LAPTOP GAMING: NBA 2K9

THIS IS KIND OF A REVIEW

EA Sports said it couldn’t be done. They said developing a next-gen sports title for the PC just wasn’t feasible. They turned their backs on PC sports gamers and left us to rot in 07 hell. And just when it all seemed doomed and bleak, 2K Sports’ NBA 2K9 for PC arrives. NBA 2K9 is to us PC sports gamers what Virgil was to Dante, a savior, a guide, our way out of sporting purgatory.

Ok, melodrama out of the way, all I really want to say is that NBA 2K9 is indisputable proof that PC sports games can be next-gen quality. I haven’t yet played the console versions but have read on the Internet that the PC version is a port of the X-Box game. As expected the graphics are extremely pleasing to the eye. I had fooled a couple of friends into thinking they were watching a real NBA game on my laptop and it took them a while to realize the truth. The animations are in all probability the best in any sports game to date. It’s amazing how well different animations transition to the next and my god, there are a considerable number of them. Also worth noting is the quality of the crowds in-game. They are very dynamic, lively, and deceptively random. On the downside, the players’ faces are hit and miss, mostly misses in my opinion. This is one area that EA Sports still has a better handle on as you can see in their titles like NBA Live 09 and NHL 09.
Gameplay-wise, NBA 2K9 is very fine albeit not perfect. The pace of the game is just about right for me and I find that I have to play full 12 minute quarters to simulate a real NBA game’s final boxscore. As mentioned above, the animations are top-notch which means the gameplay benefits from things like players fighting through screens, boxing out for the rebounds, fighting for post position, and even diving for loose balls. I also like the free-throw mechanics because there isn’t any. Admittedly, the last NBA title I played was probably NBA 2K3 and back then free throws were like mini-games. NBA Live had the type where you stopped two circles moving back & forth on a vertical and horizontal bar via button press to shoot a free throw. NBA 2K3 had the most annoying one where you would use the analog triggers of the Sega Dreamcast controller and get them just at the right pressure so the two meters on screen would meet right in the middle then a button press would shoot a free throw. Very frustrating stuff. In NBA 2K9 free throws work just like regular field goals where the length of time you hold the shoot button down determines if your shot is short, long, or just right. I feel this simulates a real free throw much more accurately than the earlier incarnations, although for some reason I can time Dwight Howard’s free throws perfectly and he ends up shooting about 90% every game.
There are a couple of problems though which are products of the realistic player animations. One is when I stop my  point guard after crossing the half court line, the player goes into this step back animation and commits a backcourt violation. The animation is great and legitimate but it’s really annoying why it plays in this area of the court. Another is because the game models any specific player’s real shooting style, the timing of releasing the shoot button during field goals varies. I found it particularly difficult to time Stephen Jackson’s 3-pointers right because he has this kind of slow over the back of the head shooting style and it throws my timing right off.
But, I digress. My Laptop Gaming entries should be more about a game’s ability to run well on lower end machines, and on this front, NBA 2K9 is admirable. Besides the Player Quality and Sideline Characters Quality being set on Ultra High and High respectively, I turn all other settings to low or if possible, off. This lets the game run at a respectable frame rate except during cutscenes where the textures seem to ramp up therefore bogging down the speed. I like doing the squint test where you slightly squint your eyes and see if the game fools you into thinking your watching real live action. Let me tell you, if I could keep my eyes squinting for the duration of an entire game, I would. It’s jawdroppingly realistic especially during the TV-style replays.
All in all what that really excites me about this release is the thought that once someone figures out a way, there will be a slew of user created updates, addons and mods for the game. More importantly though, NBA 2K9 should serve as a wake-up call to EA Sports to develop their next-gen titles for the PC (mainly because I want NHL 09 really badly).
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