NBA Street V3 Review (Xbox)

As the real NBA hits their "All-Star Weekend" and prepares for the homestretch push to the playoffs, the team at EA Sports Big has released a late-season addition to an already crowded basketball market with the third chapter in the their "Street" series simply titled “NBA Street V3”. Checking in over three months after the latest round of b-ball titles, will the extra time, fresh legs, and street edge find a way to score significant console minutes? How will they respond to the critical success of that other street ball game? Lace them kicks up tight. Tilt that cap. Pull them socks up high. It’s on.

I’ll be honest; my previous experience with the "Street" series has been on the PS2. So, needless to say, I was a little bit worried about how the Xbox controls would translate with this title. I know that message boards around the web have been buzzing with purists saying that the Sony controller is the only one capable of truly pulling of the combos needed to really score the big tricks on Street. Out of those discussions, the "Trick Stick" control was born. Now, instead of being forced to hit specific turbo buttons in conjunction with game pad buttons, it’s now assigned to the right analog stick. Hold down turbo (or multiple turbos) and move the stick in the desired direction to perform your trick or string of tricks. It’s really quite natural on the Xbox controller, and feels much more intuitive than holding five different buttons at the same time in the old days.

Another welcome addition is a user controlled "Gamebreaker". No more canned "Gamebreaker" animations this year. Instead, when you go up for a dunk, you are essentially in control of an on-the-fly slam-dunk contest. You string mid-air tricks together, even dishing off to a teammate (or two) to land the ultimate three-man "Gamebreaker". A meter tracks your risk level, allowing you to earn as many as four points for your dunk. But, be wary - go for too much or mess up the timing and you'll get nothing! It's a great new twist that keeps you coming back for another try at the sickest dunk you can create.
Once you’ve mastered the new controls and checked out the new "Gamebreaker", it’s time to hit the courts. This year’s bread and butter is the “Street Challenge”, a story mode that has you building your character, your reputation, your team, and even your own court while competing in various games over the course of ten weeks. Pickup games to 21, trick point contests, and even first to a "Gamebreaker" games are just a few of challenges you’ll find as you hone your skills. It’s starts off rather slowly, but it doesn’t take long before the street legends, the NBA and major sponsors start noticing you, and you'll start getting into some real pulse-pounding match-ups.
Creating and customizing your character is more than just the standard fare that you find in most games. While not quite reaching the depth and breadth we saw in EA’s sleeper hit "Def Jam: Fight for New York", the system in “NBA Street V3” allows you to build your character to your liking with detail not seen in many other titles.
However, it doesn’t stop at just creating your character and picking out his fly threads. This year’s version has even included both a court and a shoe creator. The “Court Creator” is a deep and welcome addition to the franchise. Pick your court’s surface, background, colors, wear and tear, and even the backboard and net. It all starts out rather basic, but as you work through the “Street Challenge”, your court can be just about anything you can imagine in the street world.
Equally cool, but a little bit more poorly executed is the “Shoe Creator.” The concept, while not new, is a nice addition, but it's pretty limited in this release. You start out with a basic shoe and you're really limited in what you can do to it. All in all, once you have them on the court, you'll really only change the colors. I’d like to see a lot more with this mode next year.

"That’s all fine and good," you say, "but how does it play?" Well, fine and good. My only complaint about gameplay is that I, personally, have found it to be a little too easy. For the purpose of this review, I played at the “medium” difficulty level. It wasn’t until my 24th game in “Street Challenge” mode that I finally lost. I played a few games outside of the challenge at a higher difficulty, but I still won them rather handily. That’s not to say it’s not fun, I would just suggest the experienced "Street" gamers start at the most difficult level right out of the box.

There’s a certain type of gamer in the world that is willing to overlook gameplay flaws as long as the game looks good. Pretty packages can make-up for shortcomings in other areas. Conversely, many gamers will take great gameplay with stick figures that move like they’re fresh off the Atari 2600. I call that the “High Heat Phenomenon.” So what do you get when you have a game with solid gameplay and a visually stunning presentation? Well, quite frankly, you have “NBA Street V3”.

As a reviewer, I have to be very careful not to make grandiose statements that proclaim games, or at least certain aspects of them, are the "best ever" or "best out there". However, to put it simply, “NBA Street V3” is the best-looking basketball game that I have ever played. With beautifully rendered player models, stunning courts, and some of the smoothest, crispest animations in sports gaming history, it’s a visual experience that is hard to describe. You really feel a difference during gameplay. The artists that created this title take you from the dark and dank inner city to sunny beaches to indoor courts with some of the most amazing lighting and shadow use that you will see. It’s a must see.

While my eyes were being treated, I did, sadly, feel like my ears were being deprived. There’s an old “rule” in the radio industry that says never use a sound effect unless the spot doesn’t work without it. The same thing, to me, has always applied to gaming. Games like the "Grand Theft Auto" series lose so much of the fun factor when the volume is down. Without the need for a true play-by-play announcer, “Street”, like many other “extreme” games, chooses to use the running music soundtrack mixed with an announcer - in this case, Bobbito Garcia - jumping in with an exclamation here and there. It didn’t work on this title. Garcia shouts random comments that can start repeating on consecutive plays. I felt like I had heard everything he had to say by the end of my second game to 21. And unfortunately, the only thing available to mask it was a pretty weak soundtrack filled with mostly empty beats, obscure artists, or old school jams that seem like they're on every other title on the market. Maybe the visuals gave me unfair expectations from the audio side, but it is one of the few weak points in this game.

Takin’ it to the streets, Xbox Live style! All of you online junkies will be happy to know that “NBA Street V3” is Live and presents an solid overall experience. EA’s first seven months of Xbox Live have been a mix of silky-smooth jumpers and rim-cracking bricks. Well, you’ll be happy to know that “NBA Street V3” is a lot more "Madden" than it is "NCAA Football". The gameplay is smooth with no real noticeable slowdown in any of the available modes. Whether it's a three-on-three street match or a one-on-one dunk contest, you can take your custom street creation online and find a match-up at almost any time of day.

That’s not to say that it’s perfect. I would really like to take my stud from “Street Challenge” mode to the online world but, instead, you are forced to create a new online character that is stored server-side. Plus, even in the first 36 hours of the games release, I already found myself in numerous random match-ups with gamers that had already learned a, let’s say, “cheddar” way to play the game.

I wasn’t sure if there was a place in my console for another basketball game this year. It’s been a banner year on the hardwood with three separate titles garnering significant playing time on my big green machine. I didn’t think “NBA Street V3” had the chops to crack the lineup. I’m pleased to say that I was very, very wrong. Besides a few minor complaints with the audio and the online experience, this is one of the best basketball games on the market. In fact, this is one of the best sports games on the market. The gameplay is solid, the customization is deep and immersive, and it’s absolutely stunning visually. It’s a slam-dunk for "Street" series veterans or rookies ready to make the leap.

NBA Street V3 Score
out of 10