The evolution of the genre of basketball video games is one that represents what many NFL fans and gamers wish could have happened to their favorite sport instead. In comparison to what has happened with the NFL and Madden, the NBA games are still a fierce battle which has seen both sides take incredible strides in the past few years towards the perfect replica of NBA basketball.
2K Sports has been the king of the hill in past years mainly due to their incredibly realistic gameplay, and with an increased focus on presentation this year on top of an already solid foundation, they look set to once again retain the NBA crown.
The stalwart of the 2K series has always been its incredibly solid gameplay, and over the past few years 2K has been adding and improving to its “Signature Style” at a rapid pace. This year is no different and NBA 2K9 really takes it to a new level with its defensive signature styles, signature dribbling and improved signature shots and animations for nearly every player in the game.
In years past you would find Rajon Rondo might dribble the same exact way as Deron Williams or some no name point guard, but with the inclusion of signature dribbling this year you can really see Rajon’s own unique skipping up court style in the game. This goes for nearly every big name player in the game and really goes a long way to immersing you in the game and gives every player their own personality on the court.
More importantly though, is for the players to play like themselves, and this year 2K has really nailed this aspect of the game with its AI. Out of the box the game plays very well on default Pro difficulty and you will see big name players getting the touches on offense that they should, so don’t be surprised when Lebron drops 35 on you in your first game. Having players play like themselves means that you won’t see KG taking threes from outside, but you will se the Celtics run plays specifically to establish him deep in the post early on a possession, and then kick it out and swing it around the wings just like they do in real life.
In years past computer opponents have often played a bit too robot-like in their execution, but this year the AI is able to read and react to your play quickly and effectively and will even utilize things like passing out of a shot, something that is usually reserved for human players in past games.
This isn’t to say that the AI upgrades have extended only to your opposition, far from it in fact. This year your teammates will no longer stand around uselessly waiting for you to do something as they all seem to be following the “2 second rule” of never really standing in the same spot for more than a few seconds at a time. Your teammates will cut to the hoop, curl off screens, set picks at the top of the key and roll or pop out for the J, and that’s all without you even calling a play. The spacing issues of years past where the lane would end up with 5 people crowded into it and nowhere to go are long gone thanks to the AI’s movements off ball, and the game flows a lot better for it.
Isomotion may be a little trickier this year than last with the alteration of how the aggressive modifiers work, but thankfully 2K has seen the light and included a full tutorial in the game which will get you up to speed if you take the time to do it. On offense many of the same moves and controls from last year have returned albeit slightly modified in the new Isomotion itteration.
Long time 2K fans will welcome the return of the ability to change your shot in the air this year and it really adds to the realism of the game when you can alter your shot the way Kobe might do when faced with an outstretched hand. You really have to see it in motion to appreciate the way 2K has incorporated these animations, and best of all you will get to see plenty of them as this year even the AI opposition uses these moves.
On the other side of the ball, the defense has certainly been tightened up this year. Last year’s “Lock on D” feature was one many thought made playing defense too easy. Thankfully 2K has listened to its fans and improved drastically on the way Lock on D works for 2K9. No longer can you just hold the left trigger and hope to stay with you man, this year you have to move your feet and are able to choose how far off to play your defender, and best of all, which side to shade him towards. Just like real ball, shade your guy to the base and hopefully your shot blocking centre will be there and waiting for the swat.
Blocks in years past have sometimes felt a little weak but this year 2K has really stepped it up. The first time you see KG swat someones weak-sauce layup off the backboard and then outlet for the fast break you will be left breathless. If huge blocks aren’t really your style 2K still has you covered, as if you play good positional defense and move your feet this year you will get the charge call. After being seemingly absent from games for a number of years this is a godsend to those after a more simulation style ball game. Finally, defense has caught up to offense in the NBA.
With its improved Isomotion controls and overhauled Lock on D, NBA 2K9 plays the absolute most realistic game of NBA basketball to date.
The NBA 2K series has always been viewed as something of an ugly duckling in comparison to EA’s NBA Live franchise, which from the start of this generation has offered incredibly shiny, albeit not so realistic graphics.
This year 2K has taken on the task set down by fans to get their game to look as good as it plays, and boy have they risen to the challenge. In high definition NBA 2K9 looks glorious, players drip sweat by the end of the third quarter and the detail on everything from the jerseys down to individual facial features is unmatched.
Player faces are far improved over last year and even bench warmers have had their likeness modeled almost exactly. There are the odd exception that has gone out of whack somewhere, Kevin Durant we are looking at you, but overall 2K is spot on the money.
Not only are the players looking great but this year 2K has stepped up the visual detail on its coaches and fans as well. Previously coaches had looked decidedly out of place and last gen when placed alongsided 2K’s player models, but this year they are almost on par. While a small detail to some, it really does improve the suspension of disbelief by having the coaches look like they belong this year.
Arenas look better than ever this year and you can really see the visual difference in the stadiums via banners, seating, aisles etc. One issue that has cropped up is the blurring of logos on the court in certain camera angles. This seems to be due to the way 2K’s depth of field is working and the issue is soon forgotten once gameplay is underway anyway.
By focusing on presentation this year, 2K has really come into their own and NBA 2K9 almost harkens back to the glory days of the NFL 2K series in this area. This year you will find real life player footage introducing you to the stars before exhibition games, dead ball highlight packages that show things like bench scoring, hot players or great defensive efforts and best of all, end of quarter highlight packages that show the action from a variety of TV like angles.
There are stat overlays this year, showing scoring streaks, statistics from your season in Association mode and other various tidbits, but they don’t go into huge depth. Along with that is the ticker returning this year, which when hooked up to an internet connection will display realtime scores and info from the NFL, NBA and MLB if you so choose.
The end of game package is exactly the same as last year, with Hot Zones, Top 3 Plays, Signature Highlights and Player of the Game all available. This area hasn’t seem much improvement for whatever reason, but we were happy with it last year and it does just fine again in 2K9.
Overall, all of these elements add up to make NBA 2K9 even more like watching a real broadcast on TV, so much so that you shouldn’t be surprised when your watching the end of quarter highlights and your significant other asks you who is playing.
The first thing you will notice if you played 2K8, is that the commentary is almost exactly the same as last year, only with Clark Kellogg speaking Kenny Smiths lines from last year. This is disappointing and we aren’t sure why 2K went this route instead of getting Kellogg to just re-do the script. Overall this is one of the weakest areas of 2K9 and we really hope the 2K team goes all out for 2K10 and scraps all the old lines.
The crowd and arena announcers are the best they have ever been this year with all the player specific boos and chants you would expect to hear in a real NBA game. Hearing the announcers trademark C-P-3 Woooo after a Chris Paul bucket really does add to the feel and 2K has added a tonne of new sounds this year.
Off the court, the soundtrack is quite impressive with artists like Gnarls Barkley, The Cool Kids and The Pharcyde filling out the roster. It offers a diverse range of music, and if you don’t like it you can always turn it off.
Association Mode (Offline Play)
Last years association mode bought with it player personalities and this year NBA 2K9 has taken that a step further. The main screen in Association mode this year is an NBA.com like interface which shows around the league news and statistics. Just a button push away are all your teams stats, league leaders and messaging as in last years game.
The new introduction this year is player ambitions, which adds a fresh feel to running your association as players progress throughout the season and their ambitions change. An up and coming player might want to play for a winner at the start of his career but by then end he will want security in the form of a big paycheck. Things like this really add a new element of depth to an already voluminous association mode from last year.
Trading and signings are also improved this year with the addition of “bird rights” allowing the option of resigning players, and a slight change in the mechanics of scouting a player. Instead of being able to see every players rating on other teams around the league, now you will have to scout them to see a numerical rating, which gives a bit more realism to the mode.
Overall Association 2.0 is really an impressive improvement on years past, whilst still remaining accessible for those who have played 2K before and newcomers alike. If you want to get lost in a dynasty mode for months, this one is a sure bet.
Straight off the bat we noticed that Lobbies were missing this year from online games. This is a strange move by 2K but one that they are standing behind in aiming for a better ranking system. Their train of thought for the removal was that lobbies for ranked matches allowed better players to prey on the weaker ones just to boost their rank. As such, all ranked matches are blind this year so you won’t know who you are up against. We can’t say this is something we really agree with, but 2K has stated that lobbies are still there for Player Matches, just not for ranked games. Overall its a bit disappointing but we are willing to wait and see what happens once 2K’s servers can handle the load.
Perhaps due to issues beyond their control, 2K’s online portion of their game is seemingly broken at the moment with many players unable to even join a game. This extends to the 5 on 5 Team Up mode, where we have attempted numerous times to get a decent game going. Often times the game will not even start or when it does the lag is so unbearable that five seconds of actual game time can take over a minute with “Waiting for Player” messages popping up. When Team Up mode was announced we wondered how the 2K servers would handle the load, and the answer is, not at all.
The other game killer for online players is the removal of the “2K cam” which 2K has become synonymous with in past years. This camera view allows for complete view of the court and is the first choice of many gamers around the world. Unfortunately it seems 2K couldn’t get its framerate up online when using this camera so they simply removed it from the options leaving many out in the cold.
In its current state, the Online portion of NBA 2K9 is its weakest aspect, which is a shame because there is so much potential in its Team Up mode. The good news though is that it is all things that can and should be fixed by 2K. The lag and congested servers can be fixed via back end load balancing and the 2K camera could hopefully be patched in at a later date. Until then NBA 2K9 online is a non event.
NBA 2K Insider/Living Rosters/2K Share
In past games you have had to wait months for a roster update, which left many gamers to tweak and take on the task of updating their own games. This year however 2K and specifically the 2K Insider are shouldering the load. Promising to update the games rosters & ratings and even updating animation packages to reflect real life happenings 2K Insider certainly has potential to be a great feature. At time of writing however the season has yet to get underway but we will be sure to take a look at how the 2K Insider feature pans out in the future.
2K Share in NBA 2K9 works much like it did in College Hoops 2K8, allowing users to upload their own sliders, rosters, and created players for others to use and rate. This is a great incorporation into NBA 2K9 and there are already a plethora of great Michael Jordan CAP’s and rare team rosters available for download.
The 2K sports team have once again out done themselves this year with NBA 2K9, but we almost wanted to review the game separately offline to online. As it stands NBA 2K9 plays the most realistic game of ball to be found on any console, and has the potential to be an incredible online experience. Of all the basketball games available this year, if you can choose only one and plan to dig deep into offline play, NBA 2K9 should be the one. Its strong presentation values have combined with incredibly deep simulation style gameplay and AI to recreate the game as faithfully as possible. Any and all true NBA basketball fans would be wise to pick this one up.
Gameplay – A-
Simply the most realistic and best playing basketball game on the market.
Graphics - A
Improved player models, textures and lighting add to the overall top notch graphics this year.
Sound – B+
Let down by some sketchy commentary, some players might like to just turn it off and take in the incredible arena and crowd sounds.
Online Play – C-
Totally and utterly lacking in all areas, NBA 2K9 is simply not functional in the way it should be at this stage. It is early days and we have faith that 2K can repair the damage via patching and back end tightening.
Overall – A-
NBA 2K9 is once again the basketball game to own this year. Improving on its predecessors in nearly every area it is only let down by its shaky online play. Once this is cleared up however, we are confident that 2K9 will flourish both online and off.
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