NBA 2K9 (Xbox 360) review
"Put simply: it doesn’t get better than this for videogame basketball. NBA 2K9 basically took a blueprint which was already established as genre-defining and leading, and made some tweaks in order to provide the best experience available. That being said, my score reflects the fact that they left room for improvement for subsequent releases -- this year's minor refinements are just that: minor. "
So I had NBA 2K9 going, and without bothering to pause it, I left the room (I was probably getting pummeled). A few minutes later, I walked back in (probably with a drink to take away the sting of the pummeling), sat down, and thought for a few confusing moments that a live NBA game was on television.
That’s how good NBA 2K9 looks and sounds. The commentating of Kevin Harlan, the colour tidbits added by analyst Clark Kellogg, and the sideline ‘scoops’ by Cheryl Miller are as varied and vital as we can reasonably expect from a game (sure there’s repetition, but this is as deep a bag of lines as I’ve heard).
The cheering of the raucous fans swells and ebbs – and you can pick out scores of individual noisemakers responsible in the crowd, filling out each unique stadium. You’ll gladly pick out curvy cheerleaders as well, as they hasten off the court after half-time, and mascots working the masses as the score causes drama to mount.
Player animations as they juke and jive and spin and crossover and fadeaway are sights to behold, and you can nearly feel the lift and hang of your legs on Kobe’s jump shot release and your fingers clawing the rim on Dwayne Wade’s one-handed slam through traffic.
Put simply: it doesn’t get better than this for videogame basketball. NBA 2K9 basically took a blueprint which was already established as genre-defining and leading, and made some tweaks in order to provide the best experience available. That being said, my score reflects the fact that they left room for improvement for subsequent releases -- this year's minor refinements are just that: minor.
We’ve already established that for atmosphere, 2K9 is peerless. While that’s true, it’s also true that player models at close range reveal that they could use some work. And sure, 2K9’s options are vast and deep: from blacktop play to all-rookie games to dunk-offs to online stats and hotstreak updates (dubbed “live rosters”), to the epitome of sports game depth in “Association mode” (which is actually running an NBA team – replete with trading functionality) – everything you could want is here. But oddly enough, accessing this baller options cornucopia is a bit clunky due to a decidedly dodgy and counterintuitive menu tree.
2K9's controls continue the counterintuitive trend. I accept that nothing comes easy in 2K9, and that makes scoring and defending all the more rewarding. But the controls could surely use some tweaking – not in terms of responsiveness, but in terms of simplicity. I’d love to see an overhaul for next year, where the general button and stick command layout feels more natural (aside from the right analog shot-stick which is already brilliant). And in particular, free throws should definitely come more easily, as they seem quite the undertaking at times, for even the better shooters in the league.
All in all, these are minor niggles with a robust product that speaks to casual sports fans with its rookie mode, and to the hardcore, with modes from pro to all-star on up. On offense, the computer can be deadly effective -- you'll have to be adept at switching defenders, closing the gap, knowing when to risk steal attempts and timing blocks to keep them from running up the score.
On D, the computer AI is just as capable, even on the easiest setting, adapting to your cornier money plays in short order – expect to get your stuff swatted very unceremoniously on about your fourth clumsy bulldog spin into the lane, Allen Iverson-quickness notwithstanding. You’ll have to spread the floor and look for open men to set up easy shots – just like real round ball.
And just like real round ball, a shot taken just right will feel right. Ball release timing on a shot furnishes a level of verisimilitude not readily approached in gaming; it’s a joy to sense the timing on a given player’s ups and pull off a perfect release when you’re beyond the arc and down points in the closing minutes. And even on your own, it's not a one-man shooting gallery.
Your computer-controlled teammates actually set screens, cut, and get open automatically, making intelligent plays off the ball without your assistance. When you get better and know what you're doing, you'll call your own plays that your team will follow diligently amd it's beyond satisfying to see your coaching strategies pan out to the tune of points on the board.
Of course, as is the case with any sports game, it's the multi-player capacity that takes the fun to the next level. Playing 2K9 with a friend, or against one, is my favourite way to play the game, but if you're more of a net competitor, rest assured that the online mode is no slouch. New for 2K9 is the ability to assign five human players to one team, which can make for some raucous online parties with buddies.
The verdict is in, and if we're being honest, it's been in for some time: NBA 2K is the best basketball series out there, and 2K9 simply serves as this year's reminder. If you're a fan of the sport, you need this game. It's not perfect, but it's close, and it's comforting to know we have next year to look forward to.
Staff review by Marc Golding (November 05, 2008)
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