It should be noted that to get any enjoyment out of NBA 2K9, you need to have a reasonable knowledge of the game of basketball itself. Having said that, if you have no interest in basketball then you’re probably not going to buy the game or even read this review for that matter – so I guess it’s a moot point.
This is not a game that will baby the newbies – you need to be on your game from the get-go.
Visually, NBA 2K9 is the clichéd game of two halves. The presentation of the menu system is downright horrible. Drab, sterile menus are complimented by an ill thought-out navigation method. Somebody at 2K Games (who, if there is an ounce of justice in this world, is currently looking for a new job) decided it would be an excellent idea to use the right stick and shoulder buttons to navigate around the menus. Erm, no, that’s a shit idea. Left stick or D-pad, X and O work just fine thanks – as proven by every other PlayStation game ever made. 2K games need to take a leaf out of EA Sports’ book when it comes to slick menu presentation.
On the other side of the coin though are the in-game graphics. Here, 2K have exceeded themselves and have pulled all the stops out, not skimping on the finest details. From the seemingly endless amount of player animations to the texture and reflections on the floor and the crowds who react to the on-court action in a relevant manner, waving towels and big foam fingers – the detail is top rate. That said, some of the movements taken by the user-controlled players are a little jerky and occasionally you can spot some jaggies around players – not enough to ruin the game though.
The gameplay too is polarised by brilliance and frustration. The Adaptive AI is one of the best I’ve seen in any sports game. If you’re anything like me in sports games then you’ll find about three plays that tend to work and repeat them over and over – but in NBA 2K9 the AI will soon pick up on this and you’ll find that all of a sudden there’ll be an intercept or your preferred shooter will be double-teamed.
Although it takes some practice to master, the Shot Stick system of shooting baskets is a pleasure to use. Once you have the feel and the timing sorted then hitting three pointers is a regular occurrence. The beauty of the Shot Stick is that you can adjust the flight of the ball on the fly if a defender suddenly puts up a block. Just another touch that brings the realism a little closer.
We’ve all done our fair share of abusing referees right? Whether it be watching the footy or playing some [insert sport here] in the weekend. Well 2K bring this Kiwi pastime into the gaming world with some referees which have the amazing ability to travel into the future and see that you’re going to commit a foul before you actually do it. Kind of like Minority Report with stripy shirts. It doesn’t happen often, but when your player gets called for a reach-in foul when he’s not even near the ball carrier, or you get called for a blocking foul a split second before you press the block button, the profanities begin to flow rather freely.
Also, once an opposition player begins a charge to the basket, it seems you can either block his shot or foul him, there’s no getting in his way and making him rethink his actions. The animation seems too predetermined and will follow through with you in the way or not. You might, if you’re lucky, draw an offensive foul, but they’re harder to come by than an Oscar in Rob Schneider’s trophy cabinet.
All too often, even if you do manage to gain a decent lead going into the 4th quarter, the computer AI seems to nonchalantly step up and whittle away that deficit with ease. More of your shots get blocked, your star players seem unable to hit a barn wall from point blank and the opposition appear to find three point shooting a doddle all of a sudden. The only way around this is to change your game strategy completely from the previous three quarters and basically waste as much time as possible.
There are a number of modes in NBA 2K9, including online play for up to ten gamers, 2K Share with which you can upload/download players and teams, as well as a feature similar to NBA Live’s Dynamic DNA called Living Rosters which 2K plans to update weekly. Franchise mode (or Association 2.0 as it’s called) has NBA.com integration and keeps you up to date on the comings and goings in the actual 08/09 NBA season. If you’re into this side of the sports simulation game then NBA 2K9 does it well with customisable contracts, players refusing trades, a new letter-based grading system and a whole heap more.
All in all NBA 2K9 is worth a look if: a) You’re an avid basketball fan with pictures of players all over your bedroom wall, and b) You’ve got plenty of spare time to get good at it. Newcomers to the genre should steer well clear (try Sony’s NBA 08). With three basketball simulations out in recent months, I would personally rate them in this order: EA’s NBA Live for all round simulation and presentation, the aforementioned NBA 08 for its accessibility, and bringing up the rear is 2K Sports’ NBA 2K9.
If this franchise is going to keep its head above water then there’s a load of problems that need to be ironed out before NBA 2K10.