Over the past few years, many critics will argue that EA’s NBA Live franchise has taken a backseat in terms of quality to 2K’s NBA 2K series. Visual Concepts and 2K Sports has worked every year to make the simulated basketball experience more authentic and robust, and based on what we’ve seen and heard concerning this year’s entry, NBA 2K9 will continue that trend. For many fans of the sport, it’s all about control and customization when it comes to virtual recreations, and that’s exactly what 2K strives to deliver each and every year. Of course, EA isn’t about to resign themselves to second place as NBA Live 09 is also shaping up quite nicely, but right now, we’d have to say that 2K9 has the edge. For those of you who want a more arcade-style b-ball game, you may want to look elsewhere; both of these franchises mentioned here always claim to be simulators. However, as a side note, you may want to watch EA; they already have Facebreaker as part of their more casual-oriented sports lineup. Perhaps a basketball game will show up, too.
Anyway, moving on. We’ll start with the reconfiguration of the shot stick, which avid followers of the 2K series recognize. It’s back in this year’s installment, but 2K has decided to make it even more all-encompassing and far-reaching; players can now take a wider range of shots in a more diverse set of situations using that shot stick. Furthermore, given the fact that the well-received IsoMotion mechanic is back, the fluidity and realism of all animations – even when using the shot stick – should be impressive. As far as we know, not much as changed on the IsoMotion front, but we will expect a greater number of animations and absolutely no herky-jerkiness on the part of the players on court. We’re absolutely certain that we’ll have more moves at our disposal, too, as 2K will be presenting us with new dunks, layups and ball-handling maneuvers. On top of which, if you can really dazzle, you can trigger the brand new Reel Maker, which automatically compiles a bunch of replays and splices them together into an ESPN-like highlight montage.
But of course, in this day and age, one needs healthy online play to keep the modern-day sports fan interested for long periods of time. And here’s where 2K takes yet another step forward, as they will introduce true five-on-five online play for the very first time. Yes, that’s right; every one of the ten players on court could be controlled by ten individual human players, which is an unassailably cool option. Many may be wondering if there will be enough to do on court when you don’t have the ball, but in true simulator fashion, every player should always have a job. Whether you’re boxing out, setting a screen or pick, or simply applying pressure defense on an opposing ball-handler, you’ll never be out of the action. And besides, as Team USA learned the hard way at the Olympics in Athens in 2004 (and are now a lot better off in Beijing, thanks to that lesson), team play is essential. The better you gel with your teammates on the floor, the higher your Team 2K rating will go. Remember, young’uns, high-flying dunks don’t always translate to victory.
Lastly, there’s another new online feature to talk about: 2K Share. Basically, this lets users upload a created player he has created, and download a created player another person has generated. This excellent option should give the community a major boost, as NBA 2K9 online members can even utilize a rating system to assign higher or lower scores to certain user-created players. It’s called Player DNA, but don’t confuse it with a mechanic of the same name in the NBA Live games; the two features are quite different. And in the end, when you have such great freedom online, and you factor in the new five-on-five mode, there will be plenty to do when you log on to the PlayStation Network to test your skills against the rest of the b-ball-loving world. That is, if you inexplicably get tired of the very deep single-player that most sports simulators offer; everything from quick exhibition games to full-on seasons beginning with drafts and training will most certainly be available. Oh, and if you don’t like the default settings, those ultra-helpful sliders will let you fine-tune the settings to your style and taste.
NBA 2K9 is scheduled to hit store shelves on October 7, and fittingly, Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett will grace the cover. Can you repeat in virtual land with the new-look world champion Celts? Or would you rather try to take another team of your choosing to the promised land, starting from scratch and building towards those shiny rings? It’s all up to you, and that’s exactly the point.