.e. you can’t call one right after the other team has made a shot and you have possession but aren’t actually holding the ball.

The franchise mode is terrific as usual, although again complaints arise. More specifically, I’m talking about the trading system and dealing with players themselves. Much like previous titles in the series, trades are often ridiculous – you can trade a few bad players and get an all-star such as Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady. Even more frustrating is the fact that you can’t do a three team trade, and that the maximum amount of players/draft picks that can be moved in one trade is three per team.

You can have a player like Kenyon Martin as your fourth backup power forward and have him be as happy as the next person, and re-sign to a 7 year deal, which is ridiculous – he’s the type of player who loves to play and wouldn’t want to be playing 5 minutes per game. I wish they had taken a page out of MVP Baseball’s book and allow players to complain about their contracts.

Other problems include the balance of scoring between the game you play in and other games going on in the season. All games were being played with 5-minute quarters, and in one game my Rockets beat the Nets 118-104. Nothing is wrong with that (aside that this was a 20-minute game, but more on that later), but when the ESPN overlay came up showcasing other games in the Association, I noticed the Lakers beat the Celtics 38-31. Thirty eight to thirty one. I was in shock, and it wasn’t just that game – it was every game. The computer has major pacing problems when playing itself and you’ll need to set computer games to 12-minute quarters to have scores even close to yours (which then makes it nearly impossible to get your players into the All-Star game). I attempted to play a 12 minute per quarter game and the score ended up being 248-236. All I can say is ‘yikes’.

Now, onto the online experience. Overall I have a great time when playing online, but I have one major problem – I have to ‘screen’ the players before I’ll play with them. In my last 50 some odd games I haven’t played the Mavericks, Kings, Sonics or Magic a single time. Why, you ask? The default difficultly (i.e. the most popular one) is cheapened by these and a few other teams that have the ability to make 35-plus three pointers in a game. The Kings have Peja, the Magic have Garrity, McGrady and Giricek, the Mavericks have Dirk, Steve Nash and Jamison, and the Sonics have Vladamir, Rashard Lewis, Brent Barry and Ray Allen. Players with these teams have a 100 to 1 shot of exploiting these players and making for an extremely unfair playing environment. But wait a minute you ask – the Magic have Garrity and the Mavs don’t have Antoine Walker? That’s right – for some unknown reason, you cannot play online with any roster updates. I’m perplexed as to why this is, seeing as they’re extremely small and don’t really require very long to download.

Visually, ESPN NBA looks fantastic. Almost every player looks realistic, and that doesn’t include only starters. Each player looks authentic with their tattoos, strange hair styles and facial features. The animations for dunks and otherwise look great, although passes make the game seem like NBA Street. Fast breaks have players passing the ball behind their back or over their head three-quarters of the way down the court, and referees will do the same when giving the ball to the in-bounder. For those of you lucky enough to be able to experience ESPN NBA with a high-end television, you’ll be happy to hear the game supports 480p and 720p on Xbox, although only 480p is supported on PS2.

The new ESPN overlay is excellent, although I would have liked to see a play of the week and to have a highlight from other games going on while playing in Franchise mode. Also, what happened to player introductions? Nonetheless, it does all look very authentic and sometimes I forget whether I’m playing a game or watching the playoffs on ESPN. My only other problem is again with a bug – the post-game show will show how much better one team was better with the three-ball that game, only to show both teams made zero three-pointers, which was untrue.

As with most basketball games, the commentary in ESPN NBA just plain sucks. There’s no other way to put it; the commentating will get on your nerves and often says un-true or stupid things regarding the game. They often comment on how any time Kobe or Stephon Marbury take a three pointer (both of whom are rated ridiculously low in this category) that it’s a ‘bad shot’ or it was ‘lucked in’. Other occasions are just buggy – the pre-game has showcased sentences like ‘The west all stars the Lakers are looking to show the fans the stars on the court, not in the stands’, with the west all stars comment being unintentional and just plain irrelevant. These guys make me want my grandmother to do the commentating – having her saying ‘the orange went in the circle’ would be much better than this garbage.

Despite its shortcomings and poor commentary, ESPN NBA is still the best simulation basketball title out there.

Review By: Chris Pereira - 1276 Reads

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