NBA 2K6 Hands-On

Where did 2K Sports start when developing the gameplay for NBA 2K6 for Xbox 360? The big men.

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You've just released one of the most critically hailed basketball games in recent memory for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, and you're ready to take it to the next level in preparation for the launch of the Xbox 360. Where do you look to make improvements worthy of a next-generation sports game? If you're 2K Sports, developer and publisher of the upcoming NBA 2K6 for the Xbox 360, you look at the big men. Wait... The big men?

According to 2K6 producer Rob Jones, this is just where the team started when making gameplay improvements for the Xbox 360 version of the game: with the hulks that spend their time underneath the net grabbing rebounds and slamming dunks. Their reasoning: While scoring stats for guys like Yao Ming, Tim Duncan, and Shaq seemed to be pretty accurate when simulating games in the Xbox/PS2 versions, the amount of times these guys touched the ball seemed out of whack. In other words, teams weren't necessarily playing the way their real NBA counterparts were playing when it came to relying on the big men to act as lynch pins for the entire team by providing crucial points down low. It's from that very specific point that the development team looked to both tighten up the controls and beef up the artificial intelligence to make 2K6 for the 360 an even-better-playing game than the current-gen version.

One of the big focuses in development, then, has been in making sure that the NBA stars play to their tendencies. If you play a game against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, for example, you should be seeing Bryant taking shots over anyone who gets in his face. Similarly, LeBron James is more apt to have a star performance night after night, but generally in quieter fashion, dishing the ball off like a point guard should--while at the same time getting his 30 points. Once we got the controls in our hands, we saw this more accurate depiction of NBA stars' tendencies firsthand in a game that pit our Golden State Warriors against the Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady-led Houston Rockets. T-Mac, just as in real life, was taking (and usually making) shots from all over, making it extremely difficult to leave him alone anywhere on the court.

Another feature of the 360 version of 2K6 has been some considerable tightening of the controls. Jones admits that while it was cool to launch into a spin or a crossover move in previous versions of the game, the player never really felt like he or she had much control over the move itself. Instead, it was more a matter of setting off an animation and marveling at the cool moves your virtual player was capable of. With the 360 version of 2K6, some control tweaks effectively split things up, so you can choose exactly which move you want to break your opponent's ankles with. The right trigger still counts as the aggressive modifier for isomotion moves, but a whole new set of fancy tricks is available to you when you hold down both triggers at once, effectively letting you choose exactly when you wish to execute a behind-the-back move or a spin, for example. Furthermore, Jones said that there has been a further separation of player talent levels in 2K6 for the 360, which will affect the number and types of moves available to select players. In the past, the distinction was between great players and merely "decent" players. Now, a middle tier of talent has been added, signifying players who are extremely skilled (and are capable of some flashy moves) but aren't quite up to the superstar status of guys like Steve Nash or Dwyane Wade.

On the defensive side of the ball, many longtime 2K players will rejoice at hearing of the return of the left-trigger defensive modifier, a staple of previous games in the NBA 2K series. By holding down the left trigger, you'll be able to closely guard your opponent to more effectively prevent him from getting around you, even if he's pulling off isomotion moves. If you're worried that the "invisible wall" aspect of old will return with the reintroduction of this feature, fear not: In our time with the game, we didn't notice any of the artificial blocking that made this feature feel so strange in older versions of the game. In fact, Jones stressed that defensive positioning--staying between your opponent and the basket--will be just as important as using special moves, such as the left-trigger modifier or the strip-and-rip system.

Other improvements in the 360 version of 2K6 will be some improved substitution and endgame logic for the CPU-controlled opponents. While Jones admitted that previous versions of the game didn't always play smartly as the seconds dwindled down in the game--making bad shot choices, calling plays too late to run them completely, or simply not having "go-to" guys in at the right time--the 360 version of the game should see some marked improvement on that front. Now, when your opponent needs Shaq down low late in the game, you can bet he'll be there to make life under the basket hell for your pesky forwards.

One other point of authenticity we spotted in 2K6 was that TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager, long known as one of the more outlandishly dressed reporters in televised sports, will be in full hideous haute-couture effect in the game. We noticed one postgame interview in which the dude was wearing what appeared to be a lime-green lizard-skin jacket. Yeesh.

Best of all, none of the tweaks described above are coming at the expense of any modes found in the Xbox or PS2 versions of NBA 2K6. As a result, everything from franchise mode to 24/7 mode will be back in full effect when the game arrives with the launch of the Xbox 360. We're still very curious as to how the game will end up on the new console, but based on the success of its progenitor, we're optimistic of its chances. Stay tuned for more on the game, as well as a full review, in the coming weeks.

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