Not too long ago I reviewed NBA Live 09 on the PS3 and felt it still had a fair way to go before it matched 2K sport’s yearly basketball instalment. This week I take a look at NBA 2K9 and decide whether or not it truly deserves the title of best basketball simulation.
When you are consistently releasing the top basketball simulation on the market you have to ask yourself, what can we change? People will argue that most of the changes in 2K9 have been relatively small, but even so, the biggest changes have come by way of action on the court which are the improvements gamers really want to see. The first thing you’re likely to notice is that the speed of this year’s game has been bumped up. Visual Concept’s have not gone so far as to turn it into an arcade run and gun style of game, but you will notice when you secure a defensive rebound your guards are already breaking down the court. There is nothing like finishing the fast break with a huge dunk! The Shot Stick has had an overhaul this year and although I am not a fan of selecting my shots with the right analogue sticks, fans of the control system will be impressed with the ability to change your shot execution mid-air. Don’t be expecting any Jordan-esqe right to left hand mid air switches though! Living Rosters is another new feature set to challenge NBA Live’s Dynamic DNA. Living Rosters will constantly update player ratings and player tendencies, allowing the real world changes to take effect in your created seasons. This feature could even go so far as to allow new animation packs to be released via online updates.
On and off the court the visuals and animations are very impressive. Crowds look to have been given an upgrade, with spectators seemingly walking around on their own accord. As you glance around at the crowd throughout games, it really does look realistic. You tend not to see spectators performing the same actions and even though that would be as simple as creating a random animated loop for individual spectators, it’s those small things that add realism to the game. Player animations on the court are just as good. The first time I saw one of my players tip toe the sideline I had a laugh, but again it’s realistic. In real life players react to the side line, they don’t just ran at it like a blind man, they tip toe around it trying not to get called out of bounds. Shooting and dribbling animations look good, but signature moves really take the cake. Seeing Allen Iverson reverse dribble into a sweeping one handed lay-up in traffic is something you expect to see on ESPN, not in a video game. Other little animations such as player reactions, falling after a big foul, even bumping into a mascot are well implemented throughout and I can’t say it enough, it’s these small details that make the game. One visual area I have never been impressed with throughout the NBA 2K series is the horrible presentation package. Off court menus and screens such as team introduction charts are jaggy and choppy and look out of place. In this day and age it is appalling that something like this is allowed to pass as acceptable and I consider it to be 2K9’s worst feature.
The Association mode makes a return, albeit under a new and very un-original title of Association 2.0. The biggest change to this years association mode is the interface. With NBA.com integration, it’s a nice touch but being an avid follower of basketball, I tend to get my news from other sources so won’t really utilise all of these features. The Association mode goes pretty deep though, offering you control of pretty much everything you could want to do with a real team such as hire staff, train players etc. I tend to skip through all of the management options and get straight into the games though. Blacktop mode is back with a much slicker dunk competition and all the other features that were previously available in this mode. One new game mode I was hoping for the best with, but was unfortunately let down with was the 5 on 5 online mode. After connecting with nine other players, you are randomly assigned a player to control for the entire match which would be a lot of fun. However, lag proved to be too much of a problem for me and I was forced to exit the game before we had even got to tip off.
NBA 2K9 is still a step ahead of NBA Live 09 in most areas. While they will need to come up with some new ideas if they are to maintain their stranglehold, if they continue to focus on the little things that make a big difference they will carry on pulling in die hard basketball enthusiasts who are after a true basketball experience. Again, the game needs to be tidied up as far as presentation goes, but when that’s your biggest concern, you must be doing something right. If you want a new basketball game for the launch of the NBA season this week, NBA 2K9 is the game to get.