NBA ShootOut 2002
Six years ago, when Sony unleashed their fledgling game system to the unsuspecting industry, videogame pundits in the majority did not believe that they had a realistic chance to compete with the likes of Nintendo and Sega. However, their dubious predictions had little to do with the console itself. In fact, a quick look under the hood suggested that in terms of sheer horsepower, the PSX had it in spades. But as many skeptics pointed out, the billion-dollar giant may know electronics, but what do they know about gaming? Well, obviously Sony knows something about gaming, as their 32-bit console didn’t just succeed, it dominated! The reason for their dominance was really quite simple -- quality software and plenty of it. Year after year, the PSX became host to a continuing onslaught of quality first, second, and third-party titles in a diversity of game genres.
As a sports-game enthusiast (biased or not), I attribute Sony’s success to one thing more than any other: as compared to any other system before it, the PlayStation has featured the largest selection of quality sports games. Developers such as EA Sports were willing and able to harness the extra processing muscle of the PSX to provide sport games with unrivaled graphics and gameplay realism. At the same time, Sony’s in-house sports developer, which eventually became 989 Sports, led the way in innovation with titles such as NFL GameDay -- the first football game to incorporate polygon player models. Eventually, 989 Sports gained a favorable reputation among several sport gamers for creating great sports-game franchises in baseball, hockey, and basketball.
Regrettably, as Sony refocuses their attention on their next generation console, one by one, many of these great sports franchises are making their farewell appearances on the PSX. Now I don’t blame Sony for this. It had to happen sooner or later. But the real question is, will these games go out with a bang or a whimper? Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a disturbing pattern -- after playing their latest baseball and football franchise titles, it’s apparent that Sony does not subscribe to the theory of saving the best for last. Both MLB 2002 and GameDay 2002 provide nothing more than updated rosters, with zero improvements made to graphics and gameplay. As a matter of fact, in some areas, their predecessors offered the better gaming experience.
989 Sports’ most recent release comes in the form of NBA ShootOut 2002 -- the latest version of their popular basketball franchise. Fans of the series who have come to appreciate its fast-paced, arcade-oriented gameplay, will no doubt want to give it a look. But, does the new dunkfest crash the boards with improved graphics and game play, or does it get into foul trouble as a second-rate rehash of last year’s game engine? Well, don’t just sit there; lace up your sneakers and get off the bench... it’s time for the opening tip-off!
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
At the main menu, you’ll find the same gameplay modes as last year’s version. These include: Exhibition, Season and Playoffs. For those of you who were hoping for a new franchise mode in this year’s version, I’m sad to report -- no dice! Season play is of standard fair where you’ll be able to customize, among other things, season length, playoff length, trade deadline, and injuries. There’s also a pretty decent create-a-player option and there’s even a nifty create-a-dunk feature where you can create, name, and save your own dunks. Throw in some roster editing, player trades, drafts, and free agent pools; shake well, and out comes another basketball title.
NBA ShootOut 2002 features updated rosters for the upcoming NBA season. That means that Jason Kidd and Stephon Marbury have indeed switched places and yes, Elton Brand is now on the Clippers and Hakeem Olajuwon now struts his stuff north of the border. Sadly, Michael Jordan did not make the cut, so the Wizards will be on their own. Each player is rated in several categories, but don’t be surprised to see a few inconsistencies in statistical outcomes. Charles Oakley, who’s normally a mediocre outside shooter, lit me up for 52 points in the second week of the season. And get this: Shaquille O’Neal was sinking 90% of his free throws. Hey, I know he’s been working hard, but that’s a bit extreme, don’t ya think?
Controlling your players is not a problem. Players react quickly to your button presses and there are actually a decent variety of moves at your disposal. Once again, there’s total-control this and total-control that -- tired expressions for the same old moves we’ve seen in countless other games in the genre (total-control player switching... that’s a knee-slapper!). One feature that I do like is that the game incorporates 18 "one-touch" player controls, which substantially reduce the learning curve. Auto defend, call a quick screen, and juke defenders out of their shorts; all with the press of one button. However, while controlling your players is simple and intuitive, gameplay is extremely lacking.
My biggest complaint in the gameplay department stems from an overemphasis on wide-open, end-to-end, fast-paced arcade action. This may appeal to gamers who like nonstop action, but it comes at the expense of simulation fans looking for a little balance and realism. While the game can be played in either arcade or simulation mode, there’s not enough of a difference for my taste. You’ll find that even when playing in simulation mode, steals, blocked shots, and intercepted passes (by the CPU, that is) occur way too often. Sure, the game features several different strategically designed offensive plays, but like all previous versions in the series, the best way to score a bucket is by way of (you guessed it) the proverbial "in your face" slam-dunk. Oh, and there are plenty of different slammer-jammers to woo and wow the crowd, but this is not basketball my friends and to this reviewer, it becomes monotonous really fast.
When you’re on defense, the CPU will make use of different offensive sets quite sparingly. Guard your opponent too closely or go for the steal, and the CPU will easily take it to the rack (once again, in your face slam dunk... geez!). Of course, at times, the CPU will sink jumpers at an unprecedented rate, resulting in unrealistically high field-goal percentages. On the other hand, your human-controlled players will miss 2-pointers, 3-pointers, and even the easy shots, to the point of frustration. Total-control touch shooting partially makes up for this. Unfortunately, once you’ve mastered the shot meter, making the big shot suddenly becomes too easy. Balance folks... where’s the balance? Furthermore, the developers did not fix the rebounding issues that were prevalent in last year’s game. The biggest problem stems from the fact that the players can’t jump any higher than a couple of feet. This makes blocking CPU shots almost futile and rebounding more dependent on potluck rather than on skill.
If you own a multitap, you’ll be able to play with up to seven of your friends. Like most sports games, multiplayer contests can compensate for uninspired gameplay and give even the weakest of games new life.
If you’ve either seen or played last year’s game, you may want to skip this section. That’s because, visually speaking, this year’s effort is almost a carbon copy. The graphics are a mixed bag of good and bad. On the positive side, the various NBA arenas are modeled quite nicely. Courtside graphics are colorful and detailed. Overall, they do a fine job of depicting their real-life counterparts. The fans in the stands are made up of 2-D sprites and contain minimal animations, but it’s what you would expect, considering this is a PlayStation game.
On the other hand, the player models are adequate at best (and trust me, I’m being kind here). While there is a realistic variation in player sizes -- even from a distance, you’ll have no problem recognizing Shaq and Mutombo -- the virtual b-ballers themselves are extremely blocky and lacking in texture quality. The player faces in particular look like something out one of your worst nightmares. It’s hard to describe, but picture an ice cube with a face painted on one side (okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but you get the idea!). The first time you see these puppies up close, you may be tempted to cover your eyes.
There are a ton of motion-captured animations, including 60 NBA signature dunks, taken from more than a dozen pros and former All-Americans. Unfortunately, for the most part, these animations come off extremely choppy. Of course, there’s an instant replay feature, but as usual, it tends to show off the weaknesses in graphics (I think once is enough for me, thank you).
The PSX is capable of better graphics than this... need I say more?
While the sound effects are nothing earth shattering, overall, they do provide a proper atmosphere. The ball bouncing on the court and clanging off the rim, as well as the squeaking of sneakers as players jostle for position, are well-done and realistic. The one exception is the crowd noise, which comes off somewhat subdued and generic sounding at best.
Jersey’s own Ian Eagle is back again to handle the commentary and it’s actually not bad. It’s not exactly broadcast quality, but he will call the jumpers, bricks, and jams when he sees them. Commentary consists of a decent variety of expressions and, surprisingly, repetition is kept to a minimum.
By now, you’ve probably got the sense that I’m not too keen on this game. It’s not terrible, but like the aforementioned baseball and football titles, it offers nothing new and improved. If you’re a fan of the series and absolutely must have the updated rosters, then you may want to... uh, forget it, don’t buy it anyway! Ya know, it’s a sad thing -- I was hoping the last hurrah for Sony’s PSX sport franchises would yield better results. Unfortunately, it seems as if Sony is satisfied providing their loyal followers with mediocre last efforts. It’s almost as if Sony wants PSX owners, looking for "new and improved," to look elsewhere. Hey... I might be on to something here!