ESPN NBA 2Night 2002 Review (PS2)
ESPN NBA 2Night 2002: Hidden In Obscurity
It seems the buzz concerning basketball games is usually centered around two companies: EA and Sega. When you think of Konami, games such as Metal Gear, Castlevania, or Dance Dance Revolution may come to mind. So it’s no wonder that the association of sports and Konami may seem a bit of an afterthought. Oh sure, Konami did have the NBA In The Zone series that graced the PSX and N64, but in reality that series fell short of greatness and was scrapped. Here we are in the next generation of consoles and once again Konami is attempting to break through and define itself with its ESPN sports series. Last year, ESPN NBA 2Night debuted on the PS2, and unfortunately was lacking in too many areas to be considered anything worth even playing. So with the release of ESPN NBA 2Night 2002 begs the question: Is this game even worth looking at? The answer: Well…….it depends on what you like. Let’s get into the review and I’ll try and explain.
Actually, the graphics weren’t too bad even in last year’s game. This year they have definitely improved. The first item that looks good in this game are the player builds. Notice I didn’t say “models” as I’ll explain in a moment. The builds or body types might actually rival those in other basketball games including NBA 2K2. From a distance, the player builds actually appear very similar to their real life counterparts. Michael Jordan, T-Mac, and KG look very good as far as their height, weight, and overall look are concerned. The problem is two things are missing to consider them good-looking models as a whole. Namely faces and tattoos (or body art for those that consider it as such). I’m sorry but Kobe’s face more resembles Rick Fox’s than his own. If they would have been more accurate in those two areas, they might have had the best-looking player models ever. Still it’s still fairly impressive to see MJ hit his patented fade away and strut backwards after it hits twine. There are some nice animations including dunks, lay-ups, tip-ins, blocks, put backs, etc. The post-up animations are a bit sparse and I’m not sure after playing a lot of games there was anything that resembled a hook shot. There are however a lot of varied cut scenes with different facial reactions and celebrations. The cut scenes themselves are well done and flow seamlessly within the structure of the game.
The stadiums look nice, including fantastic reflections off the hardwood. As players move, their reflections actually mirror those movements. The lighting is good and the courts are filled with detail. The crowds appear to be sprites, but at least have some movement to them. One additional cool feature is having the option to choose which road uniform that you want your team to wear. Overall the graphics in this game are above average, and with some fine-tuning should be competitive in future additions.
Let me just say this: It’s pretty damn easy to score in this game. Don’t get me wrong. It’s actually a fun game to pick up and play, but shots can rain in droves, and the lane can be wide open at times. Case in point. On Normal difficulty using six-minute quarters, I scored (ugh) 104 points with Jordan. Now I know that he is considered the greatest player ever to many people, but c’mon! Thankfully my totals for MJ did decrease some as I increased the difficulty, but I could still ring up 50-60 a game if I tried hard enough. There are also collision detection issues that exist in the low post. There is an inconsistency that occurs in the area of offensive fouls. The main strategy here is not to drive the lane too far from the basket or you will be hit with the charge. The problem is at times there is little visual evidence that you even made contact with another player. It looks like the lane is clear as you drive, but for some reason you get called for the foul. This doesn’t happen all of the time, but it can get frustrating. The other problem concerns with smaller players driving to the hoop. For some reason when a little man has an open path to the hoop, he sometimes stops and shoots an awkward looking jump shot that usually rattles off. Big men will almost always finish with a dunk or lay-up, but little men oddly choke.
Not all the gameplay is bad in this game. There are also a lot of things to like. First of all, you can custom map your controller to any configuration that you prefer. So if you’re used to playing another basketball game with a particular set-up, you can mirror the button assignment and lessen the learning curve. The transition game is a fun element as it’s great to pull off a steal at half court and run a little two on one to the rack. Treys can be easy to pull off, but if you keep shooting with the same player, his abilities seem to level out and you’ll start to miss those shots. Dunks are fun with your high flying players and you’ll see some signature moves with guys like T-MAC, Vince Carter, and KG. Offensive rebounding is a mixed bag as sometimes your man’s shoes seem to be glued to the hardwood, while other times you can jump up and scoop the rock. The steal is much improved from last year and is actually reasonable to use. The problem is that you never get called for a foul no matter how many times you reach in.
The ball physics can be both exceptional and quirky at times in the game. They are exceptional in the way that the ball will bounce of the rim and back board in a variety of angles. Konami did a decent job with collision mapping concerning with most of the ball/rim/backboard interactions. They can also be quirky, as it seems that every time the ball bounces in a straight line above the rim it always goes in the hoop. Even with these flaws, a person who enjoys a basketball game that weighs more on the offensive side of things might like this game.
Even though it might be a bit easy to score at times, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to stop the CPU. The CPU will often times shoot at an inflated percentage, and it gets worse as you play in the higher levels of difficulty. I was extremely perturbed when Shawn Bradley dropped 41 on my team the other night. Shawn and other big men like him shoot an unrealistic percentage from near the top of the key. Another annoying thing is that even if you play solid defense, the CPU seems to always burn you on a last second shot right as the 24-second clock expires. The upper difficulty levels are interestingly named Hard, Very Hard, and Super Hard. Maybe next year we can expect “Really Freakin Hard” as a new level of difficulty. The most balanced level concerning AI is Hard level. After that level, CPU shooting, steals, and blocks increase exponentially. It would have been better if Konami would have sealed up the lane better and kept those other occurrences at more realistic levels. The CPU also has a couple of hiccups that occur on its own. For some reason, a CPU player will commit a backcourt violation sometimes when you crowd them at half court. On defense, CPU players will also seem stuck to the floor as you pump fake and blow past them for the jam. It’s fun but logic dictates that they should sometimes move and block your path. The good news is that you still have to stick to some fundamentals in order to be competitive. If you shoot too many treys you will probably get blown out. If you try to steal the rock every time down you will also get burned in the open court. I found playing on Hard level with a balanced style of play produced semi-realistic results.
FEATURES AND PRESENTATION
It seems with its sports games (Primetime, Winter-X Snowboarding) Konami kicks serious tail in putting together franchise modes. NBA 2Night 2002 is no exception. Office manager fanatics will love this game. It easily has the deepest and most user-friendly franchise mode for any basketball game on the PS2. First of all, scheduling is a breeze as you can custom set your season length from 14 to 82 games. Next, roster management is great, as you can complete unbalanced trades, draft, sign and release players. There are also weekly and yearly awards. They even have “Iron Unkind “awards for those players who have a lackluster game. The CPU is active in the free agent and trade market, and you can track this activity along with any injuries in the Weekly News section. The Draft itself is a challenge because only a few elite type players are offered each time. After the first few picks, you have to really study those players through their profile. Player profiles show strengths and weaknesses in a multitude of areas including mental and physical toughness. The kitchen sink is in here folks. This really is the strongest facet of this game.
Brent Musburger and Stuart Scott handle commentary and overall it isn’t half bad. They certainly wouldn’t be my choice for commentary but Musburger’s play by play is usually spot on. He will even mention season field goal percentages and milestones like triple or double doubles. Stuart Scott provides some remarks that are funny at first, but do get annoying and a bit repetitive after a while. There are your standard fair of statistical overlays shown on the screen, like total points, steals, and shooting percentages. After the game, there is a complete box score, summary, and shot chart for each player. The crowd noise is adequate as I even had the occurrence where I had forgotten the game was still on and was thinking someone was yelling outside my house.
Konami certainly has improved this game over its initial effort. It may not be in the same league as NBA 2K2 in the area of gameplay, but it does have other elements that make it a relatively fun experience. If the developers can put as much emphasis on gameplay as they do in the franchise mode, this series might actually become something noteworthy.