“Not as good as NFL but still a great game”
Some people feel that basketball is the biggest game on the planet, and there is no bigger league then the NBA. Visual Concepts, SEGA and ESPN have come together to form ESPN NBA Basketball 2004, and whilst it doesn’t have the stylish presentation of the NFL title and won’t pull you in as much, it is a decent basketball game that represents both the sport and the NBA well.
ESPN NBA features four main game modes; 24/7, street, season and franchise. Season mode lets you take your favourite NBA franchise and have one tilt at the championship, its do or die. When in season mode as opposed to franchise you won’t have to deal with the upcoming draft of players coming from the NCAA, contracts, re-negotiations etc. You can completely focus on the task at hand but the disadvantage is, if you choose a weaker team you probably won’t win the championship and won’t get the chance to build that team into a powerhouse.
The bread and butter of many sports games over recent years, especially those based on primarily American sports has been the franchise mode and it is no different in this game. In the franchise mode you control everything about your team. Trades, drafting, contracts and other such tasks. This makes the game a much more in depth experience and rather then just having to focus on your current team, you have to look to the future. However if you want to play in the franchise mode and just forget about all these end of season tasks, it is possible to let it all be done automatically by the game behind the scenes.
One great thing about ESPN NBA is the street game mode. This allows you to play full court or half court street with some of the best NBA players around. The rules are different. Each basket is only worth a point and rather then playing on a time limit a point limit is set. Whilst the street mode is more of a novelty then a major part of the game such as the franchise mode, the ability to try something different other then the big games with packed crowds is a welcome change and definitely adds to the replay value of the title.
The other mode available is the 24/7 mode. This allows you to build up a character right from the start, changing his look, clothing etc and then taking him across America to try and build him up as the premiere street baller. And you won’t be taking on weak opposition either, players such as Shawn Kemp will challenge you to half court street. This game mode again is more a distraction then the bread and butter of the game, but even so like the street mode definitely adds to the replay value of the game and overall value for money as well.
Whilst ESPN NBA Basketball doesn’t feature the same level of stylish presentation that ESPN NFL Football has, it still has the ESPN licence and still does have some redeeming qualities. Before each match there is a pre-match introduction which like in NFL acts as the loading screen but there is no half time show and instead of the weekly wrapup, there is a nightly wrap up but this doesn’t feature actual footage from matches simulated by the game itself. After each match the commentators will go through the “Storyline” of the match and announce an MVP as well which is a nice addition but we still feel that the NFL ESPN game has a better presentation then this title. This isn’t a major problem for the game however, due to the fact its mainly aesthetic and doesn’t affect the actual game play all that much.
The game is officially licensed and thus features all the official franchises, stadiums, logos and players from the NBA itself. The ESPN licence is also again employed with this game and thus the presentation is very much like watching an actual coverage of the sport by ESPN. The player likeness is also highly impressive with players featuring tattoos, correct hair, and they will also react to the current situation. If they land a three point they will rub it in the face of the opposition but may also react to referee calls they don’t like.
ESPN NBA Basketball offers a tough challenge and features some great AI for both your team mates and the opposing side. Even on the default difficulty level most players will find a challenge and matches will be close with only one or two points in it. However at times we found our players missing absolute sitter shots which was nothing short of annoying, sometimes even slam dunks bounced out. Whilst if this happens occasionally it is acceptable because players do make mistakes, it happened more regularly then we would have expected from players in the NBA.
Thanks to some great controls the game is really easy to play. Looking at the control list can be daunting it isn’t that hard to play. When jumping for shots, letting go at the peak of the jump is more likely to render a successful basket. The left analogue stick is used to move but the right analogue stick performs the special moves from the players library. You can twist and spin around players quite easily with this control system and then drive for the basket. Doing this for the first time may leave you wondering if you just did that but it adds a great deal of enjoyment to playing the game having that level of control of the player.
As mentioned before ESPN NBA Basketball features unique stadiums for each teams which look great and also feature a full 3D animated crowd. The player animations are also impressive and the level of detail is high. The visuals are quite good and the frame rate is rock solid. Sound wise the crowd cheering and stadium announcements provide the ambient sound but for the soundtrack a hip hop/R&B style soundtrack has been employed for the main menus etc.
Overall ESPN NBA Basketball is a great game which will have fans of the NBA satisfied until next years edition rolls around. It features accurate graphics of all players, the proper stadiums and everything else that comes with the licence as well as a great ESPN presentation. It may not be on the level of the NFL game, but it is still one of the better sports games available on the PS2 to date.