As the NBA season is upon us, 2K Sports have released this years version of the heralded NBA 2K series. With the touted improved AI, graphics, live roster updates and the new 5 on 5 online play, is NBA 2K9 the improvement over NBA 2K8 we were looking for, or is it just NBA 2K8 with a new cover and rosters?
When it comes to gameplay, the NBA 2K series has always been known for its simulation style gameplay. The problem with this is that this scares off some people as they would prefer a more pick-up and play arcade style of game where many of the physics of basketball are ignored, ala the NBA Live series. In NBA 2K9, while still focusing mainly on a simulation type of game where highly detailed physics come into play, there is also a bit of arcade style mixed in which will keep the casual players happy while not alienating the hardcore fans. Talking physics, NBA 2K9 plays more like the real thing than ever before due to the improved physics engine. Now every player feels and reacts to contact more realistically than in the past. Players also dive more for loose balls and when the ball is going out of bounds, they dive and throw it back in to keep the play going. All the standard controls remain intact, except that play calling seems easier this year. Other than that, everything seems more responsive than last year and the game (on its default settings) flows better and as a result, is a more enjoyable experience. The improved AI that apparently adapts to how you play feels more balanced than prior years and further enhances the game. The features in NBA 2K9 remain largely the same with the Association mode having its yearly update and NBA Blacktop remaining unchanged.
The area of most improvement in NBA 2K9 is the online mode. With 2K Sports having the best online features of all sport games, NBA 2K9 improves upon that by including 10 player, 5 on 5 online play. Whilst NBA Live had this last year, this is the first time the 2K series has had it. This is a great idea, but you have to be lucky enough for the other 9 people to play the game in the right way or you might as well not bother. If you get a good bunch of people, then it is an absolute blast. Other improvements online are better stat tracking with full leader boards and the new “Living Rosters” update feature. With this, you’ll never be late on a trade again. Constant automatic updates guarantee you’re playing with the most current roster and the hottest stars. Someone at 2K Sports will constantly update the rosters and player attributes to mirror what is actually happening in the real NBA season. Personally, this is just an awesome idea as I remember spending many hours in the old Sega Megadrive and Playstation days where I would be updating the NBA Live rosters manually. Now it is all done for us with a simple press of a button! Awesome! Of course, if you can’t play online or just want completely lag free multiplayer then having mates over for a game is great too.
NBA 2K9’s graphics are the best in the series and personally, I like the style better than NBA Lives’. The best part about the graphics is the improved player physics. While many people say NBA Live looks better, that’s only while it is still, it does not when in motion. During gameplay, NBA 2K9 is buttery smooth and with the improved crowd, looks like you are watching a live telecast. The only nit-pick I have is that the frame rate drops horribly when the intro movie is on and while the camera pans down to the court inside the arena. Although this does not affect gameplay, this is something that should have been fixed prior to release.
NBA 2K9’s trademark techno style music in the menus and load screens is back. The sound effects on the court are similar to last year, but the crowd effects have been beefed up, as the crowd sounds more involved than ever. The commentary is as good as it usually is with more words in the vocabulary being added and this year they have added Cheryl Miller to the team with her courtside comments.
With the new live roster updates, the improved AI and physics and smoother, more enjoyable gameplay, NBA 2K9 is the best in the series and once again takes the virtual NBA crown this year.
There is still room for improvement, with iso-motion still not as user friendly as NBA Lives’ right stick moves, but every other aspect is the best in the business.
While it is the best looking basketball game ever, there is still a way to go before a sports game has the wow impact that a Gears of War has.
Not drastically improved over last year, the sound is still great, especially the crowd in 5.1 and up loud!
This is where basketball games and in particular NBA 2K9 shines. With a smooth online mode, the addition of 5 on 5 online play and improved stat tracking, many hours will be spent on Xbox Live with NBA 2K9.
NBA 2K9 is a significant enough improvement over NBA 2K8 to warrant the purchase price. It is the best basketball game ever made, period.
Reviewed and Written by Craig Cirillo