After several years of being kings of the hardwood, the NBA 2k series has proven itself the champion as it relates to professional basketball games. This year’s version attempts to defend that title against competition that seems to be getting stronger year after year. 2k has responded to this competition by making some great changes to their already winning formula, once again attempting to secure their place at the top of the ladder. For the most part, they succeed; although some frustrating elements keep NBA 2k9 from living up to it’s full potential.
Visually, 2K9 looks fantastic. The overhauled crowds are some of the best in the genre, and they’re reactions are very realistic. The players look good for the most part, with the exception of some occasional fuglyness in the facial department. The presentation on court is also very slick. 2k has incorporated a highlight reel generator, which saves in game video of big plays, then splices them together into a montage that plays after the quarters.
It plays out just like the bookend highlights you see while watching the NBA on TV, and adds a great sense of realism to the presentation. In terms of visuals for sports games, animations are the most important, and I’m pleased to say that 2K9 nails them. Each player has a wide variety of animations both on offense and defense, and you’ll very rarely notice an immersion spoiling hitch. Unfortunately, the off court presentation doesn’t hold up as well, mostly due to a very clunky menu system that never really feels like it clicks.
All of the expected gameplay modes return for this years version, most notably the Association (now dubbed Association 2.0). Like all franchise modes, the Association puts you in the shoes of the GM of a team of your choice. However, it offers more depth than most standard franchise modes, especially in terms of player interaction. As GM, you’ll set roles for each of your players. You have the choice to set a player as a full time starter, a sixth man, or a roleplayer off the bench.
Within each of these roles, you’ll have the option to be more specific with regards to the players actual standing on the team. You can select from different levels in your starting rotation, assigning players statements such as “I want you to be the star for this team” and “You’re a starter, but replaceable if an upgrade comes along”. Depending on how well you balance the individual desires of each player on your team, their individual morale (and thus your team morale) will rise or fall. Higher morale leads to better on court performance, and lower morale has its consequences.
Morale plays in to each players individual goals and ambitions, which affects not only their play on court, but their actions off it. Unhappy players may demand to be traded, or make trade talks difficult. To this end, trades have also been fleshed out, and allow for an amount of control unseen to this point. This balancing act adds a great deal to the overall feel of “managing” the club, and adds a needed degree of weight to the often tedious roster management found in most games.
Once you hit the hardwood, you find some very solid gameplay that is a noticeable step up from last years game in many ways. The lockdown feature returns on defense, albeit much improved. It takes players speed and size more accurately into account now, so if you try and cover that speedy point guard with your lumbering center, you’re going to get burned in a hurry. Offensively, the game seems to have made some improvements as well, and the game seems to accurately force you to make good shots and run plays on the defense. Perhaps most importantly, the game seems to run at a much more natural pace than last years version, and I never felt like my players were either plodding or speeding around the court.
Unfortunately, the stumbling block on offense is the low post play. Scoring in the post is hit and miss in 2K9, and you’ll often find that anything inside feels somewhat clumsy. Hook shots often seem like an exercise in chance, and backing down defenders is somewhat awkward. Overall, these frustrations are balanced out by the quality of the perimeter and midrange offense, but I hope next years version really concentrates on bringing all three together.
In terms of online content, 2k9 goes all out in offering 5 on 5 online play, with each player controlling a different player on the court. The game will also feature Living Rosters, which will alter a player’s in game attributes based upon how they’re playing in the real world of the NBA.
Overall, NBA 2k9 is a very good, if not perfect game. The Association mode is making a case for the best franchise mode in the entire genre, and the on court gameplay is mostly very solid. With some tweaks to the post play, and an overhauled menu system, next years’ version has the potential to be a truly outstanding title. As it stands, 2k9 is definitely worth picking up for NBA fans, and a worthy addition to any sports gamers library.