Earlier today, during a meeting with Sierra Online, we had an opportunity to get hands-on with Freestyle Street Basketball--an online sports game in which you'll create and control a persistent character in much the same way you'd expect to in a conventional massively multiplayer online game. The game's commercial release won't be until May 15, but as of April 19, you'll be able to download the game (weighing in at around 300MB) and play it for free until your character reaches the cap of level 15. Taking him or her beyond level 15, up to a maximum of 45, once the full game is released will require a one-time fee of $20, after which you won't have to spend any more money if you don't want to. There'll be plenty of opportunities for you to do so, though, as we found out today when, after going one-on-one against a player named "Hopeless" who was anything but, we were given a guided tour of the game character creation and customization menus.
The character creation options in Freestyle Street Basketball are initially quite limited, but the options to alter your face, skin tone, height (which affects attributes, as well as appearance), and clothing are enough that you shouldn't be running into too many doppelgangers on the court when you play. When creating a character you'll have to choose a position for him or her, which at level 1 means guard, center, or forward. As you learn new skills and level up, you'll be able to specialize even more by opting to play as a power forward or a small forward, or you can opt for a point guard over a shooting guard.
Even if you opt to play for free by never taking your character beyond level 15 and missing out on some of the more advanced skills and techniques that you can buy for your player, Sierra Online is hoping that you'll want to customize your character further with new items of clothing, haircuts, tattoos, and so on--many of which can only be purchased with real-world cash or "bills." There are plenty of items that can be bought with points earned in-game, but having browsed some of the menus, we can tell you that most desirable items can only be unlocked using your credit card or prepaid cards. One dollar will buy you 300 bills, and we're told that the majority of items will sell for $1 to $2.50.
We also noticed that many of the items, including all of those licensed from such companies as Ecko, G-Unit Clothing, and Zoo York, are yours for only 30 days after you buy them. But they're still an attractive proposition because in addition to looking good, many of them afford your character an attribute bonus or two as soon as your character puts them on. Unlicensed items in the game can be unlocked either for limited periods of time or permanently, although the latter option costs significantly more. Tattoos, which are considered a must-have because they afford you points or experience bonuses when you play with them, can only be purchased with bills, and ironically, they're not permanent. Rather, buying a tattoo gets you a pack of 50 temporary tattoos, so you'll "need" to buy more once you run out.
Nobody will be forcing you to buy any of these items, and from what we can gather, the attribute bonuses they afford you in-game are minimal. The real bonuses will come from playing the game and leveling up; earning points that can be spent on training to improve your attributes, or on learning new skills and over-the-top freestyle moves. Even at level 45, with an array of special skills at your disposal, you'll find that Freestyle Street Basketball's keyboard controls are uncomplicated, although it's a little disappointing that USB controllers and the like won't be supported.
Our one-on-one game was a little one-sided on this occasion, but we enjoyed it a lot, and we're looking forward to checking out the two-on-two and three-on-three options later this month along with the rest of you. We'll bring you more information as soon as it becomes available.