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PS2 Review - 'NBA '06'

by Hank on Dec. 7, 2005 @ 2:06 a.m. PST

NBA '06 expands the franchise by featuring numerous gameplay advancements including enhanced A.I., shooting mechanics, player animations, and new mini-games to create the most action-packed, realistic basketball experience to date.

Genre: Sports
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEA Sports Studios
Release Date: November 1, 2005

Because of the popularity of basketball, several different game developers have introduced their renditions of NBA-licensed games. Last year, there were only two NBA sim games, NBA Live and ESPN Basketball, but this year, Sony has returned after taking a one-year break. Has this time off generated enough improvement so that the Sony series can compete with those two giants?

NBA 06 has three main modes of play: NBA, The Life, and Online. Within the NBA gameplay mode, you can play a single game, league, mini-games, or manage a team – the basic modes that are found in practically all sports games. The Life, on the other hand, is something new and is similar to NBA Live 06's superstar mode, but Sony's version adds a little flair to the story and allows you to take the player through practice workouts (training and assessment).

Practice workouts take you through all of the gameplay basics such as the spin, juke, crossover, jab, post, make space, shooting, and general ballplayer movement. Each one of the drills has set goals – make a specific number of points or assists, or finishing the drill under a given amount of time – that must be met before your player can move on. There are a lot of drills that you must go through even before you can get to the draft. Depending on how well you played the character, you may go the first round and get picked up by a team or go another round. The Life is a complete storyline of your new rising star, and the highlight is that the story changes based on how you play. The team at Sony gave "the life" a real life feeling by putting in a lot of voice talent and portraying the situations with CG cut scenes. Comparing this with NBA Live's superstar mode, this has far more depth and control, and the only unfortunate downside is the gameplay itself.

Even though Sony had a great idea, NBA 06 is lacking in one of the most critical areas, gameplay. The game flow and character controls were quite clunky; for example, let's say you're running a marathon. When the gun fires, you want to send a signal to your legs to tell them to move. That signal is usually instant and your legs start running, but in NBA 06, this is a different story. When a controller button is tapped to signal an action, several seconds pass before the character on the screen actually responds. If you enjoy racing titles, you'll know that a split-second is enough to determine victory or defeat. It's even worse in NBA 06; when I hit the steal button, the character takes seconds before he actually executes, and when it does, it may lead to an easy bucket for the opponent.

Unlike NBA Live, where shooting is all based on timing and understanding of the players on the team, Sony decided to take a completely different approach and have a meter display the appropriate time to shoot. This is good because now, if you have that wide-open shot, your player has a lot higher chance to make because of its shooting scheme. One downside to this is that almost every single player in the game can now be a Kobe Bryant, and make every single shot. Yes, there is a possibility to miss but once you master it you would need to do it on purpose. Sure it's unrealistic but it is a lot nicer to know that you can make a basket without having the desire to kill your players.

The real simulation aspect of the game and probably the only thing that stands out from the other games is the team emotion. If you don't get all your players involved in the game, they will get bored and miss shots and passes. Team emotion is definitely a nice touch, but at the same time, it can be kind of unrealistic because in the NBA, the star players will usually get the ball more than the other players, and as we see throughout the NBA, players still play at their hardest.

What really seals the deal is the audio in NBA 06, or the lack thereof. There is almost no commentary during games, which really throw me off. No commentators were present to discuss plays or hype up the game, reducing NBA games to watching a ball get tossed up and come back down. Sure, the crowd was enthusiastic, and when you scored showtimes (crowd boosters that build up based on the cool moves executed), they got even more pumped, but the lack of a commentator just seems counterintuitive. There are a few promising jewels among the audio portion – in The Life mode, there is an excellent vocal cast, and the music tracks are great and definitely on par with EA Trax.

The graphics, on the other hand, were pretty mediocre. When executing a post or making an awesome play, the CG sequences and cut scenes are nice eye candy, but the execution just didn't have as much flair as did NBA Live's. The background was pretty bland, and the characters' facial expressions weren't defined enough to differentiate the players from one other.

Overall, NBA 06 has a few nice ideas, but like the last NBA game Sony released, it still needs a lot of work. The Life gameplay mode is a very good idea that could use some more polish, as could in-game play. It's come a long way from its previous installment, but it's still not breathtaking, nor is it breaking new ground. This installment does not even pick away at the NBA Live or ESPN Basketball throne, but if Sony polishes the game enough for their next release, the PlayStation may finally get a good first-party sports game.

Score: 6.3/10

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