In a move that somewhat cuts against the proverbial grain, Fox Sports want to emphasize that NBA Basketball 2000 is not an EA Sports-beater, but instead is a basketball game that excels in its own right.
Which is probably one of the wisest marketing moves I've seen in a while, somewhat akin to the fictional "number 2 and proud of it" ad campaign seen in that abysmal Jennifer Aniston flick, "Picture Perfect". Either that or it's just downright cowardice.
Still, considering this stance we can probably forgive the lack of customisable leagues and the famous career mode found in NBA Live, but that hardly justifies the bizarre series of fumbles that the game suffers from in the areas where it is supposed to excel.
Things go pear-shaped pretty damned soon after you start out... You've got realistic statistics, which is nice since I can then play as basketball players that I have actually ever heard of, but instead of these stats creating an equilibrium with the basketball world, the realism just goes right out of the window once you begin.
You can beat the Orlando Magic by about 50 points right from the off. 169-115? That's absurd! I couldn't quite understand this, so I thought that the AI difficulty must be set to rock bottom. Nope, it's the average setting.
At this point you realise that the computer's input into the game is what causes the problems. The players chase you around without making much real effort to steal the ball, and once they manage to scrounge possession a simple blip on the control pad should regain it for you.
Out Of Control
In addition, should you want to let the computer play out a game on your behalf, which is pretty much bread and butter to every sports simulation these days, you have two options. You can either start a season game and then relinquish control to the computer for about 3/4 of the season, or start a single match then hand over control once you're off.
The problem then arises that you do not want the computer doing the whole season for you, you just want to simulate a couple of results, but with the other option you are left watching a whole 10 minutes of basketball, not even being called upon to help out with play-selection.
And if you have read my recent review of NHL C2K then you will not be surprised to find the controls in NBA B2K are just as bad. You are going to be wrestling just to play the damned thing. Running before you walk? Pah! Walking would be a result in itself!
Normally when you begin a game you hit either the left or right D-pad button to select which team to control. Nope, in NBA B2K you have to drag and drop the controller into position. Someone explain to me how wasting my time is a virtue worth programming.
The gamepad still doesn't do anything that it is supposed to do. I had to reprogram the controls in the gamepad's Windows control panel to even move my players. The keyboard controls aren't much better either, and you'll be lucky if you can actually establish a key-combo that the game accepts.
In order to play the game I ended up hanging upside down with my left foot clicking the mouse and my right hand on the keyboard. Maybe this game genuinely was programmed by monkeys.
Now there's a thought...
It's Raining Flaws
And the torrent of niggles continues to fall. There are about four offensive plays to choose from. Who the hell decided to cut it that short? There's no variety, and I just wanted out after a few games.
In terms of varying the action, soccer titles have started to get it right, so why can't basketball titles? I have never been so frustrated by the non-complicity of a sports game before. I want to command the game, not become a particularly vocal bystander.
Luckily Fox Sports had their heads on correctly when it came to the graphics, as the players are fluid and detailed. The shirts ripple and ebb like an estuary at times over the smooth contours of Jordan and co. Likewise, the nets around the baskets bulge as the whoosh of a spectacular 3-pointer envelopes them - the effect is quite believable and surprisingly well done, considering the dire shape of the rest of the game.
In fact, on the whole, despite the occasionally unrealistic body proportions, NBA B2K does the graphics thing quite convincingly. Just, in fact, as it does in the sound department.
The squeak of the players' trainers and aforementioned whoosh of the ball have all been accurately sampled, which I suppose gives some indication that the programmers do actually know something about basketball.
The courts rebound with oomph, the players grunt with purpose, and the commentators blandly recount what's going on in the usual drab American accents of the team that Fox Sports seems to employ.
The game can look and sound as good as it likes, but I'm not rating it highly unless I enjoy playing it .. which I don't.
I mentioned equilibriums earlier on. In a way one is in place here - the sole aim being to remain average by increasing and decreasing the quality of various segments in order to keep the game unplayable. Yippee-do.
The graphics are good? Then it should play like a dead llama's wedding night. The sounds are realistic? Then the AI needs to be of the drunken-English-pub-goer standard. It's a no-win situation for the player, and I dare say the marketing department embraced it with open arms.
They like a challenge. It's just a shame the game doesn't offer one.