Those still not familiar with Sega's NBA 2K series--take notice. Last year's NBA 2K1 was easily one of the best basketball games on the market. This year's version--which comes complete with revamped animation, new zone defenses, and improved AI--garnishes that winning formula to create the most true-to-life simulation of the National Basketball League to date. Sure, NBA 2K2 has the upgraded teams and rosters, including "His Airness" Michael Jordan, all the rookies, and new free-agent signees, but it is also a more polished and realistic product than last year's game.
Primarily due to the smoother, more detailed animation in the game, the gameplay in NBA 2K2 feels more fluid and effortless. Transition between sequences, such as rebounds and outlet passes and dribble moves and dunks, blend together to give the game a continuous flow. Complementing this, the players in NBA 2K2 respond slightly quicker to button commands, which generally leads to faster gameplay overall.
In the post, Visual Concepts has found a happy medium between the unstoppable spin to the basket from NBA 2K and the complete lack of a post spin from last year's game. NBA 2K2 features a realistic drop-step move, which lets you drop the offensive post player's lead leg in the lane or toward the baseline side so that you can make a move to the basket. If you're able to catch the defender leaning the wrong way, you're left open to complete the move. However, the defensive player can stop the post spin by anticipating the direction of the drop step and beating his man to the spot. The jumper animation is also now more complex and actually has an effect on the gameplay, as it is doubly important to release the ball at the top of the jumper. These are subtle details for sure, but it is this type of attention to detail that permeates throughout NBA 2K2.
The game's AI has also improved in general. In last year's game, the computer-controlled players were a bit laid-back on offense, as they would run the clock down before putting up shots, effectively slowing the pace of the game. Although there is still quite a bit of room for improvement, this year's AI players are more adept in that area. They are more aggressive and are able to take greater advantage of defensive mistakes, particularly against the game's new zone formations. Still, the AI players hardly exploit mismatches on the floor. This is one of the major strategies used in basketball, and one that continues to go ignored in hoops simulations.
NBA 2K2 retains the primary modes of play from last year's game. The exhibition, practice, tournament, and franchise mode return virtually unchanged. The network and street modes feature marginal enhancements. Visual Concepts has included new outdoor courts in the street mode, while options like the ability to track wins and losses are available in the network mode. With all these gameplay modes, particularly the robust franchise mode, NBA 2K2 has plenty of replay value, as players are able to virtually replicate actual league matchups at will or take to the street courts with both current and legendary NBA players.
Although there have been quite a few notable enhancements in the gameplay department, the same cannot be said for the game's graphics. NBA 2K2 looks almost identical to last year's game, which isn't such a bad thing. It means that the game features smooth player models, detailed courts, and the most true-to-life player faces seen to date in basketball games. Also included are the pregame player introductions and a variety of cutscenes during free throws and after big plays.
In terms of the audio, the announcing team returns for NBA 2K2, with a handful of new phrases in tow. The commentary is usually spot-on, and the tongue-in-cheek banter of the two announcers, although a bit cheesy, is usually quite bearable. The sound effects return unchanged. Players will talk trash on the floor and coaches will bark out orders, just as in last year's game.
Ask fans of sports video games, and most will generally agree that basketball is the toughest sport to simulate. The evidence is in the myriad of NBA and college hoops games that have been released throughout the years--there have been quite a few poor efforts. However, of any hoops game to date, NBA 2K2 comes the closest to simulating the actual strategy, player tendencies, and general look and feel of the NBA game. The improvements in the game, although subtle on the surface, are substantial for serious fans of the NBA.