Xbox 360 Review: NBA 2K6

No one likes to win a battle without a fight. It doesn’t prove anything. NBA 2K6 resoundingly wins round one of the next-gen battle for simulation basketball. And all they had to do was show up at launch. This is because most of NBA Live 06 is just not there in EA’s first baller for the 360.

If you have a HDTV and are looking for a deep NBA experience, you will be in heaven with 2K Sports’s latest. If you only have Standard Definition you will not see a big jump from the Xbox version of the game. In fact at Standard Definition you will find the left and right of the game gets cut off. This shows mostly in the menus, but you are missing part of the frame because this game (like all 360 games) is meant to be experienced in full HD.

But even in Standard Definition the cut scenes and close ups of the players look better then the PS2/Xbox version of NBA 2K6. Visual Concepts crammed more animations, cloth and sweat simulation, and high-resolution player textures into the game for their 360 debut. The jerseys and shorts are animated separately from the players, which gives a more lifelike feel to the game.

The higher polygon player models are so good looking that now it is easy to spot slight flaws - some of the skin textures have a plastic or procaine look. Most of the time you will not notice this though because the game looks like a NBA telecast, and runs at a silky smooth frame rate. Even online, no latency issues were found.

The new player models show off another flaw in the game. The models for coaches, cheerleaders, and fans are of a much lower polygon count, and the textures are not as crisp either. They upgraded the players from the Xbox version, but forgot about the rest. This is a little jarring when you see players in a huddle around the coach.

The player models might be the new watermark, but that is not the only thing that shines in the presentation department. As with a number of launch titles, NBA 2K6 takes full advantage of Depth of Field blur. This means the camera will focus on the player in the foreground and blur out the fans and other players in the background. This blur makes the game look spectacular.

Other then the great looking player models and Depth of Field blur this is the same NBA 2K6 that came out a few months ago on current generation systems. But that is not a bad thing at all as nothing has been stripped out (see: NBA Live 06). The Association (franchise) mode is here, tweaked since 2K5, and even has a better menu system. Also included is the deep 24/7 mode, a basketball RPG if you will, where you build a team to compete in the EBC (The Entertainer's Basketball Classic) at Rucker Park. The Crib is back, offering up Air Hockey and Darts, two great unlockable mini games. Brought over from the NFL 2K series, the VIP system allows for tracking of your stats. It is nice to be able to analyze your own playing habits, if you even care to look.

Die-hard fans are going to absolutely love The Association and 24/7 mode. The EBC is a real basketball championship and not made up - adding yet again to the realism. Once you win the EBC, you can import your player into The Association. You can even coach a young player into something great, building his stats along the way.

Gamers who have not played since NBA 2K5 are in for a number of changes. Although, some take a while to learn, and may not appeal to casual basketball fans. With some practice you will find how much control the, um... controls give you. There is still a traditional shot button, but now shooting is handled with the Shot Stick; the Right Analog stick. Push down, and then up at the top of the arc to shoot. Free throws are also handled this way. You can also shield the ball from the defender when driving the lane by changing the angle you press the Shot Stick.

Isomotion has also been expanded. This is going to be the biggest change for veterans of the series. The Turbo button has been taken out of the game and replaced with Aggression Modifiers. Getting rid of Turbo has been a long time coming in simulation basketball. The new Aggression Modifiers, mapped to the Left and Right Triggers, change the commands of the Left Analog stick and face buttons. Like the new Shot Stick, it allows for a wider range of very realistic game play.

What this does is allow your player to do so much more then just sprint down the court or drive hard to the lane.

Jukes have also been added, just a couple years behind the NBA Live series. These additions to Isomotion make game play fluid and not forced - and are my favorite changes since NBA 2K5.

Passing has even been expanded. Two face buttons are used for passing. You can pass the ball to a player, but you also have the ability to Lead Pass the ball. Lead Passing is basically a pass when the other player is in motion. This leads to a fast transition game that doesn’t feel clunky.

All these changes add up to a very satisfying game of simulation basketball, the likes of which have not been seen before.

Adding even more depth are realistic player and team tendencies. Phoenix is going to widen the game and throw up a lot of three pointers; Detroit is going to pound the boards just like their real life counterparts. Likewise you won’t see Dwayne Wade tickling the twine from behind the arc. This is not a new feature, but it has been expanded greatly.

Artificial Intelligence has always been a strong suit in the 2K series. If you ramp up the difficulty there is a challenge waiting for seasoned fans. The computer will take advantage of lazy defense, and you have to work hard to get a shot off.

Wrapping everything up is a great presentation with new announcers Kevin Harlan and Kenny Smith (Bill Walton is gone, yay!) and slick graphic overlays. The default camera even makes the game feel like a TNT NBA telecast. And with TNT talent calling the game, they should partner with them. Branding NBA 2K with a TNT presentation is the best thing that could happen since EA bought the ESPN license.

The game’s audio is nothing short of immersive with everything separated into their correct channels. This is an entirely different game when experience in full 5.1 Surround Sound. Adding to the arena experience are 40 plus hip-hop tracks.

To complete this solid launch title, the online component of NBA 2K6 has all the usual trimmings: season, street, tournament and league play. All your stats are tracked and everything is presented in a clean interface.

The real winners here are HDTV owners. Playing this game in High Definition really makes a difference, and shows off the Xbox 360 nicely. Everything from the great control mechanics to the challenging AI has made its way to the Xbox 360. The higher resolution and polygonal models just add that much more to the realism of basketball. This game, like NHL 2K6, is a judgment call on wether it is worth the extra cash for the non-substantial upgrade. Only if you own a HDTV is this a no brainer.

For this year, a fully featured product is enough. Now it is on to round two, where we see what happens when these games are not rushed out the door. I am hoping to see more competition from EA, as that will push Visual Concepts even harder next year.

(**** out of *****)

Comments (2)

Wendy Johnson:

I have won the EBC championship, but I can't figure out how to import my player into the assoctiation. Anyone know?

You have much more patience then I. That EBC Championship irritated me to no end, so I quit playing it. So sorry, I have no idea. I know there is a menu button to import you player into franchise mode. It wasn't hidden or anything.

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