ESPN NBA Basketball Xbox
Developed by Visual Concepts Entertainment
Released - Out Now
Price : £39.99
We've already taken a look at two exceptional games from the SEGA ESPN range, ESPN NFL Football and ESPN NHL Hockey, and now it's time to look at another one, ESPN NBA Basketball. Thanks to a glut of great sports games, particularly to the ESPN range, the Xbox has become a console that has begun to excel at offering a diverse and impressive collection of sports games that can easily rival any console out there. In terms of basketball games we've previously looked at two of the NBA Inside Drive games and both were enjoyable. Is ESPN NBA Basketball the best basketball game on Xbox? Let's find out.
It's become a hallmark of this years ESPN games to offer a whole load of great game modes and ESPN NBA Basketball certainly continues this trend. The mode that really stands out though is the new 24/7 mode. Basically it's a mode where you create your own player and build up your own skills by competing in a series of training modes and challenges against the NBA players. You can even take your player online and compete in online street ball games. As the title of the mode would suggest it has real time events and you'll find different challenges at different times of the day. Players you defeat will give you their cell phone number and you can later call them and ask them to team up for a 2 vs 2 game. If you don't practice for a few days your skills will diminish. With it being a real time game mode it's crucial that you set your system clock correctly before you play. As a game mode it's certainly unique and hardcore fans of the sport will love the addictiveness and originality of 24/7.
The rather more usual game modes include an excellent Franchise mode, Season mode, Tournament mode, Playoff mode, Quick Game and various Street games. The street games on offer are Full Court, Half Court, One on One and 21. Whilst the hardcore basketball fans will want to sink their teeth into the Franchise mode the Street game modes are perfect for when you only have a short time to play. The Franchise mode really is excellent though and gives you total control over your team. You can even employ the coaches and scouts of your own choosing. Some of the trades can appear a little uneven in the Franchise mode but nevertheless it's still very impressive.
Whilst the control system is ultimately rewarding it is, initially, a bit tricky to get used to. I was pleased to see an excellent icon pass system (where you press the Y button to show button icons over the players it's possible to pass to) and other control basics that will be instantly familiar to you if you've played any other basketball game on Xbox. The new Isomotion ball control, that is carried out with the right analogue stick, takes some getting used to but can prove valuable once you've mastered it. Free throws are also a little tricky to get used to but I feel they actually simulate the real life difficulty of a free throw and the satisfaction from getting it right is far greater than in any other basketball game. To perform a free throw you'll need to line up aiming brackets with the left and right triggers and then time your press of the A button (which controls the distance dot) to perfection. As with all the controls though practice will soon help you adjust and make things more comfortable.
Graphically ESPN NBA Basketball, like the other ESPN titles we've looked at, is superb. Once again the player models and animations are nothing short of superb and if you follow the NBA you'll instantly recognise most of the players because the likenesses are just that good. The pace of the game feel right too and it doesn't simply try to be an end to end sprint session like some basketball games have been in the past. The arenas and the crowds look impressive too and not once did I experience any slowdowns as the frame rate was rock solid. It's easily the best looking basketball on Xbox to date.
Just as with ESPN NFL Football and ESPN NHL Hockey the only part of the game that is not subtitled is the game commentary. All objectives and instructions in every mode is shown in text that is easy to read and requires a button press to remove it from the screen. I was impressed by the game manual as it not only gave you a list of the games controls but also went into greater detail about how to execute the various moves. The game also comes with a manual that can be accessed in-game and this covers even greater detail on the various game play concepts. The game also makes a clever use of icons and during a game you'll notice that players will have icons by them so as to indicate their abilities. The shoe icon for instance indicates that a player is quick and the cross hairs icon indicates the player has a good jumpshot. It just goes to show that it's not only text that can provide visual feedback for deaf gamers.
Whilst ESPN NBA Basketball is a superb basketball game there a few areas that could do with improving. One of the main problems are the uneven trades in the Franchise mode. More playbooks could have been included too. Still the few problems that do exist can't stop the game from being an all round great basketball game. The 24/7 mode is simply the icing on the cake and alone justifies the price of the game. The new Isomotion moves are also a really worthwhile addition to the game although mastering them will take some time. In fact having to practice and improve is what makes ESPN NBA Basketball so enjoyable. The 24/7 mode succeeds in enabling you to learn the basic mechanics of the game in a highly enjoyable way (much like the mini-games in the Madden NFL series) and I'd recommend this as the best place to start when you first play the game. Essentially then it's another great addition to both the Xbox and the ESPN sports collection.
Game Rating: 8.9/10
It's been an excellent year for SEGA's ESPN games and ESPN NBA Basketball is no exception as it's another great game and the best basketball game on Xbox.
As you would expect the game commentary is unsubtitled but otherwise it's fine for deaf gamers and makes good use of informative icons.