With Sega picking up steam as a third-party developer, Visual Concepts has continued to bring its popular sports franchises to all platforms. Following the recent release of NFL 2K2 for the Xbox, Visual Concepts is readying NBA 2K2 for Microsoft's newly introduced console. Not content to merely produce a port of the existing NBA 2K2 game for the Dreamcast, Visual Concepts has taken the time to do some work on the game to better take advantage of the Xbox hardware. We had a chance to check out a roughly 85-percent-complete build of NBA 2K2 for the Xbox, which looks like it's coming along just fine.
While it may seem as though the Xbox version of NBA 2K2 is an enhanced port of the DC version, that's not really the case. It may be more accurate to view the game as an enhanced conversion of Visual Concepts' recent release of NBA 2K2 on the PlayStation 2. The game has been in development for the Xbox since December, with a staff of 32 working to beef the game up for its new home. Amazingly, only two members of the team have been needed to get the game running on the Xbox hardware--the rest have been working on refinements to the visuals and gameplay. The benefits will be seen in everything the game will offer. The Xbox game will sport all the features and enhancements found in PS2 version of NBA 2K2, and it will also feature further improvements, thanks to Visual Concepts' customary attention to detail. The end result is likely to provide the most refined and polished version of NBA 2K2 to date.
Thanks to the Xbox hardware, the game's graphics and sound have undergone even more refinements since the PS2 version. The Xbox is able use the high-poly player models used in NBA 2K2's replays on the PS2 for actual gameplay. Made up of roughly 6,000 polys, the players look very good on the Xbox. Outside of the player models, everything in the game has been touched up and looks slightly cleaner, and the game maintains a 60fps frame rate throughout. The lighting tweaks, while subtle, add nice touches to the various locations you'll be playing in. The game's animation, which improves on the DC's solid animation with the addition of new moves and transitional animations, is fast and fluid. Little touches, such as the wide range of facial animations that reflect a player's mood based on a situation in the game, will definitely keep you immersed in the game while playing. Another hook in NBA 2K2 is the sound. Visual Concepts is aiming for the commentary to be even more intelligent and varied than that of the PS2 version, providing useful information and stat tracking during the game. The game will also feature improved ambient sound. Xbox owners with tricked-out home entertainment centers will be especially pleased with the new additions, as the game includes HDTV and Dolby Surround support.
In terms of gameplay, Visual Concepts has actually improved on the refined gameplay found in the PS2 version. As in the PS2 version, the game will incorporate all the new NBA rules, such as zone defense. The team rosters have also been tweaked a bit to keep them as current as possible--for example, Michael Curry will start for Detroit. In terms of the game's modes, the training mode will now feature the "scrimmage" option in addition to the standard and free throw options seen in the PS2 version. Scrimmage will walk you through plays, prompting you on how and when to dribble and pass using onscreen icons. The game will also feature specific playbooks for the number of people playing, ranging from one-on-one to four-on-four plays. The AI in the game will also offer a better challenge in the single-player modes. Coaches will call time-outs to protect their team, and the offensive system will present more of a challenge to players. Player statistics will play a larger part in the game as well, having greater influence on the outcome of player matchups on the court. The street mode will feature the four new courts added to the PS2 game (the Hank Gathers Rec Center in Philadelphia, Run N Shoot in Atlanta, Venice Beach in California, the Fonde Rec Center in Houston), and it will also sport a new scoring system. You will also be able to configure the game conditions to your liking.
The control in the game is essentially the same, although there have been some refinements. The control layout is as solid as ever, though the free-throw interface will use the Xbox triggers instead of the analog sticks. The biggest refinement players will see will be when they try to steal the ball. The stealing mechanics have been revised, and a contextual steal feature has been implemented that will allow the steal/pass button to have extra functionality when the ball is in the air. The feature takes a bit of getting used to, but once you have it down, it adds another dimension to the gameplay.
So far, NBA 2K2 is shaping up very well on the Xbox. Visual Concepts appears to be doing a fine job tailoring the game to the hardware's strengths. The graphics are coming together well, the sound is solid, and the gameplay lives up to the high standards of the series. We're looking forward to the game's release to see how much Visual Concepts can do with the game on the Xbox. You can look for NBA 2K2 in March 2002.