Sega hopes to score big with their latest basketball offering - Review By Josh Hiscock
There is an inherent danger in creating a sports game for the “visual” crowd, so to speak. I should probably qualify that comment by saying that some of my favorite games are PC text sims. Front Office Football. Fast Break Basketball. Out Of The Park Baseball 2. The common denominator here is realism. It has to be. Without graphics for the “ooh-ahh” factor, your sole hook for the gamer is realism, whether it's the home run totals of Mark McGwire or the explosive offense of the St. Louis Rams.
You're probably wondering what the hell I'm talking about when I say “danger,” then. It's a fair question. The simple answer would be to say that when you have a year to develop both a graphical engine and a stats engine, with gameplay thrown in for good measure, on a yearly cycle, something has to give. Its not a problem shared by the text sims of the world.
In some ways, NBA 2K1 for the Sega Dreamcast lives up to its billing. In others, it betrays its promise in favor of the flash factor. By now you're probably saying “But wait a second! I thought NBA 2K1 was supposed to be the best basketball title ever!” And perhaps it is. But even the label “best” comes with its “buts.”
I'm going to break with tradition a little bit here and start off by telling you what I find wrong with the game. Why? Often, when starting out with the good stuff, the temptation is there to gloss over the imperfect. “Yeah, so this and this is there, but look back 5 paragraphs ago to what I said about THIS!” Simply put, I want to make sure that you walk away from this review knowing exactly what you're getting. That said, away we go.
The graphics are as slick as ever, of course.
Upon setting foot on the hardwood, one of the first things you'll notice (after getting past the graphics drool factor) is the fact that the computer AI doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word “defense,” regardless of the level you play on. It is, I will grant you, less noticeable on the higher levels, but by and large, the players will stand there by their assigned opponent passively. They may spread their arms, but there is no active attempt to steal the ball, intercept passes, or even crash the boards. Sad but true. Even on All-Star, with the “Crash Boards” meter cranked all the way up in the Coach menu, rebounding is still largely the domain of homo sapiens. If you don't grab your own boards, nobody else on your team will. Needless to say, that's a little bit annoying to deal with if you've just let fly from three-point land with Keyon Dooling, only to discover that Lamar Odom thinks rebounding is beneath him. Defense, it seems, is not what it once was – unless you're the computer (steals, shot blocks and rebounds, oh my!).
For that matter, neither is offense. Its true, yes, that there are new moves in the low post to add to your disposal, including a spinning fadeaway jumper after backing your opponent down. The problem is, attempting anything other than a dunk is a VERY risky proposition. The problem seems to be that the game is a overly sensitive about the release point when attempting jumpers of any kind. If you don't release the ball at EXACTLY the right time, you're looking at a brick. On All-Star mode, this resulted in a shooting percentage of approximately 20%. That's right. Even with wide open shots, the best I could hope for was that one out of five would fall. Three pointers might as well not even be part of the game, for all the good attempting them will do. Easy, wide-open shots from 5 feet routinely either glance off the rim or miss it completely.
And then there's franchise mode. On the whole, I'm pretty happy with it…except for one insidious little bug. Y'see, evidently, its not a good idea to field a full complement of 15 players. I did that the other day. Had around 6 of them come due for new contracts. Tried to sign one of the guys, only to get the message that my team was full and that I would have to cut somebody before I could sign the guy. I go to my roster screen, and lo and behold, its counting everybody as being part of the roster – including the guys with '0' under 'contract.' I try again, same message. So I figure "Ah, it must be a bug. I can probably get around it by cutting the guy and re-signing him."
Nothing doing. I cut him, and he completely vanished. Quoth the raven, nevermore. Never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for that poor SOB who vanished into Never-Never-Land.
You get the idea. Now, a bug is a bug, but when it gets to the point where you're basically being cheated out of players you've drafted and have developed, just for the sin of having a 15 man roster, there's an itty bitty problem with that.
Now, while these strike me as being three rather grievous errors, they're also the only three things I can point to and say “That sucks!” The rest of the game is well done.
Free throws, for example, are a more challenging experience than they were last year (saying that sounds weird, but its true). Not only are the arrows a little skinnier, making it tougher to hit the mark exactly, but in foreign arenas, the fans will wave those annoying little foam thingies in the background to distract you.
The aforementioned new moves in the low post ARE pretty cool. Being able to spin away from the opponent and hit a fadeaway jumper is indeed nifty. It'd just be nice if jumpers in the paint were more accurate. As I type this, I'm watching demo play, and seeing some of the same things. The computer is missing layups and threes, and concentrating mostly on the dunks.
Next: More Good, and The Final Word