Although exclusive sporting licenses for games are being sold left right and centre these days, most notably seen with EASport's exclusive acquisition of the NFL license, the NBA have remained loyal to the concept of competition in their associated video game products for the mean time, denying EA's attempts to purchase their license in late 2004. The reality of the situation was, however, that the NBA Live series from EA was simply not dominant enough to justify the NBA granting it exclusive rights, so instead they kept the market open, and the gamers, in comparison to the reasonably disappointing NFL video gaming scene of late, are benefiting greatly from the competition, with 2KSports heavily involved at the forefront of the NBA gaming world. Their latest title is NBA 2K6 for the Xbox 360, and while the "next gen" element may not be overly present in this game, you will be hard pressed to find a more complete sporting title for the new generation of gaming.
The first thing you will notice about NBA 2K6 360 is that all the modes are here from the old gen systems - "The Crib", Quick Game, Season, Street, Tournament, Practice, Situation and 24/7 game modes are all present, including of course a Xbox Live online proportion with leagues and tournaments along with standard quick ranked and un-raked online games. Within these modes you will also find all the sub modes - for instance, in Street mode you can choose between full court, half court, one on one and "21", which is a "free for all" style street mode. On top of this, NBA 2K6 features a fully working "Association" mode, which is basically the dynasty/franchise mode allowing you to act as GM/coach of any NBA team from year to year. This is notable as a few other 360 sport titles suffered from little if any substantial franchise mode.
In fact, the Association mode on offer in the 360 version is incredibly well rounded and fully featured. Just about everything you'd expect is here - mid season rookie scouting, player rating development via mini-games, the ability to define offensive and defensive playbooks, trades, free agency, contract negotiations between staff and players, a team budget, owners with differing demands from you and their team, and fully working gameplay sliders and other settings to just name some of the major aspects. It is clear that 2KSports have really focused on making NBA 2K6 360 more than just a game to tide you over until 2K7's release - if being an arm chair GM as well as an arm chair baller is your thing, 2K6 would have you gaming well beyond 2K7's release going off the depth in the Association mode alone.
On top of all the game modes, 2K6 360 also has the "VIP" system which 2KSports have been using in their sporting titles since the 2K5 days. VIP is basically a way to track the tenancies of not only yourself, but other people you may come across on the Xbox Live service. The profiles are reasonably in-depth and basically cover just about every aspect of how the profile owner plays in the form of stats and percentages. It is a handy little feature if you go out of your way to use it, but it's probably not a huge deal for most gamers.
When transitioning from one console to the next, it could be said a lot of developers lose focus on their gameplay, particularly for sporting games. NBA 2K6, however, it not a victim of this. Simply put, NBA 2K6 360 plays like no other NBA game before it. Even on arcadish settings the game feels and flows very realistically. When a guy makes a block, you really feel as if he should have made the block. When a guy towers over the rest for the rebound, you really feel as if that guy should be dominating the boards. When playing the Suns, you really have to adjust to their high paced offensive style or get burnt. The game also does a very good job of CPU AI in many regards. First of all, 2K6 can be very, very challenging if you want it to be as the AI can really put on a show in this game, but at the same time realism is never really lost. For instance, in an Association game with the Nuggets on the All-Star difficulty setting, I played the Lakers two times in one week, and while I beat them twice, Kobe Bryant racked up 50 points in the first meeting, and 45 in the second. This is somewhat relevant to real life this past NBA season as Kobe occasionally did this only to lose due to poor support from his teammates, and that is exactly why they lost to me twice in 2K6 - because the rest of the Lakers couldn't muster more than 35 points on either occasion. As stated already, simply put, 2K6 360 plays brilliantly and will have casual gamers and NBA enthusiasts alike on the edge of their seats.
However, while the gameplay is very solid in NBA 2K6, it was solid on the PS2 and Xbox as well. That is basically the major issue with NBA 2K6 360 - it is essentially a port when it comes to the gameplay and engine. On one hand this may be a huge relief to some gamers, because while it may be nice to think in this day and age of game developing a new console doesn't mean a step back in gameplay, often this is the case when developers opt to take on a totally new engine over porting. At least this way you know 2K6 360 is based on proven design. However, on the other hand, this means, as far as the hardcore fans of the series go, 2K6 360 is probably not going to be worth the retail purchase as it is more or less the same game to play. Still, I think most fans will agree on the notion that 2KSports shouldn't fix what isn't broken, and while porting the game for 2K6 360 may limit its initial appeal, it means they have more time to really separate the new gen from the old with 2K7 - after all, a ported engine from the old gen doesn't necessarily mean it can't be tweaked and transformed into a truly next gen experience - at least, that's the theory.
Unfortunately, 2K6 360 does seem to suffer from a few stability quirks here and there. While I believe the PAL version (in review here) comes pre-applied with a patch, earlier (i.e. NTSC) versions of the game required updating via Xbox Live to fix a few bugs, but not all were squashed. For instance, if you go and download an updated roster from the Xbox Live section and start an Association mode dynasty with this roster, anytime you exit the Association mode from the default "Monthly view" instead of the "Daily view", your Xbox 360 will freeze up. This is a reasonably well known issue amongst 2K6 communities gauging off various discussion forums for the game, but it seems no fix is in site as it has been an issue for a while now. While this issue and others are not what I would consider to be game killing, they are a little disappointing, but users of the 2K series of games will know all too well that bugs and freezes aren't exactly rare.
Visually, NBA 2K6 is a mixed bag of impressive and not so impressive elements. The impressive aspects are very evident from start to finish in every game, and these are of course the player models. While NBA games for a while now have mastered the art of replicating NBA players down to such details as their hair styles and tattoo's, NBA 2K6 takes this to an entirely new level. The faces are uncanny and the personal tidbits, such as Shaq's tattoos and Rip's face mask, are rendered down to their finest detail. As game's wear on, you will also see sweat rolling down the skin of players and accumulating on jersey's and shorts in stains. On top of this, the game features an intensely life like "loose cloth" effect on the jersey's and shorts, making them bounce around like they would in real life, although these effects are much better when seen from a distance, as close up some slight graphical quirks are evident.
As far as the not so impressive visual elements go, there isn't a whole lot to pick apart but a few small inconsistencies caught my attention. Firstly, the courts and environments bar the fans (who are all 3D models, which is a significant leap over crowds of yesteryear) are not on the same level visually as the player models. They still look good, but not "next gen" good like the players do. Secondly, the animations, while mostly stunning, are not all great. For example, if you chuck the game into replay mode and zoom in on any given series, you'll probably see various clipping issues, disjointed transitions between animations and even on some occasions I clearly witnessed the ball bouncing in the possession of a player a good 2 feet above the ground as he ran forward. These issues are hard to spot in the heat of action, so you can quite easily turn a blind eye, but they still let the game's overall immersion factor down, if only slightly. Don't be discouraged though, ultimately you will be very impressed with the graphics in 2K6.
When it comes down to it, NBA 2K6 360 is a port of the 2K6 title seen on the Xbox and PS2 that features some major graphical enhancements, but when you look at most other sporting games on the 360, this is probably a good thing. If you already have NBA 2K6 on an older console and aren't totally driven by graphics, then you can probably live easy skipping on 2K6 360 and just waiting for 2K7, but for those 360 owners new to the series, or for those who sold their Xbox to get a 360 and just want some great basketball gameplay to make 2K7's release come sooner, you won't find a more complete NBA game out there. What 2K6 360 lacks in innovation coming onto the new console it certainly makes up for in content. Hopefully for 2K7, however, 2KSports can start to take stability and bugs slightly more seriously, as it is an issue seen in many of their games of late.