Now that the term "MMO" is synonymous with PC gaming (thanks World of Warcraft), game publishers have been looking for ways either to build upon Blizzard's success or differentiate without straying too far from the accomplished MMO mold. The trickiness inherent in this now-established genre is working out the kinks in pricing; do you have a higher cost of the game with all items available or a low-grade budget title where the publisher slowly bleeds your cash away? FreeStyle Street Basketball chooses the latter and taps the hip hop, in-yo-face sport with varying success.
FreeStyle lets you choose one of three positions and play online to slowly build your stats and ballin’ prowess. Guards are lethal at 3-point range but lack power, Forwards are your all-around type and good for mid-range shots, while Centers are best left inside the paint due to their size and lack of speed. You’ll need to choose wisely when creating your character, or you may suffer from lack of play at early levels; more on that later.
Your stats automatically adjust depending on position while you’re introduced to the two currencies - Points and Bills. Points are earned with experience and can be used to “purchase” trainings, which up your stats; so you can become faster or sink more shots. Bills are used to purchase freestyles, skills or clothing. Freestyles modify existing moves while skills are what make you a better player outright - two-handed dunks, screens, etc. Clothes are there to set you apart from all the other generic t-shirts and can have stat values attributed. Here’s where it gets tricky - Bills are only replenished with your credit card, leaving you to decide just how much ballin’ you’re up for.
You’ll run into some trouble at first trying to find a team to play with - you can always go 1-on-1, but the real fun’s in 3-on-3 - and the gameplay cements itself after some initial losses. To the delight of southpaws everywhere, movement’s controlled with the arrow keys while shooting/passing/freestyle moves use WASD. It’s pretty awkward at first but becomes comfortable after a while. After some forum scouring it seemed like nobody can get any USB controllers to work, which is a damn shame if you’re used to playing on a console.
The courts have an urban cel-shaded look, almost like that Dreamcast game everyone should have played, but didn't, Jet Grind Radio, and the licensed hip-hop soundtrack - while repetitive - is never irritating. It’s breezy, laid-back and not as in-yo-face as you’d expect. And though often repeated, the voice samples are more charming than anything. We found ourselves screaming along with the characters as we juked across the court. “3PT!”
But after some initial games, you’ll find that playing as a Center is almost useless. You’ll remember why you don’t usually play games online - people are selfish. They’ll steal dropped treasure, camp for that perfect headshot and in the case of this game, will never ever pass the ball. We decided that the Forward was a better choice, so we wiped our character clean to begin anew. Only, once we did that, we didn’t regain the Points and Bills we used on that other character. Keep in mind that we didn’t add a new character slot - we just wanted to start over.
And that’s when the realization sets in that FreeStyle Street Basketball disappoints on most levels. Every mundane task; customizing the controls, creating a character, finding a team to play on and paying to screen an opponent feels like a let-down.