2K Still Ballin’ in 09
As developers continually try to improve their sports titles year after year, consumers have the ongoing dilemma of deciding how much the latest installment has to offer over last year’s title. In the case of NBA 2K9, the reception of recent editions from hardcore hoop fans and casual sports gamers alike has been pretty positive due to its impressive presentation and realistic basketball simulation.
In the battle to balance comprehensive controls with superb realism and graphics, developers haven’t tinkered with NBA 2K too much, improving gameplay mechanics slightly, adding new animations, and introducing the all-new Living Rosters feature.
In all, it’s the little details that make NBA 2K9 a joy to play and watch. Traditionally, developers have added some great animations that make playing the 2K series a unique experience. 2K9 is the best yet with new animations of the coach reacting on the sidelines, players arguing with a ref’s call and celebrating after a successful play. They are fluid, realistic, and the special attention given to between-play animations is something that 2K has continually excelled at.
Whereas facial features are still inconsistently identical on some athletes and humorously incorrect on others, 2K does a wonderful job of continually delivering a variety of signature in-game movements for different athletes. They’ve taken huge strides in an attempt to recreate the NBA in their game by making some of the most popular athletes move as they really would, giving on-court action a far more realistic presentation. From a visual standpoint, basketball fans will love seeing a spitting recreation of the Kobe fade away and certain athletes such as Shawn Marrion perform his awkward-looking jump shot. Signature animations have become some of the most distinct features in the 2K NBA series and this game is an example of the best work yet from the developers.
In comparison to EA’s Live 09, on-court activity runs a lot smoother with seemingly less errors. There are fewer issues with framerate, and because animations are more fluid, 2K9 is a very entertaining visual experience. Where Live 09 is full of collision issues, slowdown, and inconsistent line violations, 2K9 is a well-oiled play experience, as athletes run up and down the court and perform moves without the annoying clipping or other visual problems. Even with the amount of people in the arena and detail given to things such as mascots and coaches on the sidelines, NBA 2K9 runs well with so much going on.
One of the other highlights of 2K9 is just how well the A.I. functions. Players dive for the ball and spring into action to tip in a rebound. Athletes move around and play the game more realistically, making themselves open on offense. Sometimes, A.I. characters will run for the fast-break, as this game has a more up-tempo feel while not becoming an arcade whatsoever. The advertised Adaptive A.I. is evident while playing, and this game provides an example of how sports A.I. should react. Don’t think you’ll be able to pass the ball around easily or make your way to the basket whenever you choose with a couple of trick moves. It may work the first couple of times, but the A.I. catches on quickly and you’ll have to call plays to instruct your teammates to be really successful and use icon passing when needed. This is a very defensive game and you’ll need to resort to the basics and utilize a lot of two-man play to win.
The Shot Stick has been given a tweak, adding more speed to the game by allowing for some quick shots and dunks, while improving from last year. It pretty much works the same, though the shooter is now able to change his shot in mid-air. If you’re stuck in mid-shot against a defensive monster, your player will be able to alter his shot to go up and around the back of the big man with another simple flick of the analog. Lockdown defense has also been improved to holding down the left trigger for a defensive stance then using the right analog to follow your opposing man.
Similar to NBA Live 09, 2K9 has implemented downloadable stats and updates with its Living Rosters feature. It’s not as detailed as EA’s Dynamic DNA with daily updates, but it still offers updates every week that will change your game to mimic what is actually happening in the NBA.
Player statistics and trades will all change throughout the season, and just as time will tell how well EA’s DNA feature works, we will have to see how well 2K’s Living Rosters feature adds to the value of this game throughout the season. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Living Rosters, and what separates it from EA’s concept, is that it also goes so far as to offer new animations to make your game more interesting and full of variety. Packages will be available online offering newly created animations to mimic memorable plays and performances made by athletes throughout the year as 2K improves on their already fantastic animation system.
In addition to its new five-on-five multiplayer, NBA 2K9 offers lots to do. The Association mode makes a return, dubbed The Association 2.0. It’s been given a bit of an upgrade to include three-team contracts as well as “Larry Bird” contracts. NBA Blacktop makes a return this year, which has only been changed slightly to make the Dunk Contest easier. Online five-on-five Total Team Control allows gamers to take control of each player on the court though it’s not without its typical slowdown issues. Players can also play one-on-one, share rosters, and create their own highlight reels using the game’s cool Reelmaker video editor and share them online.
The threesome commentating team of Cheryl Miller, Clark Kellogg, and Kevin Harlan add some variety with play-by-play reflective of what’s happening onscreen. There is some repetitiveness in their play-calling, however, and the monotonous tone of the threesome really contrasts the excitement of the game. Stadium ambience is captured nicely in the cheering of the fans and background music, and arenas look incredibly realistic. The soundtrack is also among the game’s highlights with plenty of energetic hip-hop, reggae, and rock tracks to get you in the spirit with a wide range of artists including the Beastie Boys, N.E.R.D., and more.
NBA 2K9 is a solid basketball experience through and through. While the competition is still in a rebuilding process of sorts, 2K has taken advantage by improving on what they’ve accomplished in their NBA series throughout recent years. Anyone who has enjoyed the last couple of installments won’t be disappointed with the changes made this year. The Living Rosters feature is certainly enticing enough for 2K fans to pick this title up. Whereas Live 09 offers similar new features, 2K has the ability to back up their new features with smooth on-court gameplay. This is simply a more fun basketball experience.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.6 Graphics
Stadiums look amazing, crowds are life-like, and in-game animation is fluid. Visually stunning! 3.9 Control
Controls are extremely in-depth, if not a tad complex, offering a realistic and exciting take on basketball. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Commentating is standard, stadium ambience is captured extremely well, and an energetic soundtrack rounds out this game nicely. 4.2 Play Value
With the amount of functions on and offline and how smoothly the game runs while playing a typical five-on-five, 2K9 is one of the best basketball titles in recent history. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.