ESPN hopes to do for video games what it has done for the realm of television sports broadcasting - present consumers with content that is polished, unique, and entertaining. The Dreamcast hoops game NBA 2Night - the first product of Konami and ESPN's multisports, multiplatform development deal - plans on providing some stiff competition for Sega's own hit basketball title, NBA 2K1. From the opening movie sequence to the in-game theatrics, NBA 2Night borrows heavily from the television show with which it shares its title. Everything - from the music to the logos and onscreen graphics - is straight out of ESPN's broadcasts. Even the game's announcers were picked from the robust ESPN stable. Those interested in listening to ESPN Sportscenter anchor Stuart Scott sing "bump 'n grind" during post-up sequences and scream "booyah" at the top of his lungs during dunks will find what they're looking for in NBA 2Night. Both Scott and veteran sports announcer Brent Musburger handle the commentary in the game.
Among the features NBA 2Night promises to deliver are five modes of play, including preseason, season, all-star game, playoffs, and practice. Missing from this year's version are a franchise mode and the addition of online play. Once in a playoff or season, the game keeps track of several statistical categories, ranging from field goal and three-point percentages to assists totals and points per game for every NBA player. The game also keeps track of similar team stats for all 29 NBA squads.
On the court, Alonzo Mourning and Marcus Camby are among a handful of NBA players who were motion-captured for the sake of realism. However, at this point, all of that motion-capture work put in by 'Zo and the Camby-man amounts to rigid animation and flawed player controls. Trivial moves such as crossovers and jumpers are missing frames of animation, which makes everything look choppy, and it takes a fraction of a second for players to initiate these moves. As a result, players are relatively unresponsive to quick movements of the analog stick and to other controller commands. For example, once you beat your defender and try to pull up for a shot, it literally takes half a second for your man to react and release the shot. As a side note, we still haven't been able to pass out of jumpers or dribble drives.
There are also some unfortunate quirks with the game's control scheme. On offense, the dribble moves aren't very effective. You can execute behind-the-back and crossover moves all day, but that won't help you get around the defender - it's much easier to just pump fake and use the turbo button to lose your man. The actions on defense are intuitively mapped to the face buttons, except for the X button, which is used to face up on the offensive player. It is virtually impossible to face up on your man with X and to go for a steal at the same time using the B button, which is on the opposite side.
NBA 2Night doesn't look quite as impressive as Visual Concepts' Dreamcast hoops game, NBA 2K1, but it is solid graphically. The players' faces are modeled to look like their real-life counterparts, and during their introductions, you can see their eyes, eyebrows, and mouths move realistically. Although all of the arenas in the game are based on one universal model, home courts are recognizable by means of the team colors and logos.
Despite the strong ESPN-style presentation, at this stage in development, NBA 2Night has several gameplay quirks. Although the first hoops game to be developed under the partnership between ESPN and Konami is a strong effort, unless the game is tweaked significantly before its release, it will be hard-pressed to compete with NBA 2K1 and EA's NBA Live series.