Sega's NBA 2K1 is regarded by many as the most entertaining and accomplished video game simulation of the National Basketball League on the market. For this year's version, simply massaging that formula with updated rosters and a few graphical touches may have been adequate, but then basketball fans would have been deprived of the distinct gifts of NBA 2K2. After extensive gameplay time with a near complete build of the game, we have seen that NBA 2K2 attempts to take the series to new heights; it tries to truly simulate the subtle nuances of the NBA game. Toward that goal, everything from a variety of new animation routines to highly intelligent AI has been implemented in this year's game.
The most obvious difference between NBA 2K2 and last year's game is the new animations. The virtual players in the game now carry themselves with great realism. The jumper animation, in particular, is quite different, as players now extend their arms more naturally and break their wrists to follow through at the end of a shot. Additionally, contact with defensive players is taken into account. For example, if a player is undercut by his defender while shooting, he will automatically lean forward as his legs are pushed out from underneath. This all ties into the actual shooting mechanics and gameplay. In NBA 2K2, it is doubly important to watch the player's animation as he's shooting and to shoot the ball at the height of his release point. Finding the open man is also essential, as leaners and fallaway jumpers are generally off the mark. In addition to the jumper animations, alley-oops are now easier to execute. If you spot an open teammate cutting to the basket, just hold down the left shoulder button and make the pass for some sweet 'oops.
Some of the other new animations aren't quite as essential to the gameplay. However, they do lend further credibility to the game's simulation aspects. For example, developer Visual Concepts has added the ability to steal passes. Players are now able to anticipate a long crosscourt pass, step into the passing lane to intercept, and head the other way on a fast break. This particular steal animation is designed so that the defender, if unsuccessful, is penalized for going after a pass, as he is left out of position and vulnerable to a back cut by his offensive man. Also new to this year's game is the ability to pass more effectively out of crossovers and spin moves. It's satisfying to be able to spin the defender out of position while driving through the lane and drop it off, midspin, to a teammate standing near the basket. Finally, post players have several new options around the basket. These options really can't be classified as new post moves--rather, they are moves such as baby hooks and put backs, both of which can be performed with greater effectiveness.
Another area that has been revamped in NBA 2K2 is the AI. Most notably, Visual Concepts has implemented the ability to play zone defenses in the game. Rather than simply removing the illegal defense call, Visual Concepts has included actual zone sets, such as the 3-2, 2-3, 1-3-1, and the box and 1. The AI actually uses these zone defenses rather intelligently. A computer-controlled team will play zone defense when it's down by a wide margin so that it can discourage drives to the basket and speed up the game's tempo by forcing the opposing team into quick jumpers. On the offensive end of the floor, AI players will intelligently move the ball, find holes in the zone, and pull up for open shots. The addition of the realistic zone defenses adds much greater depth to the gameplay in NBA 2K2, as it is important to examine the opposing teams' strengths and weaknesses in picking defensive sets.
On the visual front, the enhancements aren't quite as dramatic. The textures are a little cleaner, but in general, the game looks very much like NBA 2K1. Which isn't such a bad thing, considering that NBA 2K1 was easily the most graphically impressive basketball game on the Dreamcast. Like in last year's game, many of the 3D player faces are eerily similar to their real-life counterparts. Additionally, the players show quite a bit of emotion--they'll smile, grimace, and scowl, depending on referee calls and other in-game situations. Aside from the actual gameplay visuals, the game's interface has received a face lift and is quite similar to the menu in NFL 2K2. The new menu is stylistically designed and is easier to navigate with the analog stick.
In terms of audio, NBA 2K2 now features an entirely new soundtrack. The hip-hop beats from last year's game were good, but this year's soundtrack features more robust productions, as well as the methodical beats from the game's title track by Lunatic--it's actually quite catchy. The sound effects and announcing remain essentially the same as those of last year's game.
The improvements in NBA 2K2 may be regarded as subtle changes in the grand scheme, but the enhancements are integral to the game, particularly in the gameplay department. As this stage, the game is shaping up nicely and should continue the series' brief lineage as one of the top basketball simulations on the market.