Gamestyle Archive intro: the 2K series gave EA a good run for its money back in the day but it came down to licenses and sheer brute financial might. This review marks another debut with Michael Lysons writing in March 2003.
The freak show has rolled into town and it takes the form of Sega’s NBA 2K3: seven foot, three hundred pound mutants lumber up and down the court performing backboard-breaking dunks at either end; six-foot-six ‘dwarves’ weave in and out of traffic and bank lay-up’s off the glass; and like the exception to prove the rule, sub-six foot midgets parade prodigious handling skills and dribble through the legs of everyone else before draining three-pointers from beyond the arc.
NBA 2K3 brings basketball to your Playstation 2, wrapped up in a package looking and sounding like an ESPN broadcast. From the menu screens to the in-game action, everything looks the part. Player animation is excellent as they perform an array of basketball moves and the commentary team provides an atmospheric and humourous accompaniment. The analysis is superb – half time, full time, pre-game, post-game – as a good attempt at context-sensitivity is made to avoid repetition. However, the action can be a bit juddery on occasion and although not serious enough to ruin the game it doesn’t sit well with the excellence elsewhere. The basic nature of basketball is this; you have 24 seconds to shoot the ball or you lose it, and then the other team get a go. It’s this simplified explanation that often results in cries of “You score, they score, it’s so dull,” being levelled at the sport; little do they know.
Basketball is played very tactically (aren’t all US sports?) and approaches vary: running down the shot-clock before trying to score; playing a fast-break game, running the floor and trying to score quickly; emphasis on team play and spreading the scoring around to outfox the opposition; relying on the talents of a supremely gifted individual. NBA 2K3 allows for these styles, but Gamestyle found that, as with other hoops games, the most effective way is to get your shooting guard to swish three-pointers all game. The analogue control is excellent. Walking, running, posting-up (turning your back to a defender and trying to back them down to the hoop) can all be done with just the thumb stick. A turbo button – which seems standard in sports’ games, but why bother when you have an analogue thumb stick? – is provided for an extra burst of speed. If you combine this with the crossover button – the ball carrier performs a quick crossover dribble – you can blow by your defender and drive to the hoop for the show-off finish.
Four major things dominate hoops; shooting, stealing, blocking and fouling. Ultimately the combination of these parts is what sees NBA 2K3 clang off the rim. Shooting follows the same dynamic seen in many hoops games: press shoot, release when the shooter is at the highest point of their jump. It’s tried and tested and it works, but you spend too much time looking how far your shooter’s sneakers are off the floor rather than eyeing the hoop. There’s no feel for the shot and you can’t delay or quick-release it to fool defenders so consequently it feels shallow. Stealing is the art of taking the ball off the opposition. But in NBA 2K3 it’s more luck than skill. Press the steal button and your player will snake out a hand to try and get the ball. The nature of basketball means that you’ll often give up a foul though. You never feel in control of the stealing process and it becomes frustrating.
Gamestyle decided – and this is surely a statement on the sport itself – that turning off the petty foul rules resulted in a much better, though still flawed experience. When a player shoots you’d better have someone trying to block it. Again NBA 2K3 doesn’t give you much feeling of control. You are always left with the impression that a player’s stats are more important than your own skill. In truth, shots are rarely blocked in NBA games, but you need to feel that you failed the block rather than your stats were not good enough. Fouls are a very important part of basketball. Unlike football where fouling is considered a breaking of the rules, fouls in basketball are a strategic element in their own right.
Each player can commit a certain number of fouls before being ejected from the game, while if the combined number of fouls for a team reaches a certain limit the opposition will take a trip to the free throw line with every subsequent foul. The longer you play the more fouls are committed. And as you near the end of a game it can degenerate into a tit-for-tat battle of fouls and free throws. This can make for either an exciting end to a game or a stop-start, plodding finish. Gamestyle found these times mostly plodding. Perhaps to counteract some of the inherently boring aspects of hoops the game can be customised to an incredible degree: specific rule violations can be turned on or off; referee leniency can be tuned; AI can be tweaked; game length, playoff series length and even simulated game length (games involving teams not under your control) can be set.
Gamestyle found the most enjoyment was to be had by turning off the pernickety foul calling, but then some of us sucked at free throws. NBA 2K3 is also well served by the various game modes on offer. The ubiquitous tournament, playoffs, season, and franchise modes are present, offering varying degrees of complexity and depth. A welcome addition is the Street mode, where you can venture outdoors and play a little 2-on-2 and it’s a welcome relief from the more demanding NBA game.
It’s hard to fault NBA 2K3 for its recreation of basketball. It does everything so well that it seems churlish to not like it as much as it deserves. However, basketball doesn’t translate to console too well, because the fundamental physical aspects (shooting, stealing, blocking) are not realised with a sufficient feeling of control. If you love hoops, then this is a great simulation that will last until the next iteration, but Gamestyle feels that the real fun is to be had out on the blacktop and not in the comfort of your La-Z-Boy.
Gamestyle Score: 6/10