X05: NBA 2K6 Hands-On

We take this awesome looking next-gen hoops game for a spin in our first hands-on.

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AMSTERDAM--Last week, 2K Sports lit a fire underneath sports gamers with the release of the first gameplay footage of the developer's next-generation basketball debut: NBA 2K6. We were lucky enough to get a glimpse of the gorgeous game running on Xbox 360 hardware live from the 2K offices but, despite our desperate pleas, we weren't able to convince them to hand over the controller. Until tonight's X05 event, that is. We spent a good while with the next-gen hoopster and are here to tell you that, yes, what we saw was gameplay and, yes, it's playing awfully well so far.

First things first: If you're familiar with NBA 2K6 on the Xbox or PS2, you'll feel right at home in the Xbox 360 version. There are no big control changes to speak of, and the interface looks exactly the same as the one found on consoles on this generation. This does not mean, however, that the 2K development team is taking time off from honing the game for the 360. In fact, the game's producers tell us that the development team is still in the process of making subtle but essential tweaks to the passing system, as well as fixing some performance issues with the shot stick that will be ironed out by the time the game ships. Still, moving up and down the court, pulling off passes, and throwing down jams--even putting up the free throws--feels remarkably similar to the Xbox and PS2 versions of the game, which is just fine with us.

If you read our last preview of the game, you'll know we raved about the camera shown off in the brief demo--a lowdown and up-close view of the game that really lent a sense of motion and kinetic drive to the action on the hardwood. As nice as that point of view looked, and as much drama as it lent to the action, it's probably not an ideal gameplay camera angle. To that end, we tried out a number of different angles in our time with the game, including a more vertical view that gave you a good look upcourt, and a brand-new angle that was elevated off the floor and at an angle--almost an isometric point of view--that took some getting used to. The team is still investigating ideal camera placement, so don't be surprised if things change further before the game hits store shelves.

One thing that likely won't be changing much is the feature list for NBA 2K6. While producers remained mum on details, 2K6 will be shipping with features such as the franchise mode and 24/7 mode intact. The same tough computer opponents that we've come to love in the Xbox and PS2 versions of 2K6 seemed intact as well--we tried the old "long pass upcourt" trick more than once just to see if the artificial intelligence was paying attention, and lo and behold, it usually was, picking off nearly every one of our ill-advised passes and bringing the ball right back to our basket. (So, maybe we're the ones in need of some AI tweaking.)

The camera angle we eventually settled on with 2K6--the broadcast view--didn't really do as great a job at showing off the astounding player models in 2K6, which really need to be viewed closer up to appreciate their full quality; but it did show off the game's brisk pace. Here was a next-generation sports game running 10 players on the court with next to zero frame rate problems that we could notice. Besides, the distanced camera view made the replays, which show off the spectacularly lifelike NBA player models to great effect, that much more effective. We also got a closer look at the cloth physics that are being heavily promoted by the developer (and can even be seen in other 2K games such as Top Spin 2). That realistic swing of cloth isn't something you notice right off the bat, really; but once you take note of it, you realize that it's a subtle-but-realistic effect that's easy to appreciate.

As impressed as we were with last week's sneak peek at NBA 2K6's gorgeous graphics, we're pleased (and relieved) to report that the gameplay and controls seem to coming along just as well as you could expect. There is certainly still more work for the development team to do--and we're certainly curious to find out what, if any, Xbox 360-only features the game will offer--but our time with the game has confirmed that NBA 2K6 hasn't strayed from the path that began with current-generation versions of 2K6--a path we agree with. NBA 2K6 is currently set to launch with the console, and we'll have a full review of the game as soon as it does.

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