Xbox 360 Review: College Hoops 2K6

Hitting their launch date with the only feature rich basketball title, 2K Sports rebounds (pun intended) with College Hoops 2K6. With an already incredible basketball engine to play with, changes from the pro game are minimal. It's the atmosphere, pacing, new shot control, and presentation that makes College Hoops stand alone.

The immediate difference is speed. By default, College Hoops maintains a quicker pace that doesn't require adjustments to be made with the difficulty or preference sliders. The crowd is instantly more involved, complete with raucous band music and active cinematics to create a flawless presentation on the floor. Tip offs actually become an exciting event as the crowd screams the moment the ball is tossed up.

Playing the game reveals the smooth, accurate engine that admittedly doesn't do much to separate it from past generation games. As it usually works out, the changes are progressive, like a new coaching system that should be included with every basketball game from here on out. Time outs mean something in this edition of the series. You can discuss specific aspects of the game with the team in hopes of increasing morale, set up the offense or defense for the upcoming play, substitute, or increase the aggressiveness of play right from a quick menu. There's no need to press start and dig through other options to find these features. Even without a time out, you can still call upon your bench before the ball is inbounded to start the next play.

While it may seem like a convenience, it has gameplay benefits. If you choose to discuss rebounding, your players will respond by being more aggressive when going for boards. There's no need to play around with coaching sliders, and it keeps you involved in the flow of the game even when you're not dribbling the ball or defending.

Actual play tweaks are minor, aside from the addition of a right analog shot stick. For long jump shots, it doesn't feel right. You need to press down to jump up, and quickly flick the stick upwards to release. It's not a natural motion. While the jumping doesn't work right when inside either, the additional control benefits are huge. You can quickly make directional changes to alter your shot to avoid a defender. When dunking, this allows you choose which slam you want to perform instead of it being automatic.

Everything introduced by the sister NBA series on the 360 is included here too, only upgraded. The cloth physics, as easy as it is to joke about their unnessecary inclusion, makes a significant leap towards fixing the jumpy transition animations basketball games bring with them. Clipping issues have been eliminated save for rare occurrences. Coaches look a lot better than they did (at least they look human), and sideline details have been increased. The animation routines for cheerleaders and mascots do an incredible job of adding to the already flawless atmosphere.

You'll be surprised to learn how many different ways you can experience this too. Two completely separate franchise modes are available. One lets you pick any team, while the other forces you to pick a low ranked squad and turn them into a real contender within a set time period. If you don't want to actually play, you can sit back as a coach and make key decisions during the game. Tournament and season modes are fully functional online as well.

An issue arises because of a focus on accuracy, and that's the camera. Due to the smaller arenas for lesser-known schools, you're occasionally limited in camera views. Since the tiny gymnasiums aren't offering the necessary width, there's no broadcast view, only the baseline cameras. For the sake of gameplay, cheating a little shouldn't be a problem, especially since fans of small schools and standard side view cameras will be stuck for the entire duration of their franchise.

The other problem, as is most of 2K's sports lineup, are the sliders. While it's stunning to see the amount of tweaks available to make the game accessible to everyone, just tapping the d-pad on certain aspects can alter the game more so than it should. Adjusting the shooting bars one notch is enough to go from shooting 60% to 40%. Finding the right settings will take too long for the casual person, and that's assuming you ever make it conform to your style in the first place.

Likely because of extra time, College Hoops 2K6 eclipses the bar set by NBA 2K6, and keeps moving even after it's made the previous game obsolete. We've come to a point where new features like the coaching menu are about all we can expect, and that's something College Hoops has going for it. It suffers from the typical problems of 2K Sports games, and that's the only thing wrong here.

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

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