Games have been progressing to the point where they are nearly photo-realistic. Now that consoles can re-create pro players in dynamic digital detail, animating those on-screen pros fluidly and realistically becomes equally important. The most convincing graphics in the world won't suspend your disbelief for very long if the polygonal players move like mere action figures.
Clearly, the designers behind NBA 2K6 realized this too, because the animations in the latest NBA 2K series entry are outstanding. On Xbox 360, in fact, they're so real they'll induce a double take. The next-generation Xbox enables players to show emotion after big plays, eyes that track the ball wherever it goes, movement on the court that look like actual steps rather than air hockey-esque floating, and uniforms that bounce and sway as their occupants dart around the hardwood. Fire up the 360 version on an HDTV and see how many family members you can fool into thinking it's a live NBA game.
But of course, the point is to play, and when you do you'll get a serviceable package. Using the new-for-2K6 shot stick system, whereby every shot you take is performed with the right analog stick (pull down for a jumper, right for a right-handed lay-up, up for a finger-roll or dunk, etc.), turns out as a mixed bag. While it does allow you to do everything you need to do, it's not intuitive. You'll need to study the manual before playing and then put a lot of time in before you get the feel for it. Even when you do, however, the game (instead of you) still ultimately decides whether you'll dunk or pull up for a "J" when you're in that gray area between the paint and the perimeter. But the controls are about all there is to complain about this year - otherwise, NBA 2K6 satisfies.