There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned NBA rivalry. Whether it’s Lakers-Celtics or Bulls-Pistons, serious competition usually brings out the best in everyone. Clearly, that seems to have happened this season to the gang at 2K Sports, who must’ve been stung by the surprising turn of events last year that had Live jump ahead of 2K in the virtual hoops landscape. We have to believe that lessons were learned and passions were re-ignited, because NBA 2K9 is the best basketball game yet to grace this generation’s consoles.
A bunch of new back-of-the-box features are being used to sell 2K9, such as Living Rosters (a fancy way of getting roster updates a lot more often than in the past) and a new 5-on-5 mode allowing 10 individual gamers to all play together. These bells and whistles are nice and all, but what matters most is how the hoops are played on the court. In that regard, NBA 2K9 delivers in spades. Player likenesses and signature styles are lovingly detailed, from Shaq’s lumbering frame to Kobe’s slash-n-dash-n-rise and Vince Carter’s above-the-rim antics. Shot styles, free throws, and post-up moves are simply awesome. Gameplay is smooth as butter, too, rarely suffering from any serious “huh?” moments and more often than not delivering realistic animations, situational responses, and a significant challenge to all comers.
NBA arenas are more alive than ever, sporting vibrant visuals and a dazzling array of nuances that impress more with each game. The full-throated crowds are seriously into the action, especially if things are tight late in the game. Nothing satisfies quite like draining a big three on the road and hearing the life sucked out of the building in a giant “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh…” as you put a dagger into the hopes of your opponent.
Controls are also improved, offering a generous amount of advanced mechanics for hardcore hoopsters but remaining simple enough for newcomers to get comfortable right away. We also love the return of licensed legendary players, since pitting Bird vs. Magic never gets old (although we gotta say that Larry Legend’s mug doesn’t really do the man much justice).
NBA 2K9 is the closest thing yet we’ve seen to a total hoops package. Other than a few minor quibbles – the visuals get choppy during the cutscenes between play and the Blacktop mode is a throwaway collection of uninteresting minigames – we’re utterly delighted with 2K’s latest ode to the hardwood. Besides, with the promise of Living Rosters and an always-impressive set of online options, there’s plenty to keep us entertained. Even though the competition this season is better than ever, NBA 2K9 puts the franchise back on top of the hoops heap. Sometimes, everything just comes together nicely.
Oct 9, 2008