While NBA basketball doesn't carry the same excitement for me as college ball does, there's no decent college hoops game on any of the gaming consoles. Even pro basketball is hit or miss in the console market. NBA Inside Drive has received plenty of acclaim for its fun play, but many of the other titles fall short in one area or another. Enter NBA 2K2 for the PlayStation 2. This is the second Visual Concepts sports title to hit the PS2, and it does so with a bang. PlayStation fans finally get to play the franchise that Dreamcast owners have been praising for the last couple of years.
Presentation/Graphics : 80
On some games, you can actually state that the PS2 is showing its age. It's hard to believe really. The console has only been out for a little more than a year, but some games just don't look spectacular when compared to the latest hardware from Nintendo and Microsoft. NBA 2K2 is one of those titles. The players have the right body parts, but my goodness are the colors washed out. The bland colors really affect the faces. With some players you're hard pressed to recognize the mugs at a glance. It takes some imagination. It's as if Visual Concepts did little to nothing during the translation from the Dreamcast title to the PS2.
Fortunately the player animations are better. The animation sequences are standard basketball. You'll get a variety of dribbling speeds that depend on the gait of your ballhandler. Special moves including spins and crossovers are convincing, though you have to be careful near the edges of the court to avoid an inadvertent step out of bounds. In the post, your player backs down with his butt extended, and depending on the relative power of the offensive and defensive player, he might back the defender down. When doing so, the offensive player forcefully moves the defender. Shots vary from pure jump shots to off-balance heaves. Dunks likewise vary between magical alley-oops and two-handed power dunks to understated one-handed jams. Even the ball has decent mechanics when bouncing on the rim. The one negative with the animation sequences is that you have to wait for the sequence to end before another move can be performed. For example, when posting up, if you let go of the post-up button, your player tries to spins around the defender. You must wait for the sequence to end before passing off or shooting.
The courts look great with perfectly modeled floors and dynamic fans and cheerleaders. Fans will wave those goofy balloons to distract the visiting team during free throws and sit on their hands when the home team is stinking up the court. To view the action, the game has numerous camera angles, and each vantage point can be adjusted for zoom, height, and tilt.
Presentation/Audio : 82
If you turn down the color commentary and play-by-play in the game, you'll get the feel of being at a real NBA game. The crowd noise is perfectly balanced with the action on the court and the interjections of the public address announcer. On the road, I made it a point to keep the crowd out of the game. It just seems like my team loses confidence or I get flustered when the home crowd sparks their team on for a run. The commentary by the fictitious two-man booth is good, though at times they make the wrong calls. There have been numerous times where they've said one team or another could take the lead, even when down by 4. If you play some street ball, you'll wish you could turn off the repetitive music. I searched high and low for a way to silence the in-game music in the street mode. I like to play this mode with the sounds of the court, but the music is keeping me from playing this mode extensively.
Interface/Options : 85
NBA 2K2 offers just the right number of modes. Whether you want single game play, season play, or a multiyear franchise mode, you've got it. And while there's no three-point shootout challenge or anything, you do get 2K2's fun street ball mode where you can play 2-on-2, 3-on-3, or whatever makes you happy. Further, you can select between an arcade style game or one that's more sim oriented. When it comes to play options, you can adjust the rules of the game. Through the coach screen you can assign strategy for your team, such as crashing the board, playing more up-tempo, or double teaming patterns. The stat tracking is extensive, though you'll find that selecting the right quarter length is important. Unlike EA's efforts, you can't set the sim length of the quarter. So if you play with 6-minute quarters, the rest of the league is playing with 12-minute quarters. It would be nice to be able to adjust the AI teams' stats downward to keep things on an even level.
Gameplay : 95
The strength of NBA 2K2 is in the gameplay. Visual Concepts has to acquiesce to EA when it comes to football. Madden is truly king. But when it comes to throwing the rock around, the NBA 2K series can't be beat, and 2K2 is the best yet in the series. While there are still a few niggling problems, overall it's the most accurate roundball sim you'll find on a console.
Getting the negatives out of the way first, the most glaring problem is a goaltending bug. This usually only happens when a player shoots a short-range jumper in the paint. The ball will go over the rim. If there's an opposing player on the other side that grabs the ball, the ref will blow the whistle for a goaltend. Problem is, the player always catches the ball out of the cylinder and usually below the rim. Fortunately it happens to both teams, but at one or more times a game it can get annoying. There's also the aforementioned sluggishness as you wait for an animation sequence to finish. I have the most trouble on the offensive boards. One of my players will grab the rebound and I want to instantly jump up for a jam. The player wants to have his feet planted for a second before taking another hop. Another issue is with the post game. Playing as the Rockets, I was surprised when Kelvin Cato got a mismatch and found Nick van Exel guarding him. Sure Cato is a stiff and an underachiever for the Rockets, but I'd expect him to back the impish van Exel down all the way to the basket. But little Nicky held his ground and kept the much bigger Cato a few feet out. In dead ball situations, the game arbitrarily switches players. I prefer to play as the center, but on dead balls the CPU switches off. By the time I can switch to my big man off an inbound pass, I've lost the flow of the play. Finally, the field goal percentages tend to be on the high side. Both teams routinely average over 45 percent for the game, and sixty percent shooting is not uncommon.
But these issues are minor compared to the fun you'll have playing NBA 2K2. If you drop the speed down from the default level to the slower setting, you'll find a game with a perfect NBA pace. To excel at the game, you'll have to cultivate your inside skills, pick plays, and a good outside game. The post play is not as good as on the Dreamcast with the analog triggers, but even the PS2 has a good post game. Depending on the situation, your player may or may not get a late double team. If you can recognize the double team quickly enough and pass to the open man, you'll be rewarded. But if you go to the well too many times you'll be in jeopardy of losing the ball on a steal.
NBA 2K2 is not a game where you can take your speedy point guard and penetrate the defense at will. During a game there's only been a few times where I've been able to drive to the basket for a lay-up or dunk, and I depend on picks to create opportunities. If you become adept at running particular offenses, a quick flick of the right analog stick brings up the play selection menu from which there are four choices. On fouls, the free throw shooting is improved over the Dreamcast version in that aligning the same arrows with the loose analog sticks is more difficult than with the analog triggers of the Dreamcast controller.
On defense, you can switch from man to zone defenses easily and set up defensive assignments. You can play particular places tight or loose and key on players for double teams. When it comes to rebounding, position is the key. The rebounding model is well beyond Live's dismal efforts. If you don't box out you will have trouble getting the rebound. Blocks are also easier this time around, but their frequency is realistic. It's all about timing, and the game does it well. If there's one area I still have trouble with it's getting a realistic number of steals.
The AI is second to none. The CPU team recognizes open players, players cutting to the hole, and mixes up defensive schemes. At times a shorter guard may work his way through or around a pick to stay with his man or the defender may switch off on assignments. The diversity and smarts of the AI is simply wonderful.
I made the mistake of starting my franchise with 6-minute quarters. While fatigue is modeled in the game, players just don't get fatigued enough with the shorter quarters. This affects the substitution frequency. Likewise, if you don't adjust the number of fouls before hitting the bench you'll never see a sub. Fortunately you can adjust this aspect to get some reasonable sub patterns.
Replay Value : 95
NAB 2K2 is to console basketball as Madden 2002 is to console football – heaven on earth. Simply put, it's one of the best basketball series ever made. The game shares many aspects with Madden. You must employ both your gaming skills and some strategy to win at the game.
Overall : 92
Do you want the best basketball game on the PS2? Well, it's finally here. Sony fans have finally discovered what Dreamcast owners have known for the last two years. Visual Concepts' NBA 2K franchise is the cream of the crop when it comes to console basketball. Sure, the graphics aren't what we'd expect from a PS2 title, but the gameplay is what counts, and 2K2 has it.