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November 4, 2008
NBA 2K9 - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
10/10/20082K Games2K GamesVisual Concepts1-72-10
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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NBA 2K9 certainly looks impressive.
For the longest time EA Sports dominated almost every sports genre known to consoles. However more recently developers such as Konami (with Pro Evolution Soccer), and 2K Sports with their excellent 2K series of sports games have started to peg EA back and win the respect of fans and critics alike. The NBA 2K series, perhaps more than any other, is indicative of the changing of the guard and has become one of the best basketball games available – can NBA 2K9 live up to such lofty expectations?

The good news for basketball fans is that the short answer is yes. NBA 2K9 has the all the standard game types present – Practice, Exhibition, Association, Online and even the Dunk Competition and 3-point Shootouts that take place on all-star weekend. Surprisingly, and unlike many other sports games, most users will need to spend some time on the practice court before being able play a good game of ‘ball. NBA 2K9 is many things, but being short on moves is not one of them. The instruction manual apparently (no manual was provided with the review copy of the game) has more than half of its content devoted to in-game moves, and provides a link for the user to access a thirteen-page online PDF document with more moves and descriptions on how to pull them off. The various sections of the in-game Practice mode outline how to perform roughly two-hundred on-court moves for your players. As such it is important to note that NBA 2K9 is a simulation at heart, and people looking for a game they can pick up and play without much thought may need to look elsewhere. However those that love their basketball, or have the patience to learn the required skills will find NBA 2K9 a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

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Utah Jazz take on the Boston Celtics.
The majority of users will spend their time playing the Association 2.0 mode, where you control a team through multiple NBA seasons. All of the options you could possibly want out of such a mode are present and accounted for, and happily for those that just want to get on with it and play, most of the options can be automated by allowing your assistant coaches to manage them. The biggest problem with the Association mode is the user-interface. NBA 2K9 tries to incorporate, using that as the home page for Association navigation along with giving each team their own home page with headlines and articles relating to the team. It's a nice idea but it's poorly implemented, making it much harder than it should be to find what you're looking for. However once you get around that you can set your starting line-up, scout an upcoming opponent, check out the league leaders or adjust just about every in-game option you can think of. Player trades are commonplace in Association mode, with the CPU-controlled teams trading amongst themselves, or offering trades with your team. The rules for trades now more closely mirror the real-life NBA which will please ardent fans.

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China's most famous basketballer in 2K9.
Once the games start, the presentation is hard to fault. The crowds and stadiums look fantastic, as do the players and mascots going through their pre-game routines. Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Cheryl Miller provide the commentary and for the most part they do a decent job. Kellogg's analysis can be repetitive after a few games, and Miller's sideline comments can be a bit out of place, for example she'll talk about the number of missed free-throws being a concern despite the team having missed only one or two free-throws. However neither issue is enough to bring the commentary down too much. Player animations are great, with the majority of the players' faces clearly recognisable as their real-life counterparts and plenty of signature moves looking just like you've seen on TV. At the end of each game you can take a look at the top-3 plays of the game, which is fun even if the selections are a bit surprising at times (a Steve Nash layup taking top-spot over a LeBron signature slam for example). You can also check out the “signature highlights” for each player in the game, which is all the highlights those players had in that particular game, and it can be pretty cool to check them out, especially when they inconceivably miss out on being in the top-3 plays.

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That looks like five on one there.
Computer opponents boast "adaptive AI" this season, and it shows during games. If you like to continually take it to the rack, you'll find two or three opponents waiting to defend you by the second-quarter, forcing you to change up your strategy at least every now and then. I also found that there was a notable difference in the skills of certain teams. If you're playing against the relatively weak Oklahoma outfit, you may very well rack up a big win, however if you're up against the leagues elite like the Celtics, Suns or Lakers, you're likely going to have a very tough game on your hands. One gripe I have with the in-game play is that directional passing is a waste of time as it will often result in a turnover, even when your player appears wide open. Instead you have to click away on the L1 trigger to bring up the passing icons, and then hit the relevant button for the player you want to pass to. It's a minor inconvenience once you get used to it, but it's surprising how little sense your players have at times when trying to pass with the analog stick.

The online experience is pleasantly smooth, with no noticeable frame-rate issues or glitches in my matches. The one problem that did crop up was the difficulty of hitting free-throws. Free throws work by pulling down on the right analog stick and then releasing it at the correct spot in the players' animation. This can be tricky in local play, but in an online game it's even more hit and miss. This is a minor frustration though, with online play being an otherwise enjoyable experience. There's also plenty to do online outside of playing games – you can upload rosters, game sliders and created players as well as use Reelmaker to direct your own highlight reels which you can then post online.

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Going for the lay-up in NBA 2K9.
One feature that hasn't been thoroughly tested for this review is the Living Rosters. The idea of the Living Rosters is to provide up-to-date adjustments to the rosters in NBA 2K9 based on player performances in the real NBA season. So if a trade happens in the NBA, expect the Living Rosters to update your rosters. Also if a player goes on a hot or cold streak they will see their skills adjusted accordingly. However with the NBA season only just kicking off there have been no major adjustments made yet, and as such this aspect of the game has not been considered in the review (though it's a great concept).

As stated earlier the graphics are one of the strengths of NBA 2K9. The players look like their real-life counterparts, the signature moves are well animated and the game moves fluidly all around the court. Even the crowd looks impressive, with each member of the crowd behaving independently of those around them, unlike many other sports games where the crowd moves the same way in bunches. Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg look a little bit odd in the pre-game introductions, especially Kellogg's eyes, but on the whole this is hardly significant.

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About to slam the ball.
The game has an authentic sound about it when the game is going on, with all the appropriate sound effects for shoes squeaking, slam dunks, heavy collisions and most importantly the crowd noise. The crowd will react in a quite authentic way, cheering wildly when the home team scores, or gets on a bit of a run, whilst going silent when the visiting team scores or hits the lead. It's not a perfect system in that the home team may be winning by a lot, only for the crowd to be silenced when the visitors score. However the crowd does do a very decent job of setting the atmosphere. The music in the game is the usual mix of hip-hop and quickly fades into the background without being annoying or sparkling.

Overall NBA 2K9 is a thoroughly enjoyable game. The controls are a bit over-complicated which will turn some newcomers off, but devoted basketball fans, or those with a bit of patience will be well rewarded for their efforts. NBA 2K9 looks great, plays well and the crowd does a great job of setting the right atmosphere. With a deep and enjoyable Association mode NBA 2K9 should keep fans busy until next year's instalment.

Review By: Mike Allison

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GRAPHICSVery impressive. Player’s look great and the animation is fluid.
SOUNDThe crowd does a credible job bringing real atmosphere to the matches. The sound effects are solid and the music passable.
GAMEPLAYOverly-complicated controls will take some getting used to, but persistence will be rewarded with a great game of 'ball.
VALUEAssociation 2.0 mode is deep and engaging and there’s plenty on offer to keep you busy.
OVERALLNBA 2K9 is a top game though it is catered more for purists than the casual gamer. If you’re a basketball fan you should pick up this game.

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