Wednesday, February 23, 2005

NBA Street v3

I've been playing NBA Street v3 for about ten hours over the last five days, thanks to Gamefly (I still haven't bought an EA game since they secured the exclusive NFL license--we'll see how long that lasts).

Actually, it might not even last another two hours, because I really want to check out MVP. Does it count if I'm buying a game that they can't make next year?

NBA Street has always been one of my favorite franchises. V2 was my favorite sports game of the year in 2003--it was so polished that it gleamed. It was a fine moment for EA Sports.

I wrote part of the review of that title in street vernacular.
What up, whodie? Me and my peeps were bamas to the ballers--no steez, weak kicks, no skillz, just frontin' and cold lampin'. Playas highside the nathans, but I was catchin' the vapors. Then I rolled old school with Stretch Monroe and yo, he showed and proved, know what I'm sayin'? Throwin' down the Honey Dip, Boomdown, Bonafide, Krunk Junk, The Hammer, it's all tight. After I got Cha Cha and Off the Heezay, I was a baller, dawg. Me and my road dog Stretch step to--The Boogie Bang, ChiTown, The Get Low, Seatown--and it's phat. I'm doing a buck fifty, clockin' the R.T.D., and Stretch is reel to reel, he is smooth like butta. Then we hit L.A. and I fade Kobe B., dawg! Now I chill at Shaq's crib, parlaying with the posse. G'd up, got the bank and the bling bling. True that.

I have no idea what that all means, but I had a hell of a good time writing it. So much so that I just used it again.

So is v3 of the series an improvement over the outstanding v2? Yes.

And no.

In the "yes" category there are phenomenal graphics and a deeper career mode, including slam dunk competitions. The animation is also absolutely spectacular. The game design is as good or better than v2, and I thought that was one of the best-designed games I'd ever played.

In the "no" category we have looser control and some poor choices for camera angles. The announcer has also progressed from being clever in v2 to totally obnoxious and never shutting up in v3. Ever.

I mean it. He NEVER shuts up. Until I turned him off.

As I played this game, I was struck by this irony: v3 is more fun to watch and less fun to play. It's still fun, but it's not as fun as v2, due to the control and camera issues. The camera in v2 was perfect, and it was removed.

Note to sports game developers: never remove a camera angle that you included in a previous version. The code has already been written, and taking one out is going to piss people off (see ESPN NHL as another example). And please never develop a sports game that doesn't have a user-defined camera as an option, because it takes you off the hook if you make bad choices.

This game is tremendously well-designed, but I do think one conceptual error was made (and it was made in v2 as well). The career mode, essentially, is a long series of mini-games, which is great. Quite a few games go to 7 or 11 points, often with special rules (dunks only, etc.), and they're over quickly. Games that go to 21 points, though, with regular baskets only counting as one point, just last too long. It makes sense to have these games occasionally as tournament finals or as some kind of climax. But it works against the grain of the game to have too many of these as regular playground challenges. A player will literally play hundreds of challenges in the course of his career, and it's fun to have multiple careers. Very few people will experience that, though, if getting through even one career winds up being a grind.

This game has gotten quite a few reviews of 9 on a 1-10 scale, and I think that's fair. It's excellent work. I don't think I could recommend it over v2, though, which has better controls and camera angles, particularly when you can pick up v2 much cheaper.

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