Konami is hoping you've forgotten its In The Zone series, and it's trying to wipe the slate clean in its first attempt at bringing the NBA to the PS2. To facilitate this, Konami has snatched the ESPN license, and it plans on integrating ESPN's slick broadcasting style with a completely new game engine built from the ground up. We had the exclusive opportunity to play a nearly complete version of the game and found that Konami has really turned its hoops game around.
ESPN NBA 2Night has four different play modes, and the names of these modes correspond to the four letters in ESPN - exhibition, season, playoffs, and the NBA 2Night mode, which actually takes you to several other modes, including the manager and the create-a-player mode. The exhibition and season modes are your regular sports game fare, playoffs lets you simulate the seven-game championship series, and the manager mode lets you assume the general manager role with the team of your choice. The game also features a very comprehensive create-a-player mode that allows you to construct your own custom player. The create-a-player mode has several different graphical options for tuning the look of your new player, and it features a slick attribute allocation process with tons of different attributes to choose from. While the game has a slight disadvantage in the quantity of its game modes when compared with other basketball contenders like NBA 2K1, the quality of NBA 2Night's gameplay makes up for that deficit.
Though it still has a ways to go, the gameplay in NBA 2Night is headed in the right direction. All of the problems found in earlier Konami basketball games seem to have been resolved, and the games are fast and easy to control. Konami has done a good job of working with the Dual Shock's layout and has come up with a very intuitive control scheme. Combined with excellent teammate and opponent AI, the gameplay is diverse and true to life. NBA 2Night's most noticeable gameplay asset is its passing game. The passing in this game is not only tight and responsive, but it's also chock-full of different animations that correctly reflect the type of pass and the situation. Depending on the situation, you'll see behind-the-back passing, full-court tosses, quick bounce passes, handoffs, and snap passing. Additionally, each pass is correct in response to the situation at hand. A player caught deep in coverage will fake a pass one way before bouncing the ball behind the back of a defender to the open man. Not only does the system look very good, but it helps enhance the flow of the game. In addition to having several offensive and defensive plays available to you on the fly, the game sports some pretty smart AI. Characters on defense will switch their cover depending on picks and sets, and they'll even play the hot player harder. Offensive characters play according to their style in real life - heavy outside shooters will scramble to get open and wait for the ball, while inside players will set screens and swarm toward the key when they see an opportunity. The only major issues found in the gameplay are the weak rebounding, the difficulty of the post-up moves, and the lack of offensive fouls. Still, Konami promises it will address all those issues before the game goes final.
The graphics in the game are very sharp. Though shorter and a bit more round than the characters found in NBA 2K1, NBA 2Night's players and faces are very realistic looking. Konami has scored the official NBA license, and NBA 2Night features all the actual NBA teams and players. Not only does each and every in-game player look like his real-life counterpart, but his behavior and signature moves have also been transferred to the game. The animations are very smooth, and the flow of the characters never seems jerky as they transfer from one set of movements to another. Konami has added a lot of detail to the game's graphics, from tiny dimples on the ball, which can only be seen through a telescopic zoom in the replay mode, to excellent reflections, lighting, and player effects. Nice touches like player interaction sequences and a totally interactive bench really add to the overall graphical package. Though you can completely customize your camera angle, the game also features several camera angles actually used in ESPN broadcasts. From the familiar courtside shot to the backboard cam, everything in this game simply shines with ESPN's signature presentation.
The game promises to have some excellent audio. Though only basic sound effects and music were in the game at the time we saw it, Konami plans to include the play-by-play commentary of ESPN broadcasters Brent Musberger and Stuart Scott.
The game has a ways to go before its December release, but from what we've seen so far, it looks like Konami may have a winner on its hands. With fairly tough competition from both EA and Visual Concepts, Konami has a lot to prove with its first PS2 NBA game, but things are definitely headed in the right direction.