NBA ShootOut 2004 Review (PS2)
Last year's NBA Shootout suffered from inept game play at times, unresponsive controls (Freestyle movement), and mediocre graphics. Does “NBA Shootout 2004” improve upon this?? Read on to find out.
The game starts off with a flashy opening video of some of the superstars in the NBA doing their thing. Dunks are aplenty in this video. 989 deserves props for doing a good job on this portion of the game. It really gets you pumped up about playing.
The game features a plethora of options, ranging from quick play (pick 2 teams and play), to career play (take your player through a career), and online modes. The game also features a number of all-time greats, 53 to be exact, that need to be unlocked to play. They give you a number of achievements that need to be accomplished in a game; for example, you need to achieve 20 points and 13 rebounds with a center from the Knicks to unlock one of these greats. The game also features a very good create-a-player mode. A number of attributes are given to the player to customize. These include head, body (only 5 types of appearances to choose from), attributes, and the ability to add accessories like socks, shorts, type of shoes, etc. One also has the ability to customize the player's personality - for example, if you want your created player to be more aggressive than passive, you can make him so by adjusting the required slider.
Another mode that is unique and only present in “NBA Shootout” is the ability to create your own dunk. You can select from a number of default dunk types (two-hand hang, reverse hang, etc.) Once this is done, you select the limb you want to edit/move around. You can get some weird looking dunks doing this. This mode is handled nicely, and offers a variety of dunk types.
Also present in the game is voice recognition, or “VR”. This feature only works in single player game modes. To use it all you have to do is press L1 and speak your command; for example, to call a timeout you would say "Call timeout". This is unique and takes that next step of interaction between the player and the game. This is the future of gaming - right here, my friends. The ability to send a voice command to set up a play is very cool. Kudos to 989 Sports for being the first ones to implement this in a sports game.
“NBA Shootout” really hasn't changed much from last year's effort, otherwise. Our own Clay Shaver reviewed “NBA Shootout 2003” and pointed out how the game play was improved and a few tweaks here and there could seriously make this game a contender. Unfortunately, the game play improvements for this year have halted. The game plays and feels very similar to last year's game. A number of game play anomalies are present; for example, there are a high number of blocked shots. If timed correctly (and this doesn't take much effort), one can block with ease and at a high percentage. The crossover system, a la EA's “Freestyle” controls, has been unresponsive at times and useless. I can't recall how many times I tried pressing the right analog stick to command a crossover, but nothing happened. This needs to be addressed for next year's game.
A number of things “NBA Shootout 2004” does well are on defense. Players will position themselves under the basket and switch players when needed. It feels like you have good control over this part of the game. The computer AI will juke and hesitate on the dribble and puts up a good fight. The AI also likes to pound the ball inside for a high percentage shot. Unfortunately, I noticed a lack of 3-point shooting from the AI. Perhaps this was due to the way my team was playing defense. I played an entire game only to see the computer AI opponent jack up a three once, when the shot clock was down to 1.
You can now pass out of a shot. This wasn't possible in “NBA Shootout 2003”. The computer AI will pass the ball around and make you pay for your mistakes. The AI will push the ball up and try for a high percentage shot. Shooting percentages are, for the most part, spot on in this game. Expect to see a realistic number shots taken and shots made from both sides. Although not as deep as “ESPN NBA Basketball” or “NBA Live 2004”, the playbooks in the game are limited, but offer just enough customizing to play a good game of basketball.
The sprint control; used by pressing R1 on offense, can be used to blow by your defenders. Unfortunately, this can be abused by the user on any difficulty setting, and really detracts from the game. I would not recommend using this on offense. On defense, however, it's another story. You'll want to sprint down the court to defend a fast break from your opponent. I also noticed significant slowdown or skipping in the game play, when one pushes the ball up the court. I’m not certain if this was my copy of the game, or an issue with my PS2.
Last year's game had a very well executed career mode. “NBA Shootout 2004” doesn't disappoint, and the stellar career mode is back again. For those who may not have played last year’s version; in career mode you’ll create your own player and take him through the Summer Pro League and NDBL. After participating in practices and games (to improve your skills and stats), there's a good chance a team from the NBA will pick him up. This is handled very well, and offers quite a bit of replay value for the gamer. You can literally spend seasons improving your player, until you get your big break, and join the NBA with the big boys. It's very challenging and satisfying at the same time.
One final note on game play: I noticed a distinct lack of action replays in the game. No adjustable slider is available in the game to alter this. When they are shown, the replays are excellent and show the action up close.
Another mode which is present in “NBA Shootout 2004”, and one which should be a fixture in any sports game, is online play. First, you must create your account. Once you log in, you can select from a number of game rooms, which are broken down into different groups of difficulty and region. You can setup a simple game, or a full tournament. Stats are tracked online and one can access the leaderboards very easily. There’s a sports ticker which is present during online play – giving you live scores and upcoming games from the real NBA schedule. How cool is that??
I did get some errors when trying to log in for online play. I’m not sure if this was from my end, or from the 989 Sports servers. Overall, this was a lukewarm experience for me online. However, in all fairness, this has to be said – “Xbox LIVE” has spoiled me.
The graphics in the game are a mixed bag. The stadiums and courts look great. The crowd is fitted with a two-dimensional look and it looks decent. However, the player models are the weakest of any basketball game so far this year. Player models are off and aren’t in proportion to their real-life counterparts. Centers are built like defensive linemen... Player faces are poorly done. Tracy McGrady looks nowhere near like the real Tracy, and the same goes for Iverson, Carter, and pretty much the rest of the known superstars in the NBA. This part of the game needs quite of bit of work.
I have a few other quick notes. I really like the hesitation dribble animation. It looks very realistic. I don't recall how many times I've been faked out by my opponent because of it. The free throw system is unique in the sense that one has to hold, pulling back slowly the left and right analog sticks, together. There are a number of target balls present on the screen and you have to line them up, so when the target ball turns green you have 10 seconds to press the shot button to throw your free throw. It does provide for a challenging free throw system.
The play-by-play is done by Bill Walton and Ian Eagle. Ian sounds monotonous at times, but Bill really gets into the game. I didn’t notice any repetition in the commentary during a game, and for the most part, both do a wonderful job of presenting the game of basketball like they do on TV.
Noticeably, the crowd and announcer going silent for a few seconds from time to time, but nothing that would jump out and detract from the actual gameplay. I also noticed that, on occasion, the referee’s whistle was not blowing on fouls during a game. This is minor, but something that needs to be addressed for future editions of “NBA Shootout”.
If feels like 989 Sports is falling behind the competition. Nothing really jumps out from the game that you haven't seen before (VR and create a dunk mode aside). I'm not sure if this is enough to warrant a purchase. For those looking for a basketball game with a deep career mode, sim-like gameplay, and online play, “Shootout 2004” would be a good choice. One thing’s for sure; the positives outweigh the negatives in this game. Whether to recommend this title over that of the competition is another story...