If there's one sport that Electronic Arts has yet to perfect, it's NBA basketball. In the past, EA has had little to no competition for its NBA Live franchise, but with Sega's new multiplatform stance, the tables have suddenly turned. The NBA 2K franchise has long been considered the best the genre had to offer, but up until now it was only available on Sega's faltering Dreamcast console. NBA 2K2 is the series' first outing on a non-Sega console, and it proves just how complacent EA Sports has become with its basketball series.
Like any good sports simulation, NBA 2K2 has plenty of gameplay modes to keep players happy, whether they're squaring off against the computer or against friends. In addition to a rudimentary multiplayer mode for up to four players, NBA 2K2 also includes a franchise mode that carries statistics and rosters over from one year to the next. There's also a single season option for those who like to build a dynasty from scratch each year, a playoffs mode for the impatient, and a fantasy option for those who enjoy redrafting teams for each season. Trades, free-agent signings, and the ability to scout college players are all at your disposal and are simplified just enough to make such transactions appeal to the average player. As in past installments of the franchise, there's a street mode included that allows you to play on nine of the most popular playgrounds in America and show your street-ball skills. Practice and tournament modes round out the package--leaving virtually no stone unturned.
NBA 2K2 has earned a reputation for being the most in-depth basketball simulation on the market, and the PlayStation 2 iteration does nothing to change that. Zone defenses are new to the NBA this season, and NBA 2K2 will let you call a 3-2 on the fly to clog up the lane. Virtually any offensive or defensive play can be called with a flick of the right analog stick, and calling the right offensive set can immediately open the lane for a drive. Each team has its own specific playbook, so it's entirely possible to run the triangle offense with the Lakers or run isolation plays to get Allen Iverson the ball while playing as the 76ers. If you're unhappy with controlling your team's strategy on the fly, you can simply adjust the game's menu-driven coaching strategies. The inside post game is excellent. You can back a defender down into the paint, only to spin off and perform one of the many dynamic post moves included in the game. Defending against post moves is also possible thanks to a plethora of countermoves, but the advantage still seems to be with the offensive player most of the time.
Special dribbles are included in the game, but which move is performed is determined by the computer depending on the location and speed of your player. It works well the majority of the time, but other times special dribbles will cause your player to run out of bounds or directly into the chest of a defender. Stealing the ball is almost impossible unless the opposition is performing a special dribble, and making or missing shots is often arbitrary. It can be frustrating to watch a forward or center make a three-point shot with two players in his face while your shooting guard misses a wide-open jump shot the next time down the court. The computer AI has undergone some adjustments that keep players from being fooled as easily by pump fakes as they were in last year's game, and the fast break has been fixed so that players no longer stop when receiving the ball on the run. The computer can be difficult to beat on anything but the rookie setting, and a more gradual increase in difficulty would have been nice. In the early going, you'll either kick the computer's butt on the rookie setting or get yours handed to you in the pro and all-star difficulties.
There are still some annoying bugs in NBA 2K2 that Visual Concepts has yet to squash. Teammates will stand out of bounds while you're inbounding the ball, goaltending is usually called only when the shot is blocked just before it hits the rim, and you can often push opposing players off the court. Passing with the analog stick can also be an adventure, so it's advised to master the game's icon passing. Despite these issues, NBA 2K2 is still the best-playing basketball simulation on the market. There are enough gameplay modes to keep most anyone happy, the controls are tight and intuitive, and the degree of team management the player possesses on the court is staggering.
NBA 2K2 for the PlayStation 2 may be a port of the Dreamcast version of the game, but it's still the best-looking game of roundball on the console. The players are generously modeled with enough polygons to create flowing curves, and the facial textures make it easy to tell Steve Francis apart from Sam Cassell. Players' faces will animate when they talk trash and their eyes will follow other players on the court, but the flatly shaded textures used to cover their bodies can make them almost look like cartoon characters. The arenas are accurately modeled, right down to every last luxury box and seating section, but the monochromatic crowd can be ugly when viewed up close. But where NBA 2K2 separates itself from the competition is in its animation. Visual Concepts motion-captured more than 2,200 animations for NBA 2K2, and they bring the game to life. Beyond the excellent shooting, dunking, and blocking animations, there are a wealth of transition routines that will make players continue to run after a failed steal attempt or react realistically to being jostled by another player. Another slight issue is the way players receive passes. The game seems fine at full speed, but during replays the ball will strike a player virtually anywhere on his body and will then be magically transferred to his hands. These slight issues aside, NBA 2K2 is the most visually impressive basketball game for the PlayStation 2. The player models are accurate, the animations are second to none, and the speed of the game is nearly perfect.
One aspect of the NBA 2K franchise that has yet to live up to the standards of Visual Concepts' other sports games is the play-by-play announcing. The two-man team does an adequate job of keeping up with the action, but their statements tend to repeat too often and their analysis rarely goes beyond the current play. The ambient sounds effects are excellent, however. Players will talk to each other while running down the court and call for a pass, and after especially impressive plays, you can hear players talking trash to each other or celebrating aloud. Team-specific chants are included in the game, and you'll often hear single fans making comments about the game. While the play-by-play can grate on the nerves, the rest of the auditory experience offered by NBA 2K2 is at the top of its class.
NBA 2K2 for the PlayStation 2 has some slight issues, but they're not nearly enough to undermine the package as a whole. Virtually every aspect of the real NBA game is accurately represented and well implemented to provide a roundball experience that is second to none. If you have a PlayStation 2 and are looking for a simulation-style basketball game, NBA 2K2 is by far the best option.