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Visual Concepts



E (Everyone)



October 2003



- Lifelike player representation
- Authentic ESPN style
- Xbox Live
- New 24/7 mode is a gem



- Same gameplay problems plague this year’s version
- Too many blocks and charges
- New free throw system should be “thrown” out



Review: NBA Inside Drive 2003 (Xbox)

Review: NBA Street Vol. 2 (Playstation 2)

Review: NBA Jam (360)



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ESPN NBA Basketball

Score: 8.0 / 10


espn-nba-basketball-1.jpg (23863 bytes)   espn-nba-basketball-2.jpg (12072 bytes)   espn-nba-basketball-3.jpg (21138 bytes)


This upcoming basketball season has been truly a rejuvenator to a fallen sport. The past few years were filled with one dominant team (Lakers), the east coast struggling, and no young players stepping up to the next level (except for Yao Ming). This year has been the complete antecedent. New jerseys, new players, and completely revamped teams are fully prepared for what will be a memorable season.

To keep up with everything, ESPN NBA Basketball (2k4) has done everything it could to prepare gamers for this hectic season. Does ESPN deliver on its promise of being the best basketball game, or does EA Sports hold the court…

This years ESPN Videogames have been dominating the two other sports: hockey and football, and are now ready to enter the realm of Basketball. Again, behind the




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wheel is their longtime ally Visual Concepts who have now become an experienced team with a few tricks up their sleeves. Amongst them is the all-new 24/7 mode. This is quite a relief from the other modes we’ve seen time and time again.

24/7 is such an in-depth and fun experience, it can be considered a game of its own. The first thing you do is create your character.


The modifications on your player are simplistic and re-used from prior “create-a-player” options. Once finished, you are placed in a world based on your time and place. The internal Xbox clock is used to set up matches, appointments, and automatically adjusts day and night cycles based on your time. Building up your player’s skill can be done through a series of training tasks that require you to work on a specific part of your game. Monitoring your player’s progress can be noticed in “spurts”, rather than gradual development. For example, you’ll be attempting to dunk for a very long time, and realize that your 6’8” player just doesn’t know how to do so. After some practice and a lot of patience, you’ll remarkably see him do a towering jump, and suddenly start dunking for the rest of his life.

Once ready, you play different types of matches with player’s equivalent to your player’s skill. Not every game is a 1-on-1 battle up to 21, as types of matches have different settings. Some will have you playing with a timed bomb, without turbo, or sometimes, without being allowed to shoot a jump shot. Playing in these matches, and winning, gives your player a higher ranking and new items. These items can be worn on your player or used in a game. A few of these items are solely used as jokes, such as a motorcycle helmet, and huge army boots.

At this time I bet you’re feeling annoyed that all I’ve discussed was 24/7. Well, for those of you “true” basketball fans, lets breakdown the heart of the game.

Much like the 2k series, ESPN NBA Basketball has almost the same identical gameplay and same identical flaws. Some of these flaws you’ve seen since the franchise first debuted, and prayed the developers would fix. Again, they “forgot”. One of the new problems of the game is the new free-throw system. In the prior games holding down the right and left trigger carefully would give you a nice shot. Now, you have to align the two triggers and concentrate on a moving ball you have to place in the center of the two. The system has become extremely tedious. I can see why ESPN wants to add a challenge to the free-throws, but this was the wrong way to go about it. Another flaw rests in the amount of blocks and charges one can do in a single game. Every time you drive into the paint and throw up a shot, 9 out-of 10 times you will get blocked. Every time you try a spin move on a defender, you will get a charge. These reoccurrences will dry anyone’s gaming experience when seen time and time and time gain. Hopefully the dev team will realize next year that Allen Iverson does not average 5 blocks per game in a season.

Though ESPN NBA Basketball has taken a turn for the worse, some improvements make the gameplay more enjoyable than last years.

One improvement has been the new “Isomotion” control (almost the exact same thing as EA Sports’ “free style”). Isomotion is performed by the right analog stick and is used, most often, on offense. You have the ability to juke with the standard button, but Isomotion is a step further. You can do minor adjustments in your juke moves in any given direction, throwing off the defender to give you the open shot. Using Isomotion reduces the number of charges, but takes skill to line up the defenders correctly. One wrong move and the ball is gone. Isomotion is still in its earlier stages resulting in its fair share of problems, such as timing and control, but ESPN is on the right track with the idea.

ESPN is known for its commentary; after all they have a channel devoted to the broadcasting of sports. It’s without surprise that the commentary is once again excellent and filled with a variety of comments. Two new features take place at half-time and directly after the game. During half-time, instead of pressing start and going over to stats, ESPN makes a much more effective graphic. A screen comes on, with a very TV-like feel, that gives a summary of the top performers, shot percentage, and various other stats, that save time and keep the player in tune with the tempo of the game.

The crowd is pretty standard. Reactions to big plays can be heard, and the pseudo-3D sideline fans look decent, but are not a whole lot to look at nor do they create a “crowded” atmosphere.

In terms of graphics, ESPN NBA Basketball looks a lot better than the NBA Live series. The lighting and reflection effects in ESPN set a new standard, as well as for the player faces and bodies. Each tattoo and muscle can be made out. Without even seeing a players face, recognizing their tattoos will immediately reveal their identity. The best aspect of ESPN NBA is the amazing detail on the players.

ESPN have created a near TV representation of basketball that is, ultimately, a very enjoyable game. However, the flaws of the game still exist, though many improvements have also been made. There are really two real basketball game franchises out there (ESPN and Live), picking one of the two is like picking a favorite son. Both have problems and both have excellent factors. To make your choice easier, ESPN is aimed toward the more “casual” sport gamer. If you just want to pick up the controller occasionally and play some basketball, ESPN is your game.

- Eric Lahiji
(November 15, 2003)


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