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NBA Ballers: Chosen One

As a marketable franchise, there aren’t many that match the stature of the NBA. Across the globe fans tune in to see their favourite superstars playing ball and living the high-life that comes with it every single week. The world’s richest basketball league is draped with style and swagger these days, as it has become a way of life rather than just a sport. Much like the famous footballers of Europe, the lifestyle is one of mega-money, extravagant parties and beautiful women. That isn’t where the comparisons end however. With a franchise that squeezes money from every possible crevice of its fans overindulging loyalty, there is bound to be a number of spin-off videogames that aren’t the expected annual updates from EA. Chosen One is the latest in this inevitable trend to offer fans a chance of the superstar lifestyle, as Midway go for glory with the latest installment in their popular NBA Ballers series.

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I must admit, receiving this game couldn’t have been at a worse time. With the release of Grand Theft Auto IV just days beforehand, it seemed I would have little time to dedicate to this basketball offering. To my surprise, I did manage to find some value in this title not long after booting it up.

For serious basketball fans, the game’s most attractive feature will be the story mode, as it enables you to live the rags to riches story that has been well overcooked in many other games of various genres. Creating a player is a quick and simplistic process, as there isn’t a great wealth of options available throughout the game. Get this out of the way, and it is time to begin your quest to be hailed “The Chosen One”. This is where it begins to get hugely interesting, as it seems Midway are trying to push the boundary further by offering gamers a different way of watching the narrative unfold. In a bold move, Midway largely get rid of cut scenes that use the in-game engine in favour of using real-time, real-life recordings. These take the form of episodes that the player must complete in order to progress and to further move up the ladder to the coveted chosen one position.

“In a bold move, Midway largely get rid of cut scenes that use the in-game engine in favour of using real-time, real-life recordings”Now, although this may sound innovative or inventive, it truly isn’t. Within the first few seconds of the opening episode you realise that this really was a terrible design choice. Presented by the mildly famous rapper Chuck D, it seems that his persona represents everything that the presentation has to offer; a bumbling, poorly scripted, even worse acted mash of total nonsense. Later appearances from Atlanta Hawks’ Al Horford, acting as a contender himself, are absolutely woeful. Trash talk has been taken to a new low, as the acting “skills” here are only worthy of a wince of disapproval. Offering a smattering of unintentional laughs, I’m sure Mr Horford will be batting away the Hollywood agents soon enough.

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Quite strangely, the music for each Chosen One episode does not match the feel of the rest of the game. Menus and loading screens receive the hip-hop treatment, as rap producer and world-renowned DJ Just Blaze has created an adequate selection of dramatic beats to match the culture of the sport itself. Although it becomes a little tedious after a while, the feel of the main part of the soundtrack is totally acceptable. So, why when an episode of Chosen One kicks in does it turn into cheesy ‘90s ripped jeans rock that is reminiscent of old US teen sitcoms such as Hang Time? Granted, they are based on the same sport, but it is unacceptable that the representation of the main narrative feels completely irrelevant to the rest of the game and the culture as a whole. It may have been a bold move, but the execution of the fake TV show comes off looking absurdly dire and out of place.

Once you’re on the court, things begin to get a little better. Playing through your first episode is satisfying as controls are easy to get to grips with, and there is only a minor challenge as you begin to develop those all important skills. Unfortunately, this minor challenge runs the entire way through, as it becomes all too clear that the same technique guarantees victory for nearly every single match.

As with the popular NBA Street series, performing exquisite tricks and cocky plays will build up a special power bar (and the chance to perform a “Shut ‘Em Down” move). In Midway’s homage to the “Gamebreaker” of EA’s basketball incarnation, this works in almost the exactly same way, as it offers an unstoppable, match-winning slam-dunk. The only difference is that you have to build three levels of this super metre up, giving you a variation of opportunities once you reach each new level. An example; reaching level one enables you to perform a “Super Juke” (an infuriatingly teasing trick), or a “Super Steal”, depending on the situation at hand. Level 2 enables an unstoppable shot or a last ditch block that could save the game if you are under major pressure. The real power comes from the Level 3 Shut ‘Em Down move, the “Super Dunk”. If all objectives have been met through each individual match, utilising one of these colossal rim-breakers will instantly win you the game. As with the presentation, this is a decent idea; it’s just when it’s actually put into play, there is a tremendous flaw hidden within.

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The simplest way to build your super metre is to make your opponent look a fool by embarrassing him with wizardry skill and a variation of tricks. Although you can wiggle the right analogue stick to begin with, there is a much simpler and effective way of building the super metre up. This is by pressing LB and RB together, initiating a mini-game of infantile intelligence. Follow the on screen commands and you will perform top tricks to build enough power for the chance to end the game in seconds. And at times, that is all it is, seconds. Even though winning a basketball match is fun, the lack of challenge here begins to sink in as you hastily progress through the ranks. A 1v1 against Kobe Bryant should be memorable as you struggle for supremacy- struggle? Beating one of the world’s premier sportsmen couldn’t have been any simpler. It’s a shame, as an increase in difficulty would have made the game a whole lot more enticing as it would amount to a fairly decent length experience rather than poorly constructed respite from the more taxing adventures of Liberty City.

Strangely, nearly the entire story mode is made up of either 1v1 or 2v2 games, meaning there is little variation at all. Although each match-up has its objectives (such as steal 5 times and win), it barely has an impact on how each game is played. You will find that you will naturally complete these goals anyway, as they are essential for winning the match in the first place. In the scheme of things, the 1v1 matches were much better suited to this formula; 2v2s looked poor, played badly with the extra AI, and had a tendency to highlight one of the weaknesses of the graphical engine.

Imagine taking part in a close-knit affair, in the final minute, with the winner being decided right at the climax. Now, imagine taking the ball out wide, popping a few tricks and then the camera completely focusing on anything but your opponent and yourself. This is so frustrating, as many times when a vital shot is made, the camera does not show the players who are struggling to get the ball back in their possession. I managed to spend a number of seconds spinning round in circles, off the field of vision, hoping I would somehow pick up the loose ball. This is unacceptable, as it hinders the title’s quick fire style like a greyhound missing its hind legs. The game has an unhealthy habit of zooming in at completely random times, forcing players to face unnecessary moments of bewilderment.

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“The game has an unhealthy habit of zooming in at completely random times, forcing players to face unnecessary moments of bewilderment”Visually, there isn’t anything special here. Characters look and feel like their real-life counterparts; something many sports games seem to lack. The design of each court is fairly productive, as wealth of colour engulfs the screen in the more extravagant Miami Beach and Chicago locations. There isn’t a huge abundance of court variations, but what is on offer fit the game perfectly. It’s when boss characters arrive by aeroplane at the end of each episode, that the true nature of this sport’s spending habit rears its head. This over the top fashion does fit in though, and it is pleasurable to see basketball courts that are vibrant and fun to play on.

Aside from the ridiculous story mode, there are only a few other options players can indulge in. There’s no spoiling going on here, as multiplayer is limited to 1v1, 2v2, or even the competitive 1v1v1 mode. If you really feel like treating yourself, there is the classic three-point challenge to complete, all for absolutely nothing. The main bulk of achievements lie within the story mode and Xbox Live play, so including this challenge amounts to an extremely poor effort that many players will completely overlook.

Gamers have the chance to compete with other players from around the world, as Xbox Live play is inevitably included. Connecting to a match can be a chore, as there isn’t a great wealth of players online. Once connected the experience is, quite unfortunately, a mixed bag. When it runs smoothly, the online play perfectly shows how a simplistic and straightforward formula can become highly addictive- no matter what juggernaut title was released a week before hand. Regrettably, there are problems with maintaining connections at this point, as a number of times the dreaded disconnect screen looms over the television. This wasn’t the full story either; sometimes the entire screen would go black, apart from the HUD, and play would continue. This is a huge shame, as when it works well, it provides a decent alternative to the battlefields of Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, even if only for a short while.

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“When it runs smoothly, the online play perfectly shows how a simplistic and straightforward formula can become highly addictive”You know, it may seem as if I didn’t enjoy this game at all. It would be incorrect to presume so, as although it has flaws, there is enough here that will interest basketball fans. Many of the match ups were great fun (before I discovered the guarantee of victory), and it did become addictive in a way I didn’t think was possible. I wanted to return to the court, to become the “Chosen One”. Now, once this was completed – after only a few hours play – there was nothing else to initiate in apart from online play. It’s a huge shame that this is the case, as there is a need for this type of casual game to sit amongst the abundance of serious titles taking up most of our time at the moment.

Ultimately, NBA Ballers: Chosen One was probably doomed from the start. This is one for the hardcore basketball fans only, as they are likely to enjoy the short-burst addictive action it has to offer. With that said, don’t expect to find any challenge here. When the last point has been sunk, you won’t be tempted into coming out of retirement, as there are greater adventures to be had. It seems Midway’s attempts at creating a three pointer have crashed off the backboard and into the surrounding crowd, who no-doubt will throw it straight back at them.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2007.

Gentle persuasion

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