Owners of the Sega Dreamcast have always realized the NBA 2K series is something special. Now in its second year on the PS2, even more gamers are experiencing the goodness known as NBA 2K3. In its fourth year, the NBA 2K3 series grabs an ESPN license to add to the presentation package and even online play for those lucky enough to find a PS2 network adapter. There have also been tweaks to the gameplay on offense and defense. This leads to one nice basketball package with a few nagging issues.
Presentation/Graphics : 90
The clarity of the graphics aren't that great, but they are still better than most of the competing basketball games. Names and numbers are hard to pick out from the default end-to-end camera, but thankfully player names can be posted below players to make control easier. The uniforms do come across in the game. There will be no mistaking the latest unis. Likewise the courts have their appropriate looks. Off the court, the animated crowd, mascots, coaches and cheerleaders add to the presentation.
The player animations are superb. Sega and Visual Concepts added some new animations this year. Examples include bobbling of long passes and some excellent step fakes by the CPU. The developers also spent time on an overlooked portion that really adds to the realism of the game - ball physics and animation. The ball now bounces naturally or rims in or out.
As mentioned, NBA 2K3 comes with an ESPN license, which means the TV style package is complete. While the overall presentation doesn't compare with that of NFL 2K3 (which also has the ESPN tag), it's still good. You'll get stats on other games in action including leading scorers.
Presentation/Audio : 70
The commentary sounds like it's getting recycled from last year's version of the game. Further, the same comments are made often. But if you turn down the TV booth, you'll hear some excellent stadium sounds. The PA announcer chimes in every now and then, the ball hitting the floor is clear, and the fans will get into the game if their team is winning. There could be some better crowd noise overall though. It's not until you've got the lead that the crowd usually gets vocal. I'd prefer the crowd motivating the team during comebacks.
Interface/Options : 95
Aside from a few oddities, the options in NBA 2K3 are excellent. The game supports network play, but unfortunately finding Sony network adapters is next to impossible. If you have an adapter, enjoy the online play. The game ships with the same modes as last year - single game, season, tournament, franchise, playoffs, practice, and some unorganized street ball (2-on-2 to 5-on-5 in rec centers or outdoor courts).
The biggest addition to the options is the slider system. You can now tune the game to your liking with a variety of sliders. The sliders encompass everything from AI shot tendency by location (short, medium, or long), accuracy from different spots on the floor, foul calling, and more. The sliders really make a difference and I urge you to find the right mix for you. The stat tracking system is as good as it has always been. You can track every imaginable stat. Also, you can have the rest of the league play with the same quarter length as you, which means stats are on an even level. Stats and performance are affected by a new feature - the biorhythm. This toggle feature causes players to have hot and cold streaks during the season and makes the game more realistic.
There are a few issues with the options. League standings are improperly displayed; teams are ordered in their division by number of wins rather than win percentage. At the end of the season this comes out in the wash, but during the season it makes for some interesting tables. Also, even with fouls pegged to the maximum in the options, there still isn't a realistic number of fouls in the game. What is odd is there is no box score at the game so you can't get a breakdown of the scoring by quarter. Finally, the rosters were cast in August meaning some key players aren't in the game. While you can download the updated rosters (if you have the network add-on), I'd wish companies would hold onto the titles a little longer to give consumers better rosters. For example, the overall first pick, Yao Ming, isn't in the game.
Gameplay : 95
I feel bad for all those gamers who still haven't jumped on the NBA 2K bandwagon. They are missing out on the best basketball game bar none. That continues this year as well. The difference between NBA 2K3 and the competition is mystifying. While there are some legacy issues with the game, overall it's the best game around. First off, Sega and Visual Concepts have made great strides in mimicking the pace of the game. The game plays slower on the default speed than in the past, and this is for the better.
The gameplay has certainly evolved over the years with this title. In early versions you could dominate the paint by simply dumping the ball down to your center, backing the ball under the basket, and slamming a dunk. In 2K3, while there are post-ups, they are nowhere as effective as the past. Even monsters like Shaq can't easily back an opposing center down. In some respects this detracts from the realism, but overall it makes the game more balanced. If you stick at it long enough, you may make some progress, but you have to be cognizant of the staying in the paint too long. Also changed is the lack of double teams when the ball is passed down low. In 2K2 you could pass the ball down to the center, wait for the double team, and pass out to the open man for a clear shot. Those situations occur with much less frequency.
The emphasis in 2K3 seems to be on pick-and-roll play. Both sides are effective at setting picks. The fun of the game comes on defense when fighting through or around a pick and offense when pulling off a perfect pick and roll. The amount of motion in the game when you are on offense is minimal. If you aren't calling plays manually, there are times when your team just stands around. The developers must have spent too much time watching Rockets games and decided to mimic their boring style of play. Or you can blame the league's move towards too many isolation plays.
There are a few downsides to the game. Fast breaks still don't flow like they should. If you pass the ball to a player up the court, he'll often stop rather than continue in a natural way to the basket. Also, the fast break defense by the CPU is still unaware. You can take a guard right down the middle of the paint as the opposing center and forwards don't collapse on the ball handler. Often they will move out of the paint and defend nobody. Finally, the CPU takes too many 3 point shots from way outside the arc. In a game you can expect three or more shots from almost half court. This happens when there's plenty of time on the shot clock or in the period. The CPU just decides to pull up and shoot a rainbow. Overall the positives in the game far outweigh the negatives.
Replay Value : 98
One thing we've come to expect from an NBA 2K game is excellence. NBA 2K3 follows in that mold. The gameplay is definitely different from last year and attempts to be more simulation oriented. Since you can't simply dump the ball to the center and bully your way to the basket, NBA 2K3 requires some new learning. You have to learn to play a different style of ball that requires more strategy. The biorhythm feature forces you to think about your starting lineup and substitutions. As you learn more of the game, you appreciate it even more.
Overall : 92
NBA 2K3 is a great basketball game. The franchise mode allows you take control of a team for many years and make management moves. But the key is the gameplay. While there are some nagging issues, the game is balanced overall and will appeal to fans of the game.