Review: NBA 2K9 (Sony PS3)

NBA 2K9
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Genre: Sports – Basketball
Release Date: 10/11/2008


9.9.99-9.9.99-9.9.99

Nine, nine, ninety nine, I remember it well – the launch of the Sega Dreamcast. The big step into next-gen gaming – you could play people online via a dial-up connection! The first sports games – or any game for that matter, I ever played online were NFL 2K and NBA 2K. Both were brilliant in their “rookie” campaigns, and set the bar higher for other companies to step up their game on the sports gaming market – and they did! This provided quite the sports gaming renaissance for die-hard fans stuck with below average titles on the Playstation and Nintendo 64.

Flash forward to 2008. The Dreamcast is long gone and thanks to the “exclusivity license” so is NFL 2K. Alive and still kicking for its tenth installment is NBA 2K9, and the series has grown into the most critically acclaimed basketball game on the market. So, does it live up to the hype? Absolutely.

All the usual favorites from previous seasons return, including a deep franchise mode known as “The Association” which allows you to be as hands on – or off – as you feel comfortable enough to handle. Everything is fully customizable, from picking your coaching staffs, to scouting, drafting, and developing players. You can micromanage everything, or stick strictly to the action on the court. The game does reward you for making fair decisions – the only way to accumulate reward points and credits is to play with a salary cap, and not cheat your way to the top of the league.

The presentation of the mode is slick, with a cool “NBA.com” feature that checks the pulse on how your team is faring compared to the rest of the league from power rankings to all-star votes. However, the slickness does present problems for first time users. Upon startup, I couldn’t even figure out where to find my team’s schedule to start playing actual games. Fear not, it’s there as SimCentral but be warned, if you try to play a shortened season or franchise, its easy to accidentally not notice a game on your schedule. If you miss it, and select that you want to play the NEXT game on your schedule, it ends up getting simmed and you’ll have to immediately power off your system, or accept the fate of the simulation. The auto-save is very fast if you elect to turn it on- which I did, and I had to deal with the consequences!

Visually, NBA 2K9 is the most beautiful basketball game on the PS3 market. Each individual player looks incredibly similar to their real-life counterpart. Sure, you can nitpick minor details on some players, but the accuracy is the closest I’ve seen in any game up to this point. What I found most impressive was how the players react and move on the court, and how Visual Concepts was able to actually replicate their mannerisms.

Case in point, Chicago Bulls Forward/Center Joakim Noah. Many of you may remember him from his days with the two-time National Champion Florida Gators. If you watch him play (in real life) he moves and reacts differently from any player you’ve ever seen. From his posture to his giant hair, he’s got a “look” and watching him play in the game truly is like watching him in real life. They didn’t just stick to unique players like Joakim either, if you’re a huge fan of your team (Mine is the Chicago Bulls) and you watch their games, you will notice the similarities. Its really cool and makes the realism outstanding.

The announce team returns for another season, complete with “Around The Cooler” sideline reports from Cheryl Miller. They spent time this season adding little commentary exchanges with lots of individual players, including rookies, that make it feel like a real broadcast. The repetition is minimal, and overall team team serves its purpose – adding to the game without being annoying, always a huge plus in any sports game. The game’s soundtrack is filled with songs you’ve likely never heard of, but it does the trick – adding to the overall experience.

If you’re an NBA 2K series veteran, the controls are similar to what you’ve seen in other versions. The biggest gripe for long-time fans is dealing with the dunk dilemma. When in position to throw one down – pressing turbo plus the square button SHOULD result in a dunk (or layup depending on your player’s style) but oftentimes your player will inexplicably stop and chuck up a shot from two feet away – and miss it! Nothing is more frustrating. It doesn’t plague the game as much as in season’s past – but its still there, and this problem MUST be eliminated by next season.

Other than the dunk dilemma, the controls do take a little getting used to for first time players. The top shoulder buttons on a PS3 controller all play key roles, and not accidentally pushing “L1″ instead of “L2″ can result in drastically different results. You can also use the right analog stick to take shots if you choose, and this has a definite learning curve for “2K rookies” as well. The square button also works as shoot – and its highly recommended for rookies planning on facing any kind of competition.

Speaking of competition, there’s plenty to be found in the online mode. For the first time you can team up with other players online and have a huge multiplayer bash. Pick a player, any player on a team and represent him – and only him – in online action. Having a ton of players in an online game could prove to be a laggy mess, but fortunately the gameplay stays pretty smooth. If you’ve got a ton of buddies with the game I could see people having a blast trying this new feature out.

The Scores
Modes: Great
Graphics: Great
Sound: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Great
Balance: Good
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Very Good

FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
I’ve actually played every basketball title available on the PS3/360 this season, via rental or purchase, and I can say that NBA 2K9 is the BEST basketball game on the market this season. Its not perfect, the dunk control needs to be fixed in a hurry, but overall it gives you everything you can ask for in an NBA title. For hoops fans this should keep you busy all season long.

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