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Review: NBA 2K9

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Having been an avid 2K Sports fan since the original on Dreamcast in 1999, I consider myself pretty knowledgeable when it comes to 2K Sports games. I follow the series each year, well up until 2K5 on the NFL side of things (thanks NFL and EA – exclusive rights for sports games is just lame). While it looks like EA is starting to get better with NBA games, 2K basketball has generally improved greatly each year, though even 2K had a couple of years that felt just so-so. NBA 2K9 is the latest, but is it still the greatest?

The offensive game is similar to 2K8, but feels more natural overall, thanks to better transitional moves and a more accurate sense of movement with the L-Thumbstick. 2K8 did a decent job of conveying the feel of L-Thumbstick, acting not only as directional player movement, but for ball handling moves. The only drawback into this very intricate control scheme was that the movements were slow, giving an unrealistic representation. 2K9 fixes this problem and just seems to smooth out the entire Iso-Motion system. Combining the L-Thumbstick along with the Left Trigger and/or Right Trigger can really lead to some amazing sequences; you’ll be saving a bunch of replays just for the dribble skills! One thing – Just because the offensive game has been refined even more, don’t think that means easy buckets. NBA 2K9 just seems harder overall, as in the AI defense can really shut you down at times and make you plan your moves well.

Defense has been enhanced this year, to the point where you really have to react quickly and accurately if you are going to guard well; one false step or jump and the ball handler will take advantage, quickly. Lock-On D has somewhat of a position indicator, which lets you know what zone the ball-handler is, such as in three-point range, mid-range, or short-range. Also, it’s great to see color coordinated icons that light up on the man you are supposed to defend, because it can sometimes be hard to know who’s who on the court. In addition, distance arrows are shown around your player’s icon, to let you know just how far away your man is, in case he’s off-screen. It’s great to see these little enhancements!

The player models have been revamped, bringing even more details on the faces and subtle enhancements to animations, especially in transitions. For those of you interested in man-sweat, you’ll be happy to know it’s returned – 2K8 sweat was minimal, if at all, while 2K7 was somewhat exaggerated; 2K9 sweat is somewhere in the middle.

Another notable change is to the general presentation. It seems like the presentation value is back to a similar level as it was during the good old days (using the ESPN license pretty well when they had it). The fully-3D crowd has even been enhanced, so there’s plenty to appreciate. The only minor negative to the new presentation is that nobody is sitting at the desk during the half-time show. 2K5 had Chris Berman, no problem – what gives? The soundtrack, once again, is pretty great overall. Many great hip-hop songs are present in 2K9, most of which don’t fall into the hip-pop gutter that NBA Live 09 tends to pride itself on. Kenny Smith is out this year, with Clark Kellogg replacing him in nearly every regard, even down to the choice of words. It appears that 2K had Kellogg just repeat Kenny Smith’s words from last year, while telling him not to add much more. It’s a shame, because Kenny Smith has a great voice for NBA games. Cheryl Miller replaces Craig Sager, but I haven’t actually seen her interviewing players or anything. To have Cheryl Miller actually interviewing players would have improved the overall presentation value, but it’s nice to at least have her voice there for sideline/injury reports.

The ‘Living Roster’ concept is interesting, with player attributes changing daily, depending on how that respective player did in real life. Since the NBA season has started, I’ve had a couple updates, which is definitely adds to the realism. Also, being able to upload your created player DNA and download other peoples’ creations is an awesome feature that finally has been implemented. Now I can upload my Manute Bol 2K9 character for all to download!

The various modes of play are still there as you remember, though Association Mode has been revamped some. Overall, it’s more of a change to interface, but it’s certainly welcome. I won’t go into the minute details of each mode, just know there’s plenty to do regardless of how you want to play the game. I will insert my annual gripe here, as it’s been the same since 2K incorporated Dunk Contests and Three Point Shootouts – 2K – WHY ARE THESE MODES NOT A PART OF ALL STAR WEEKEND!?! This is the one and only thing I do not understand about this series. The modes have been in the game for a while, but have not been a part of All-Star Weekend. In fact, there isn’t even an All-Star Weekend in the 2K universe, just the All-Star game on Sunday. I really hope 2K adds the full package someday!

Even though there have been a couple years that 2K took a small step back, they have always delivered a top-notch, realistic game of basketball. NBA 2K9 is the best I’ve played yet. Aside from fixing All-Star weekend and adding more to the overall presentation package, both of which are minor, I really can’t see much else that could be considered a huge problem. The gameplay is solid and perhaps only a few tweaks here and there and maybe a few more refinements on both offense and defense. These tweaks and refinements come with time and 2K Sports has shown they are committed to putting out the best NBA experience around. NBA Live 09 was a much better attempt by EA, so 2K must know they have to keep working hard and coming up with even more ideas to put in their game.

If you enjoy a more realistic representation of NBA Basketball, you have probably known for a long time that the 2K series is the only one that can honestly apply. While EA is just now starting to show something, 2K really has nothing to worry about. Grab this game now and have a blast!

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