At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Screenshots
Matt Bailey Xbox Sega Visual Concepts 1-4 (Share screen), 2-8 (Live) Here
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Xbox Live subscription for online play PS2 Click here to buy ESPN NBA Basketball.

ESPN NBA Basketball review

As is often the case with sports games, I will introduce this review with an explanation of the series, and it's name changes, in order to avoid (or possibly cause?) confusion. ESPN NBA Basketball has nothing to do with previous ESPN titles, except the licence itself. Like ESPN NHL Hockey and ESPN NFL Football, ESPN NBA Basketball is a Sega Sports title, and the latest in their '2K' series (the "2K4 Sega" logo featuring on the cover of all three games). In fact, the game is the follow up to NBA 2K3 (which featured the ESPN licence in content-only and not in name), and in that review I said "It is difficult to make the game a must-have when it will only be liked by a limited number of people in the UK". I stand by this statement, and although I am about to go on and complement ESPN NBA Basketball for the great game it is, it is bearing in mind that it holds limited appeal in the UK - and is not something everybody will enjoy.

OK, moving on to the game itself. Again, ESPN NBA Basketball is a realism rather than arcade-based basketball title. While EA Sport's series is all about pick up and play gameplay, this series has always been about delivering a truer experience, even though it makes it difficult to access to newcomers. However, Visual Concepts have taken their foot off the realism pedal just slightly this year, allowing for more arcade-like gameplay (such as fast breaks) to shine through, while the core realism remains intact. Although initially daughting, practice does pay off, and the gameplay can be rewarding and impressive when turn pro. This year's main new feature is the IsoMotion control system. It's a complicated system, which involves a lot of move, counter-move actions between both sides (will your opponent play IsoMotion, or will he hold back), and when deployed at the right time, can be effective and enjoyable. It's just a pity it's so complex to get into, but dedicated fans are likely to spend their time doing so. The new free throw meter is a welcome inclusion, allowing you to use the triggers to line up two sides of a circle before shooting, allowing for a greater level of control.

All the usual American sports game modes are in place; 1-on-1 challenges, seasons, custom matches; all the usual. However, a new and rather special mode has been introduced; the 24/7 mode. You get to live the life of a basketball player, creating your own customised character, sending him training, and taking on challenges, which are required to progress through the mode. The really great part is that the challenges depend on where you are at the time, and the time of day (which is taken from the Xbox's system clock). As you win more games, and take on the bosses, your character becomes better and you unlock more items. All in all, it's addictive, enjoyable, and varied - certainly a welcome inclusion to the series.

Another key mode in the game is the online functionality. Here you can take your game online, battle your friends, and even use your 24/7 characters. The online games are enjoyable - added to by the lack of lag or slowdown on the efficient Xbox Live system. Downloadable rooster updates are promised for the near future too. There is one issue that lets the mode down, however, and that's the shared camera point. You and your online foe have to compromised on a shared viewpoint from which to play your online match. It's not too annoying, but certainly an issue which shouldn't have arisen.

Like it's predecessor, ESPN NBA Basketball looks very impressive. Again, the textures are of a very high detail, animations are completely redone - making the action faster but also more realistic, and player models no longer look slightly strangely out of proportion; this time their legs and angles are thinner. As you can guess from the title, the ESPN-style graphical interface featured last year is present here. This time looked a bit more spruced up, and again managed to provide a completely authentic TV feel, with mid-match replays, commentary from the ESPN team, and an ESPN news desk providing the menu background. As I said last year, although it's not going to be easily recognised by most Brits, it still has the effect of making you feel like you're playing the events on TV, rather than simply playing a game.


Reviewed by Matt Bailey

Ratings

Graphics Excellent. Plenty of detail, improved player models, well animated players. It's all here, and rounded off very well in the ESPN styling. 10/10
Gameplay It's not pick up and play stuff, but after giving the game some time, it's immersive, realistic, and enjoyable. 9/10
Value At the time of writing, we did not have a value for money ranking. 0/10
Lifespan On top of all the basic modes, you have an excellent 24/7 mode packed with depth, and some great fun will be had for a while to come on Xbox Live. 9/10
Audio The music may not be to my taste - it's appropriate. You can play your own music on the menus, in training, and in street basketball - which is good to see. However, the in-game announcers can be rather annoying at times. 7/10
Overall ESPN NBA Basketball may not provide the same immediate fun as EA's offering, but this title benefits from being longer lasting, ultimately more enjoyable and rewarding, and is the most realistic, and ultimately the best, basketball game around. 9/10

Click here to buy ESPN NBA Basketball from Amazon.co.uk.

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