Before yesterday, practically our only glimpse of the Xbox 360 version of NBA 2K6 came in the form of a short clip featuring a certain "regal" member of the Cleveland Cavaliers and a sole wide-angle screenshot in our 2K6 Xbox 360 gamespace. Certainly, the brief demo movie, released several months ago, was enough to whet our appetites, but who knew how close to reality that clip would be once Xbox 360 crunch time rolled around? Well, folks, crunch time is officially here for the development crew at 2K Sports. With a little more than a month to go before the company's next-gen basketball game debuts, the team is looking to deliver on the promise made in that short movie, and, based on our exclusive first look at the playable game, its chances of doing just that look excellent.
We won't mince our words: NBA 2K6 is looking sharp, indeed. Viewing the game running on 360 hardware, we were struck by all the visual treats--so many, in fact, that it was hard to focus on one particular thing for long. We went from admiring the impressive modeling detail and skin textures on Shaquille O'Neal's face one moment, to marveling at the astonishing cloth physics on player uniforms, which made for realistic undulations on them as the players drove to the basket or went up for a big block. Yes, it's only cloth physics, but it was still an impressive display and indicative of the 360's pixel-pushing power.
As you might expect, player models in the 360 version of 2K6 look fantastic. Even better--and this is an important point--they animate in a manner that lives up to the quality of the player models. Of course, they weren't perfect--there were some collision problems here and there--but it's obvious that a lot of the work that went into the animations for the Xbox and PS2 versions of 2K6 has translated successfully into the 360 as well.
The single most impressive visual aspect of the demo was the overall sense of immersion found in the game, thanks in large part to the camera angle on display, which featured a low, on-the-floor viewpoint that really made you feel as though you were in the middle of the action. Subtle depth of field tricks that blurred players who were closer to the camera (thus out of focus) added to the visceral effect, lending a real sense of tempo and drama to the game unfolding on the court. It's a bit too early to tell if this will be an effective camera angle when actually playing the game; the low perspective didn't really give you much of a view of the entire court or your teammates. But when played for dramatic effect, with players darting in and out of the camera frame, this point of view was certainly a winner.
The brief gameplay session we watched featured a showdown between the Shaq- and Dwayne Wade-led Miami Heat against the nuclear offensive attack of Steve Nash and his Phoenix Suns. Our host for the demo was Visual Concepts head honcho Greg Thomas, who spent a good amount of time explaining some of the visual subtleties that have been worked into this game. Glistening sweat droplets that actually streaked down Shaq's face in real time (we saw it happen during a close-up replay) have us convinced that, for the next generation of consoles, sweat effects are the new lens flare. Another huge part of the kinetic feel of the game was the crowd, which appeared less like a teeming mass of synchronized swimmers and more like a group of individuals cheering on their teams. We didn't notice any specific frame rate issues in our look, and Thomas was quick to assure us that the game, complete with (or perhaps despite of) this detail, would be running at 60 frames per second at launch.
So, we know how the game's shaping up graphically--but what do we know about gameplay? Not a lot at this point. Thomas and his team are keeping specific features, game modes, and gameplay controls under wraps for now, though it's probably safe to assume that the control innovations that have defined the NBA 2K series of late--the isomotion and shot stick controls, especially--should be well intact for the 360 version of the game. In our one-on-one talk with Thomas (which you can view here), he was quick to point out one of the essential technological benefits of the Xbox 360 hardware: precision. The capacity of the console, Thomas said, has let his team build levels of precision across practically every aspect of the game--from graphical detail to controls and nearly everything in between.
Undoubtedly, this is a crucial game for Thomas, his development team, and 2K Sports in general. Scheduled as a launch title for the November release of the Xbox 360, NBA 2K6 will be going head-to-head against EA Sports' own hoops game, which is also set for a launch debut. And although it's impossible to comment on gameplay until we actually get some hands-on time with the game, if the 360 version of 2K6 can maintain the level of quality found in the Xbox and PS2 versions without sacrificing too much in the way of features and game modes, the next generation of sports gaming will surely begin with a bang. Expect to see much more on NBA 2K6 for the Xbox 360 in the future.