NBA 2K2 Preview

We deliver some last-minute impressions of VC's hoops game just before it ships.

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NBA 2K2 for the PlayStation 2 is nearing completion and should be hitting store shelves shortly. Visual Concepts, the game's developer, wasn't satisfied to churn out a direct port of the Dreamcast version and has made several additions and changes to the PlayStation 2 version. We took a near-complete build of the game through its paces to bring you our last-minute impressions before the game arrives at retailers nationwide.

The players now have new facial expressions

The PlayStation 2 version of NBA 2K2 features the same basic game modes as the Dreamcast version: exhibition, season, franchise, street, and practice. However, the street and practice modes have received a few additions. For starters, the scoring in the street mode now follows the familiar "play to 21" scoring system. In this mode, three-point shots count for two points, and all other shots yield a single point--the first team to reach 21 wins. You will also be able to set it so that teams have to win by a margin of two points. In addition to the new scoring system, there are four new street courts in the game, for a total of eight. The new street courts are the Fonde Rec Center, Run 'N Shoot, Mosswood Park, and Hank Gathers Rec Center.

In terms of the practice mode, the new additions are a bit more pronounced. You can still practice shooting, dunking, and dribbling to your heart's content, but the PlayStation 2 game also includes the ability to scrimmage and practice free throws. The scrimmage mode isn't a full game, but instead it focuses on teaching the intricacies of running individual plays. Scrimmage is played in a half-court setting, and the offensive team must run a variety of random plays, with cursors pointing out the direction of ball movement, picks, and such. The free-throw practice mode plays just as it sounds. You can line up and take as many free-throw shots as you like, and the game keeps track of your shooting percentage. Interestingly, on the PlayStation 2 Dual Shock controller, the left and right arrows for shooting free throws are mapped to the left and right analog sticks. This new configuration is a little tricky at first but can become second nature with practice.

The same holds true for the general control scheme in the PlayStation 2 version. If you are a veteran of the Dreamcast game, the PS2 control does take some getting used to. The controls are mapped as such: The L1 button is used to face up on defense and back down in the post on offense, L2 double-teams on defense and also calls for a pick, R1 is used to turbo, and pressing R2 performs an intentional foul on defense and passes to the man closest to the hoop on offense. In terms of the face buttons, triangle switches to the last man back and is used for icon passing on offense, circle is used to steal on defense and performs a variety of dribble moves on offense, square blocks and is also used to shoot, and the X button is used to pass on offense and switch defenders. However, once you are familiar with the control scheme, you can begin to take advantage of the variety of new moves available in the game.

One of the areas that Visual Concepts has addressed quite heavily during the game's transition to the PlayStation 2 is the animation. Subtle changes have been made to the drop-step move, the steal and block animations, and to the way defenders face up to the offensive player. However, there are a few noticeable tweaks in the animations department that significantly change how the game plays. Most prominently, Visual Concepts has added a wide array of new dribble moves in NBA 2K2 for the PlayStation 2. You can now perform one-handed crossovers, spin moves where the player changes his dribble hand, fake crossovers, and even some exaggerated crossovers where the player nearly palms the ball. All of this adds up to a more wide-open, faster-paced game. The AI defense seems a bit stingier, perhaps to compensate for the more robust dribble moves, but frequently you'll find yourself faking out the defender and taking it to the hole in the PS2 version, at least more so than in the Dreamcast original.

New dribble moves add to options available in the offensive game

In terms of other changes in the animations department, the shooting in the PS2 version seems to be more collision-specific. If there is a defender in front of you, even if you're pulling up for a long-range three, your player will usually take a fadeaway, off-balance shot. This results in lower shooting percentages, especially from beyond the arc. Additionally, the alley-oop has gotten a bit easier, and players will often throw alley-oop passes from beyond half-court on the fast break. Finally, unlike in the Dreamcast version, players no longer stop to receive the ball when it is passed ahead on a break. They will catch it in stride and transition into the dribble animation more smoothly.

Graphically, the PlayStation 2 game is an improvement on the Dreamcast version. There are new player celebrations in the game, which highlight the newly implemented facial expressions found in the PS2 version. These new player celebrations are more visible during the in-game replays, which now have full commentary with them. So, for example, when Kobe Bryant breaks down a defender and goes in for a dunk, the announcing team will talk about the play as it is being shown in the replay. The player models themselves look a bit cleaner in the PS2 version and have higher polygon counts than those in the original Dreamcast game. The arenas haven't changed much when compared to the original game, except that now there are dance teams and cameramen on the sidelines.

At this point, the development on NBA 2K2 for the PlayStation 2 is essentially complete--the frame rate is smooth at 60fps, and all of the modes, teams, players, and arenas are in the game. The game will be out soon on the PlayStation 2, and we will have a full review as it hits the street.

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