Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone





989 Sports' latest basketball title, NBA Shootout 2004 has many improvements and new features that make it one of the best the company has ever made. With a brand-new online mode, easier play mechanics, expanded rosters including classic players and even USB voice command support, the game offers a comprehensive basketball sim. The visuals have also been improved from last year's installment with a smoother appearance and more realistic feel throughout. Join us as we hit the hoops and find out why ShootOut finally seems ready for the Big Show.

While most sports titles on the market offer mostly incremental improvements year to year, the strides that 989 has made with NBA ShootOut 2004 for the PS2 are immediately noticeable and mark a serious level improvement over last year's game. While 989 has kept many of last year's good points, they've gone the extra mile and added a bevy of additions to make for a more exciting game. Shootout's controls have also undergone some significant changes for the better, with single-button presses known as "Mini-Plays" replacing the multi-button combos of the past to make for a more exciting and accessible title. In addition to the streamlined control interface, another new element is the addition of USB headset support. This allows you to call out plays verbally and really helps to immerse you in the action. There are about two-dozen different types of commands including double teaming guards, passing, throwing, running to players and performing mini-plays. These moves cover the basics but they adding more would have improved the gameplay. The Voice command system definitely works well within the existing framework, and from a technical standpoint, we were able to shout our commands with little difficulty. Unfortunately, this feature is only available with single player games, however it does work during online games. The changes in the gameplay are a bit more subtle, and include better AI, more options, and a generally more cohesive control interface that makes passing and shooting much more intuitive this time around. Shootout's gameplay also seems a bit faster this year, and the increased intensity more accurately mimics the pace of real professional NBA games.

NBA ShootOut 2004 is a fully licensed game and you'll find most pro NBA players in the game, but 989 Sports have expanded the player roster to include additional leagues, such as the NBDL player development and NBASO summer leagues, which adds a lot of depth, especially in the career mode. The online component also adds a lot to the game's realism, since you can download updated stats and rosters for teams during the season, make trades with other players online and compete against other players in online tournaments. This is a lot of fun and the online games can be used increase your player's experience, skills and, abilities. Additionally, the game includes more than 50 classic players, including some real legends, which you can play against today's teams as well, to see how contemporary players would stack up against the legends. Some of the famous names such as Karl Malone and Wilt Chamberlain are included as well.

As you'd expect, NBA Shootout 2004 includes many modes of play including practice, season, team management, playoff, and several customization modes. The practice mode is smartly designed and allows you to get the feel of your players and master their shooting techniques before you reach the court. Once you're comfortable with your controls, you hit the court and can play a single game, a full season or even enter the playoffs. You aren't limited to the just playing the games, and can manage your team's backroom by selecting your starters, editing your player rosters and changing player positions. You can also do the dirty work of trading and buying players, drafting from other leagues and more. The team management mode is fairly comprehensive but you can also customize your team in other ways. Finally, you can play the game from the players' perspective in the Career mode. Here, your goal is to develop your player from the developmental phase to the hall of fame. You begin by creating your own player from scratch, and then work him up the ranks in the career mode, starting at the bottom in the summer leagues, and hoping to get a contract offer. You can choose to accept or turn down these offers, and if they aren't good enough, you can go into the development leagues. This definitely adds some cool elements to the game. In addition to creating players, Shootout 2004 also allows you to create custom dunks and moves for your players, giving them a unique personality. For the most part, ShootOut's many gameplay modes are all well-done and add to the game's depth, making for quite a comprehensive sim, either on or off the court.

While its controls and extra gameplay modes have all undergone substantial improvements, NBA ShootOut 2004's biggest addition is its the new online mode. This was touched on earlier, and it definitely adds much to the experience. Players familiar with the online play should have no trouble logging in and setting up games an intuitive process. The interface is well-designed and incredibly easy to use with rooms, message boards and leaderboards easy to call up and navigate. Players can compete against one another and the game allows you to build leagues, compete in online tournaments, update rosters automatically and even includes live score updates in real-time from NBA games. This is an excellent feature, and the community aspects of the lobby allows you to talk with other players via chat or the headset and form friendships in the lobby. The online experience is smartly designed and seamlessly integrated into the game. Being able to compete online definitely makes for more exciting games, with the unpredictability and intelligence of human opponents adding to the experience. Shootout 2004's smooth interface, ease of connection and ease of use is excellent. From a technical standpoint, the game performed well online, with little lag, no dropped games and fast connections using a broadband internet connection

One problem area for the series over the years has been its graphics, which have never been able to keep up with rivals and have seemed downright lackluster in comparison to Sega and EA's hoop offerings. However, NBA ShootOut 2004 has made significant strides this year, with improved player models and more realistic animation that lends the game a much higher degree of polish. The game uses dynamic camera angles more extensively and that makes for a much more exciting presentation overall. There are still some glitches from time to time, but the game shows much improvement in its production values. It's still not up there with the elite titles, but 989 is rapidly gaining on its rivals and it's only a matter of time before the playing field is level. From an audio standpoint, the play-by-play commentary is decent and adds to the TV style feel of the game. Several excellent licensed music tracks from hip-hop artists such as the X-ecutioners and Maroon lend the game some street credibility, though you can turn these off if you want to concentrate on the action on the court.

NBA ShootOut 2004 is another solid step forward for 989 Sports. The improvements this year are broad and robust and noticeable improvements are immediately evident in most major areas. The simplified controls make the gameplay flow much better, making for more exciting and intense action. The many modes of play are surprisingly comprehensive and add to the game's depth and replay value. NBA ShootOut's extensive online mode is definitely the biggest addition. The ability to compete with other players and download rosters in real-time is an exciting addition to the series. The seamless execution of the lobby and community aspects enhances the overall experience, making the game feel much more alive. Visually, the game's engine has undergone some improvements, with better character models and animation lending it a more realistic appearance. It may not be the best basketball title on the market, but NBA ShootOut 2004 is definitely in the running for a respectable finish. Its actually surprisingly good, and definitely worth checking out for any PS2 owners looking for an alternative basketball title this season.

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