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NBA '06 (PS2)

By Michael Palisano

This release is a solid basketball title with an array of interesting features. The gameplay is straightforward with fluid controls and above-average visuals, but the developers have added a few twists this time around, such as the new ShowTime moves that allow you to perform spectacular moves. There are also tons of mini-games, online support and, a new role-playing mode called "The Life." This mode allows players to go through an entire season as they work their way from basic training to the big leagues. This is a remarkably polished game with a number of enhancements. Read our review and find out why NBA 06 is a solid title that should please sports gamers looking for some solid action.

Until the past few years, Sony's 989 Sports division has seemed like a perennially second-tier developer in the eyes of some gamers. However, they have earned a lot of respectability over the last couple of seasons by continually improving their products in a number of key areas. NBA 06 is just the latest example of how far the company has come recently. Featuring a solid intuitive single player game with fluid controls, excellent graphics and tons of actions, the action in this game is surprisingly good. The controls have been continually tweaked, and now the game's passing and dribbling are as good as you can expect. Performing special moves such as alley oops and dunks is much easier now thanks to the new "Showtime" moves, where you merely need to press a triangle to perform these attacks. Adding to the game's ease of play is the shot meter, which allows you to shoot the ball with a much greater degree of accuracy. The game's passing system allows you to throw the balls to specific players without much effort, and this streamlined interface is much smoother than previously. Another key area of improvement lies in the overall flow of the action, which is much faster and better replicates the feel of an actual basketball game. The pacing also feels better when playing against computer AI opponents, since their increasingly sophisticated tactics make them much more believable. This year's installment also includes a new team chemistry feature that allows the team to play together better by passing the ball to other players, increasing the overall cohesion of the players. All of these changes add up to a much better simulation that makes the gameplay flow much better than in previous titles.

NBA 06's extensive gameplay changes are welcome additions, but NBA 06 adds several additional play modes to add even more depth. There are three basic types of game on the main menu, a standard NBA mode, where you can play as a team through an entire season, a new mode called "The Life" where you follow a rookie player from his first day at training camp to the Finals. Finally, NBA 06 includes a robust online mode, where you can challenge other players to regular season games, compete in mini-games and even trade and update stats. In addition, there's an extensive player creation mode where you can create and use your own players on the court. As in several other SCEA sports titles, the game supports the EyeToy camera that allows you to scan in your own face and transplant it onto a player, then use it in the real game itself. The game also includes several mini-games that you can access such as 21, own the court, one on one, 3 on 3 and more with more than a dozen in all. These extra games are quite a lot of fun especially if you want some quick pick up and play action. While most players will probably spend the majority of their time on the main game, they shouldn't overall the Life mode, where they can polish their skills, and become better players while following the main character's plot. While there are some areas of this mode that are a bit tedious, it's worth sitting through since this mode allows you to get a feel for what it's like on the inside. The Life mode is an interesting, creative addition to the game and is effectively presented through a series of cut-scenes that gives NBA 06 a unique personality that differentiates it from other basketball games. Another key aspect of the Life mode allows you to grow along with your character as it gradually introduces you to more advanced moves as you progress, making it serve as an extended tutorial as well. This is quite an effective tact, introducing special moves and techniques painlessly.

In addition, the game offers a number of online modes that allow you to compete in a number of different areas. Setting up games and finding other players in the lobby was straightforward, and the game ran smoothly using a broadband connection. In addition to the standard basketball modes, players can compete online in a number of mini-games, which adds to the fun factor exponentially. The game's online support is a welcome addition that adds a lot to its replay value. While all of these modes and features are impressive, the game's production values also offer plenty of polish, with a presentation that mimics the feel of an actual game. NBA 06's look and feel is consistent throughout, with excellent visuals that allow you to get right into the action. During the game, players can switch between a number of different camera angles and can view the action from either down court or side view modes. The side views allow you to really get a sense of the field when you're running the ball, while the down court mode allows for better angles when shooting the ball. Sadly, you need to switch between these views manually; an automatic switch between these angles would have helped things immensely. Despite this, the game's visuals look decent on the other hand with excellent player models that look life-like, especially during the replay screens. The icon passing system is implemented effectively and allows you to see where you're shooting the ball. When you perform one of the special "Showtime" moves, the action zooms in and slows down, adding drama to these moments, allowing you to concentrate on the action. Finally, NBA 06's soundtrack is filled with hip-hop and effectively captures the game's urban feel. Overall, the game looks fairly good by PS2 standards, with a solid engine and decent camera angles allowing players to fully immerse themselves in the action.

While the game's visuals have undergone some impressive improvements over the past few seasons, the underlying gameplay has also changed for the better. With its intuitive controls allowing for better on court action, the game play is faster and more challenging than previous titles. NBA 06's smarter AI makes for more competitive and responsive opponents as well, adding to the authenticity of the experience. Additional modes such as The Life add some interesting ideas to the game, adding depth. On the other hand, the new mini-games give NBA 06 a much more accessible feel, allowing players to jump right in to the action. A solid online component further enhances the game, allowing players to compete seamlessly with others in a variety of modes. Some of the camera angles are a bit clunky, and the character models aren't quite as smooth as they look in competing titles, but NBA 06 is still a solidly entertaining basketball title that captures the look, feel and, excitement of the sport. It hasn't always been this way, but it's nice to see Sony making up substantial ground in the sports race, making this a legitimate competitor in this season's battle for the crown.

Grade: B

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