The NBA Shootout series took a year off on the PS2 last fall. The last version of the game was Shootout 2001 and it has been two years now since the inaugural 989 NBA title on the PS2. During that time, the 989 Sports development team claim to have revamped the AI and added some features. Honestly, it will take quite an effort to unseat the top console basketball titles. See if NBA Shootout 2003 is game.
Presentation/Graphics : 50
Unless I forgot something, 989 Sports is a development unit within Sony (editor's note: Yes, 989 Sports is a part of Sony). You know, the same guys that designed the PS2 hardware. You'd have a hard time believing that as Shootout 2003 looks terrible. It looks like a really good-looking PSX title. Player models are weak and overall I felt I was playing one of the better looking NBA Live titles from EA on the PSX.
If you get past the grainy models, you'll find that the player animations are actually pretty decent as long as they are running towards the basket. Guarded players usually spin madly, but near the basket the animations are more fluid and lifelike. Sadly, it's not enough to save the game graphically.
Presentation/Audio : 90
The strongest part of Shootout is the audio. Bill Walton does a nice job at color commentary in the game. With Ian Eagle, the two-man booth keeps the commentary and play-by-play fresh enough to keep the volume up. The crowd gets into the game every now and then to liven the game up more.
Interface/Options : 60
The options in Shootout 2003 are minimal. The modes of play include single games, season, playoff, and career. The career mode is something new to console basketball games. In this mode you create your own player and try to earn a roster spot. You have to play in the summer leagues, earn a roster spot, and play out the season. This unique twist is innovative and adds some value to the game.
The gameplay options are sparse. There are toggle switches for things like rules, but there are no AI sliders. Those options are minimal. For example, in the season mode you can set the playoff length to the standard format of the NBA (best of five for the first round, best of seven for subsequent rounds) or the only other option, a single elimination game.
Unfortunately, there's no multi-season franchise mode in like NBA Live or NBA 2K3. As such, the roster moves during the season are limited. You can trade players or pick up free agents with no threat of salary cap implications. Also, while the stats engine tracks numerous categories, simulated games of other teams don't reflect the same game length as what you play. All the stats look correct for a full 48-minute game. If you play short quarters, your team and player stats will be too low compared to the rest of the league.
Gameplay : 30
Do you remember how you used to play basketball when you were like, say, six-years old? You'd pick the ball up and run down the driveway, without the ball touching the concrete. Sure you were traveling, but you were too young to be bothered with such rules. Apparently 989 decided to do the same thing in Shootout. This game is a flat out joke of a basketball game. From anywhere on the floor you can pump fake quickly with the circle button and watch your man move towards the basket. I had Walt Williams standing out on the 3-point line and tapped that pump fake button like a woodpecker on a tree. Within 15 seconds Walt moseyed down under the basket with the ball never touching the ground. Pathetic. The entire time he was guarded by an opponent but was never stripped of the ball. You can use this strategy on all difficulty levels.
Stealing when you're on defense can be done with virtually no penalty. Even with fouls set to the max they are rarely called, particularly reach-in fouls. You can build a strong advantage in steals by simply swatting endlessly. Your CPU opponent never attempts the same strategy, though their man-to-man defense is pretty good.
If somehow you managed to get called for a foul and get into foul trouble, you better make the substitutions yourself. Despite auto subs being the default, the coaching AI never subs when a player gets into foul trouble. Rarely will you see a sub on either side of the ball. Neither fouls nor fatigue warrant a substitution. In one game the CPU team actually left a player on the court after fouling out. He was finally replaced after picking up an extra foul.
When on offense, you'll notice that you can pass at will. There are no mid-air intercepts by the defense - every pass makes it to its intended target. Once you shoot the ball, you'll realize the CPUs only defense is the blocked shot. Blocks occur too frequently in the game. It's easy to rack double-digit blocks in a game. When on defense, you'll be amazed at how unaware the CPU is. They can have a wide-open man and never pass off. Or if the open man gets the ball, more times than not he runs in a circle and once guarded seemingly spins in place.
The only positive things I can say about the gameplay is that the picks are effective and the free throw shooting is unique. You must pull back on both sticks with just the right amount of force and release them simultaneously to make a basket. I found the free throws to be much tougher, and therefore more realistic in Shootout than other basketball titles. Other than that, I wanted to get off the court as soon as possible. If you're not using the icon selection on defense, player selection is terrible (the wrong player often getting selected). On offense you have sluggish control if you pump fake and dive to the basket with the turbo button. 989 didn't release a basketball game last year. They shouldn't have released this one.
Replay Value : 20
The Summer League feature is not enough to play this game when there are much better basketball titles on the market. The flaws are numerous in this game. Lousy CPU AI on offense, sloppy control, and bending and braking of the rules do nothing to endear you to this game.
Overall : 42
There are some significant gameplay flaws that affect this game. The AI is rudimentary; CPU teams don't shoot the ball when open on the perimeter, show no evidence of a post-up game, and generally run around like headless chickens. On any difficulty level you can easily defeat the CPU with the pump fake bug. Defense players never strip the ball and sometimes back off when in the paint. This is just bad basketball.