I’m not sure if it was the classic Lakers-Celtics matchup in the Finals, the emergence of Chris Paul as the best point guard in the world or watching King James do his best Atlas impression with the Cavaliers — but this is most excited I’ve been about a new NBA season in years. I’m probably not alone.
“NBA 2K9″ seems to understand this, which is why it comes to us this season with an even stronger game than in years past.
There’s a laundry list of new features in this game, but the one thing that stays with you is the overall on-court experience.
You get the full TV-style treatment the moment you fire up the first game, complete with video footage spotlighting a certain player on both teams, a look at the announce team and the starting lineups. You even get slow motion mini-replays in between quarters.
What really sticks out is the pure realism of the visuals, from the players to the crowd to the arena itself.
The player models are exquisite — when you have the ability to actually READ some of the words on Allen Iverson’s tattoos or count the stars on LeBron’s ink, you know you’ve reached a special level of detail.
That kind of approach extends to the players’ individual talents, as they play and move like their real-life counterparts.
Shawn Marion still has his drop-dead-ugly jumper, Dwight Howard destroys everyone under the rim, Kobe is practically unstoppable, while Chris Paul can toss perfect alley-oops to Tyson Chandler. It’s especially fun to play with Paul, as the announcer and crowd unleash a “Wooooo!” cheer when he scores — just like the real crowd in New Orleans. I also learned the value of now being able to change my shot in mid-air, so you can take it to the rack with a little more confidence.
All this realism extends to the strategic part of hoops as well, as players have the chance to run and perfect a number of set plays from the various playbooks of all of the NBA teams.
However, the price of all this realism is that the control scheme is one of the most complicated you’ll find in any sports game.
If you’ve never played a 2K hoops game before, you’ll be stuck trying to play a lot of run-and-gun as you attempt to learn the multitude of techniques used for post-up play, pick-and-rolls and even the difference between spin moves and hesitation dribbles. Basketball is meant to be a fluid game, but this Bible’s worth of controls would probably scare off some people.
One more feature I wanted to mention was the ability to meet up with nine other ballers online for a nice game of virtual 5-on-5. There are few things better than setting up a cutting teammate for an easy bucket or playing a classic inside-outside game with your buddy in the post. It’s hoops at its best.
It’d be easy to say this is the finest hoops title out there, but like I said before, it’s also the most complex. Practice makes perfect.