Visual Concept's NBA 2K series was one of the crown jewels in the Dreamcast's short life. VC's attention to detail and immersive gameplay were welcomed by sports gamers whose support made the series a force to be reckoned with. With Sega's shift to third-party development and the migration of its sports titles to all platforms, you can find out for yourself why VC's games have earned such a loyal following. We got a chance to check out a roughly 65-percent-complete version of the GameCube game, which is set to ship later this year, and it was coming together nicely. The game is receiving the same treatment that the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions received, and it's being tweaked and enhanced to take advantage of the hardware.
In spite of the disparities in format-- the game will ship on a custom GameCube disc rather than a DVD-- NBA 2K2 is aiming to offer all the enhancements included in the PS2 and Xbox incarnations of the game. To ensure that happens, VC has had a team of 34 people working on the game's development since early December.. The bulk of the team, 30 members, has been concentrating on refining the gameplay and tailoring the visual upgrades to the GameCube hardware's strengths. The remaining four members of the team have been working to ensure the game engine runs well on the GameCube and maintains the fluid performance that has been one of the series' hallmarks.
The time being spent to ensure the game ends up being more than just a port has resulted in the inclusion of the upgrades found in the newly released PS2 version and the upcoming Xbox version of the game. The GameCube's character models match the detail of the in-game models of the PS2's and appear a bit smoother than those in the PS2 as well. Besides the player models, everything in the game has been touched up and looks slightly cleaner, and the game maintains 60 frames per second throughout. The lighting tweaks, while subtle, add a nice touch to the various locations you'll be playing in. Although the GameCube manages graphics such as the reflections and the courts are handled differently from those in the Xbox or PS2 versions, the end result compares favorably to the other versions of the game.
The game's animation, which improves on the DC version'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. Another hook in NBA 2K2 is the sound. Visual Concepts is aiming for the commentary to be even more intelligent and varied than it is in the PS2 version, providing useful information and stat tracking during the game. The game will also feature improved ambient sound. GameCube owners with fully loaded home entertainment centers will be pleased with the new audio and video additions--the game includes Dolby Surround and progressive-scan support.
In terms of gameplay, Visual Concepts has actually improved on the refined gameplay found in the PS2 version. Like the PS2 game, the GameCube game will incorporate all the new NBA rules, such as zone defense. The team rosters have been tweaked a bit to keep them as current as possible; for example, Michael Curry will now start for Detroit. As for the game's modes, training will now feature a scrimmage option in addition to the standard and free-throw options. Scrimmage will walk you through plays, using onscreen icons that prompt you on how and when to dribble and pass. 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 teams, and the offensive system will present more of a challenge. Player statistics will play a larger part in the game as well, having a 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, and the Fonde Rec Center in Houston). You'll also find a new scoring system to better simulate a street hoops game. If you enjoy playing your own custom games, you'll be pleased to find that you'll be able to configure various conditions to your liking.
The control in the game is essentially the same as the other versions of the game, although there have been some refinements. The control layout is as solid as ever, though the free-throw interface will use the GameCube triggers just like the DC and Xbox versions. The Cube's controller feels right when you're playing the game, and the analog input of the triggers is especially responsive. The biggest refinement you will see will be when you try to steal the ball. The stealing mechanics have been revised, and a contextual steal feature has been implemented that will let the steal/pass button 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 GameCube. Visual Concepts appears to be doing a fine job tailoring the game to the GameCube's strengths. The graphics are coming together quite nicely, offering clean textures and a high amount of detail. The sound is solid with the excellent use of ambient sound and commentary. It's also nice to see that the game's most important aspect, the gameplay, is coming along just fine and looks to maintain the high standards of the series.
Sports fans eager to see what Sega and VC will do with the GameCube hardware can look for NBA 2K2 in March.