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Basketball – one of the few American sports we play here in the UK, but still comes nowhere near the popularity of our own sports, such as football, rugby and tennis. That said, there is a following, and even British teams, so there is bound to be some interest in this latest basketball title from Sega Sports.

As soon as I saw the ESPN logo in NBA 2K3, it reminded me of the terrible ESPN NBA 2 Night. Appalling collision detection and unblockable moves just made it unplayable. It’s been the only basketball game I’ve played on PS2 and it left me with a negative view of the sport. However, as soon as I started playing NBA 2K3, I knew it was a league apart from 2 Night. ESPN have been forgiven.

Let’s start with the graphics. It’s a bit of a mixed bag really. The menus are bland and border on ugly, but the rest is mainly accomplished. Some parts shine, such as the animation, which is fluid and believable, but some parts just show laziness on the parts of the developers, such as the rain, which is the most unconvincing I’ve ever seen. On the whole though, it is solid and completely adequate.

It surprised me how good the collision detection was and how smoothly some animations flowed together with each other. Slam dunks can be blocked and the ball physics is sound. This gives the gameplay an extra depth, you know you can’t count on scoring every time you go for that spectacular slam. There are small detailed movements which tie all the animations together and make the players’ movement believable.

There are several game modes; quick match, street, tournament, franchise and playoff to name a few. By far the best that I played was street. It seemed to take basketball out of the big, flashy arenas, and out into the wide, open courts where it originated. This ‘grass-roots’ level of the sport is portrayed well, from 2 on 2 matches, all the way up to 5 on 5. Players dress down into casual clothes and there’s even a DJ instead of the tacky buzzer. You play a more laid back version of the game, just first to a certain number of points wins. It’s genuinely fun to play this more casual approach to the sport, and is helped by the solid gameplay.

The controls are simple, making NBA 2K3 easy to pick up and play. This is great for people like me who have little knowledge of the sport itself. There are plenty of more advanced features and options if you’re a follower of the game, such as roster alteration and rule changes. This all means that NBA 2K3 is accessible to a variety of people, from those who want to see a season through with their favourite team, to those who just want a quick game with their mates.

Which brings us on to the multiplayer. As soon as I got my copy, I phoned up some friends and we got together for some multiplayer action. The 2 on 2 street games were great fun, each of us relying on our team-mate to do a good job. It kept us occupied for hours, which just shows how entertaining it was.

The audio is another aspect that’s a mixed bag. Most of the time, it does the job very well. In conventional matches there’s real-time commentary, and in street games you can hear the player shouting to each other to pass and run. However, there’s an annoying announcer and the ‘street music’ gets repetitive after a while. Although there are several dents in the quality of the sound in NBA 2K3 it does show that the developers have put the effort in and all in all, done a fairly good job.

So will you be playing it in a month’s time? Well, I will be. I couldn’t stop playing it – I just kept wanting to pick up the controller and have a go. There’s plenty of modes to keep you occupied, plus multiplayer, which all makes for a solid replay value.

When I first tried it, I thought NBA 2K3 was just another basketball game, but as I’ve played through it, I’ve noticed the effort Sega Sports have put into the title. It sets out to portray basketball as accurately as possible, and I think it does the job. At the end of the day, most of NBA 2K3 is excellent. Despite it’s random flaws, it’s worth playing and is a must not just for basketball junkies but also for anyone who enjoys the odd session with their mates.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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