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The New Standard for Hardwood Action

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After Electronic Arts bought the exclusive rights to the National Football League and ESPN, Visual Concepts closed the doors on their NFL 2K development house and divested their personnel into other sports titles. The additional staff members would help improve gameplay, user interface and graphics to give the other sports titles in the 2K family a boost, and possibly an edge over EA. One of the those titles, NBA 2K6 for the Xbox 360, is the new bar to which anyone should compare a basketball game.

The gameplay in NBA 2K6 is truly authentic. Not only will you notice that the players and the court feel more genuine, but screens work with the right efficiency and players in the post react accordingly. The most drastic improvement in 2K6 as it jumps from the Xbox to Xbox 360 is in the Isomotion mechanic. When trying to pull off behind the back, crossover and spin moves in the Xbox title your player would sometimes appear to look like a crack addict looking for a fix. In the 360 title, Isomotion moves are fluid, easier to pull off, and the learning curve is less steep.

The two new installments to gameplay are the Shot Stick and the Strip and Rip mechanic. Both are used with the right analog stick and make a direct impact on the game. The Shot Stick is used by pulling or pushing the right analog stick in a direction and letting go when the player gets to the top of his jump shot. While you can still shoot the ball by pressing the X button, the Shot Stick has a better feel to it and when perfected can be handy against a good opponent. The Strip and Rip function is used when on the defensive side of the ball. To steal, you simply press the right analog stick in the direction of the ball handler?s dribble. While the Strip and Rip doesn?t work all of the time, it does a good job at accurately portraying how hard it can be to steal from players at the NBA level.

The pace of games in NBA 2K6 also works to create an authentic feel. For those who like the quicker pace, however, they may be in for a letdown as fouls tend to increase when playing on the fast pace setting. Most roundball fanatics will want to adjust the sliders to get the real statistics of the game down, but the feel of the NBA is here in 2K6, and is only enhanced by the top notch graphics.

The player models in NBA 2K6 look fantastic. Famous players such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Ray Allen look like their real counterparts, though less popular players like Kirk Heinrich or Tim Thomas look less impressive. What will stick out at first will be the contrast between the coaches and players. On court or during games the contrast between highly polygonal players and less-defined coaches visually breaks the user?s experience. While one can understand how Visual Concepts could not render the whole crowd in the same detail as the players, the lack of effort towards the 30 NBA head coaches is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Visually VC has crammed everything on a court into this game, from the mats that players use before they take the court to the little cameras behind the backboard glass; it?s all here. The details in graphics don?t just come down to modeling cameras; it?s when you see the jerseys move and players sweat that you?ll be stunned. Jerseys realistically sway with and away from players on the court when they make drives to the basket or when an opponent screens them. Players will also start to sweat late in the first quarter, and by the end of the fourth, starters and sixth-man players will be drenched. All the little things that VC has jammed packed into this title will make for a great visual experience. There?s something to be said for the way this game looks and feels on an HDTV and without one you?re not getting the whole experience. Not only are you getting shorted on the visuals, but without an HD signal, you lose the enhanced audio as well.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital Gamesound brings the whole package together, as the squeaking from a player?s shoes to the clangs from the backboard, can clearly be heard while playing a game. The crowd responds well to the game in progress, for example, if your team is getting blown out at home you?re not going to hear much… But, if your team is getting blown out on the road, you?re going to have to take your superstar to the hole to silence the crowd.

The commentary gets a boost as well, as the TNT crew of Kevin Harlan, Kenny Smith, and Craig Sager have filled the shoes of the former ESPN team that featured a nauseating Bill Walton. Commentary is usually on point with a few exceptions, as some of the dialogue is used repetitively when comparing similar players or performances.

2K6 uses small channels of audio grouped together to make the presentation whole. Though some gamers may choose to fine-tune the smaller channels like commentary, crowd, arena music, and game sound, the default settings sound excellent.

There are several game modes to play in NBA 2K6, that will add great replay value such as your generic quick play, practice, and tournament modes. In addition, there are two modes, which make the game great: The Association and Road to the EBC. The Association is your typical franchise mode with a twist; you?re assigned as the general manager to one of the 30 professional basketball teams in the NBA. You?ll hire and fire scouts, trainers, and coaches in hopes to lead your team to the playoffs, and draft the rookies that will make that trip easier next spring. Furthermore you can also train your professional athletes through mini games and practices to improve their skills. So if you think King James needs to work on his ?D,? you can send his royalness to the gym.

Road to the EBC, on the other hand, is a street baller simulation where you?ll create a player of your design and take him against the best in the NBA. No longer on the hardwood, you?ll notice that the game is a combination of physicality and flash over technique and finesse. Every time you beat a player one-on-one you?ll get his phone number along with new clothing apparel to outfit your baller. Occasionally you?ll play celebrities, two-on-two or special one-on-one games that have uniqueness to them. For example, Bomb Ball is a game where you have a certain amount of time before shooting the ball; wait too long and the ball will explode, causing you and your score to take a hit. When you finally make it to Rucker Park and win the tournament, you can take your baller through the draft to the NBA. Both modes are sure to keep any hoops fanatic busy until next year.

Xbox Live subscribers will have plenty of fun with online tournaments and seasons. Playing other worthy candidates will mean that you can download their VIP profile. An addition that made its way from NFL 2K5, VIP profiles enable players to practice against the people they have played online offline. Moreover, online addicts will be able to pit their street baller from Road to the EBC against the street ballers of other online players.

The smooth gameplay adds a level of realism to a basketball game that simply looks and feels great. Action Replays look so good, that for about the first twenty or so games, you?re going to want to keep the setting on frequent. When going back into replay mode to view your dunks or great passes, the game still looks great. The graphics will have you coming back to this title time and again just so you can see the players sweat it out in the fourth quarter.

With all of the great improvements and new features in NBA 2K6, there are still some things that need attention. A common problem with the 2K series has been the lack of editing options. For example, after drafting rookies, many look the same, and wear the same shoes. As of right now, there?s no option to edit players after you?ve started your Association. Also, when trading players, shoes still remain specific to the player?s old team. So if you?re the Bulls, and you?ve traded with the Indiana Pacers for Ron Artest, his shoes will still be yellow and blue; not good.

Another setback includes the compatibility of NBA 2K6 with the upcoming College Hoops 2K6. Unfortunately, you have to enter your draft class before you start your Association. So if you?re planning to import your draft classes from College Hoops to NBA 2K6, then your going to have to wait until January when the 360 version of Hoops hit retailers. While it?s a nice feature to scout recruits all year long in Association, many gamers would probably trade that feature in order to start their Association now.

Though editing options fall short of what would be a must-have basketball title, NBA 2K6 is arguably the best sports title for the 360 right now. As a whole NBA 2K6 is the basketball game that every sports fan should have. In a launch of some half completed or lackluster titles, VC brings depth and quality to a game that deserves its $59.99 price tag.

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