Street Hoops Preview

We get an exclusive look at the Xbox version of Activision's upcoming street-style basketball game.

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The basketball genre hasn't seen much in the way of new blood for a while now. Following the arcade-style infusion of Midway's NBA Jam and Showtime games from recent years, things have been pretty low-key. Traditional hoops franchises from EA and Sega Sports have been capably carrying the b-ball torch and satisfying fans of the sport, but the genre has pretty much been business as usual until recently. Developers looking to inject a bit of new blood into the genre have been trying to capture the look and feel of the street games that you'll find going on at most courts on any given day. The latest example of the movement is Activision's upcoming Street Hoops. Developed by Black Ops Entertainment, whose work includes March Madness 2000 and 2001 for the PlayStation, the game is a fast-paced mix of style and substance that offers a distinctive change of pace from traditional basketball games. We had a chance to get an exclusive look at the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions of the game to see how they are coming along.

You'll have a decent roster of players to choose from at first, but you'll be able to unlock even more players later.
You'll have a decent roster of players to choose from at first, but you'll be able to unlock even more players later.

Street Hoops will offer three choices at the main menu screen: quick start, game modes, and create a baller. Quick start is a speedy way to hop into a game with just two button presses--you'll just select a team and be thrown onto a randomly selected court. The game modes option gives you four game types to choose from: world tournament, lord of the court, full-court pickup, and half-court pickup. World tournament is a career mode that has you traveling the globe and competing against a variety of teams to earn money, move up in the rankings, and unlock new courts to play on. Lord of the court is a variation on that theme that charges you with defending your court against all comers in a series of games. The payoff for both modes--besides the knowledge that you are the man--is cash, and lots of it. As you go through the game, you'll be able to purchase a wide assortment of accessories and gear. If you've always wanted tattoos or the finest jewelry money could buy, you'll be able to live your dreams in the game, as you'll find quite a few shops hawking everything from gold teeth to new shoes. If the cash you're earning by winning games isn't enough to keep up with your tastes, you'll have the option to bet on games to supplement your income. The pickup games will let you play a three-on-three, four-on-four, or five-on-five match on any court that's been unlocked in world tournament mode.

When you hop into an actual game, you'll find that Street Hoops straddles the line between flash and gameplay. The control setup is pretty user-friendly, although it may take a few minutes to get the specifics of the game's special moves down. The game handles pretty well, and even though it could use some tightening up overall, it doesn't have any issues that can't be tweaked before it ships.

Graphically, Street Hoops is looking pretty solid. You'll find detailed re-creations of such well-known courts as NYC's West 4th Street, The Cage, LA's Venice Beach courts, Oakland's Mosswood Playground, Philadelphia's Lombard court, Chicago's Jackson Park, NYC's Rucker Park, Atlanta's Run n' Shoot, and New Orleans' Shakespeare Park. Everything from the graffiti to the surrounding areas is on display and well modeled. The player models are good overall, and some excellent work has been done with the players' faces, but clothing textures are a little sketchy. In addition to the main roster of players you'll initially be able to select from, which includes players featured in the And 1 Mix Tape Tour and Nike's "Freestyle" commercial series, you'll also be able to unlock well-known players such as AO, The Main Event, Half Man Half Amazing, Headache, Hot Sauce, Speedy Williams, Booger Smith, and The Future. Each player is easily recognizable and features his real-life counterpart's signature moves, which highlights the good incorporation of motion capture into the game. Of the two versions, the Xbox game obviously looked a bit sharper, with cleaner textures and crisper detail. However, the PlayStation 2 game managed to look comparable, although not quite as clean. In terms of frame rate, both games kept the action going at a fast and steady pace.

D'oh!
D'oh!

The game's sound works to complement its urban setting by incorporating a host of ambient sound effects on each of the courts. You'll hear trash talk from the players on the court and the decidedly fickle fans, as well as the standard assortment of ball and shoe noises when the ball is in play. The game's soundtrack features licensed tunes from such well-known hip-hop artists as DMX, Cypress Hill, Method Man and Redman, Master P, Xzibit, and Ludacris, along with instrumental tracks from Talib Kweli and Hi Tek, Coca Brovaz, and Mos Def, to name a few. The end result is a complete package that suits the game's tone nicely.

So far, Street Hoops is covering its bases pretty well. The assortment of modes is solid and the graphics are looking fine. The gameplay could use a bit more polish, but other than that, the game seems to be coming together fairly well. Street Hoops is currently slated to ship this summer. Look for more media from the game in the coming weeks.

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