NBA 2K1 Hands-On

We got our hands dirty with a nearly complete build of Visual Concepts much improved basketball game.

The latest - and nearly complete - build of NBA 2K1 is here, and we had the opportunity to play through it extensively over the last few days. We went Jerry West on the new franchise mode and took NBA legends like Bob Cousy and the "Big O" Oscar Robertson to the game's street courts; we played the game on the network and had a blast, we downloaded a roster patch, we tried out the new free-throw shooting option in practice mode, and we started a new season. After all of that, we came away very impressed.

Two things immediately struck us about NBA 2K1 in relation to its predecessor. First, this year's hoops game looks noticeably better than the original, with cleaner textures and a higher level of detail. Second, the animation is a lot smoother, which improves the game in several areas. For example, as a result of the fluid animation, we could pull off quicker dribble-drive and post moves than we could in NBA 2K. Essentially, this means that it's easier to string together a set of moves in this year's version. With guys like A.I. or J Will, we seamlessly turned spins into crossovers, and crossovers into behind-the-back dribbles, leaving our man grabbing his ankles in the process. Of course, godlike handles are player specific - we couldn't pull off such moves with stiffs like Chris Dudley or Michael Olawakandi because it would result in a sure steal. The game's defenses are noticeably smarter this year, and it takes every one of these sick moves to put the biscuit in the basket.

Overall, the players are also more active in NBA 2K1. They'll walk up to a teammate at the free-throw line and give him encouragement, and they'll help teammates up off the floor. During the pregame introductions, players will chest-bump, high-five, and otherwise stretch and fidget as they wait for the tip - the only thing missing is Reggie Miller's pregame Michael Jackson routine. Visual Concepts has also added new taunt animations to add to the game's ambience.

The game's network interface has been refined since it first appeared in NFL 2K1. When logging on, you not only enter your user name and keyboard status, but you also enter a personalized tag line. All of that, and the ping status, is displayed prominently next to your name either in a room or when challenged to a game. The game currently runs extremely well over the network, with only a few lucky souls taxing the game servers. It will be interesting to see if the quick-paced NBA game stays that way when thousands of SegaNet players get their hoop on online in November. However, if the mostly successful NFL 2K1 online experience is any indication, its NBA counterpart shouldn't have any problems handling online matchups with limited lag.

Also new to this year's version is the street mode, which can be played both on- and offline. The street mode effectively conveys the mano a mano street ball experience, and Visual Concepts has re-created several real-world street courts - ranging from the The Cage on West 4th in Greenwich Village to the famous Holcombe Rucker Park - down to every last significant detail. There are no announcers and adoring fans in this mode - the only ambient sounds are from the passing cars and player taunts. Most of our NBA 2K1 time over the last couple of days has been spent in matchups on street courts between members of the legends' teams, which include the greatest players from the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s.

NBA 2K1 is only days away from its planned release on October 31. From what we've seen thus far, the game seems to have achieved the high level of polish that its football counterpart already possesses. GameSpot will bring you further information on the game in our complete review.

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