NBA 2K4 Impressions

The newest addition to the NBA 2K series is at E3, and we have the latest details.

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One of the primary showcases in the Sega Sports area of Sega's E3 2003 display is NBA 2K4, the latest installment in the Visual Concepts-developed basketball series. Though last year's game was by all accounts enjoyable in a very technically accurate way, it lacked the furious pacing and true excitement of the real-life NBA. Thankfully, NBA 2K4 appears to be poised to correct any and all of its most recent predecessor's issues, and provide an even more realistic basketball experience than ever before.

The first thing you will probably notice about NBA 2K4's gameplay is its speed. The game is significantly faster across the board, with much quicker pacing and much more action going on around you. Fast breaks are easier to achieve, thanks to this newfound speed, as are the crossovers and pass transitions. The passing mechanics have been improved with the addition of no-look and behind-the-back passes, which add flair to the passing game. The game's controls also felt much more responsive, letting you fire shots off much quicker and easier than in previous games.

All the most notable game modes from previous NBA 2K games will be making a return this year, including a new and improved franchise mode that will allow up to 30 different players to maintain and manage NBA franchises on one saved game. Online play will also be greatly improved for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game, with downloadable roster updates, chat, USB keyboard support, and improved ranking systems.

NBA 2K4 has also received a fairly impressive visual overhaul. The character models have been tweaked for increased realism. We noticed this especially in the skin textures of the players, which looked much less artificial and plasticlike than in previous games. All-new, photo-realistic facial maps have been given to all the main NBA starters, giving each character model much more of a unique look. Returning in an improved fashion is last year's innovation of realistic sweat texturing. The dunked-in-cooking-oil shine has been largely toned down, and instead you see what looks like realistic perspiration on the players' skin and jerseys.

Like in all the new Sega Sports titles, the ESPN license is in much fuller effect in NBA 2K4. Stat overlays, replays, and even the use of the familiar ESPN news desk in the main menu screen add up to give the game the authentic ESPN look. The one aspect of the game that notably lacked the ESPN touch was the commentary. In the current build, the commentary was provided by the same team of voice actors from last year's game. We were told that the state of the game's commentary could change, but nothing was said beyond that.

NBA 2K4 is slated for a fall release on the Xbox and PlayStation 2. Expect more coverage on this game in the weeks to come.

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