Those who have played the NBA Ballers series of games have come to expect a game full of over-the-top street ball fun, and the series has delivered on that promise in the past quite well. For its first iteration on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, it's unfortunate to say that that the fun premise has been somewhat been forgotten in an effort to deliver fresh visuals and slick packaging on the old formula without any real new substantial gameplay elements to NBA Ballers: Chosen One.
As with all NBA Ballers games before it, the meat of the title is presented in the game's story mode where players are given the task of creating their own custom baller. The title's create-a-player system is not as deep as what you'd find in other sports titles, but it suffices for the most part. You'll be given a chance to chose from a handful of prepackaged looks to get the ball rolling, then you'll need to pick a nickname and divide up all the attribute points to get your baller ready for the rigours of street ball. The greatest strength of the title is the way that it handles attribute progression. As you travel throughout the Chosen One tournament, the game auto-assigns points based on how you played the game. For instance, if you spent the whole round jacking up threes, then your three pointer rating would increase through the roof in comparison to your other skills. In theory, it seems like a great way to level up your player - a feature that should really be implemented across the board in sports titles - by being able to customise your baller based upon the style of play that you have, but in theory it doesn't actually pan out this way.
Upon playing through the career mode of the game there were many instances where the skill progression didn't accurately portray the outcome of the round. Several times we spent entire rounds sinking three-pointers and blocking a dozen shots, the outcome of which resulting in only a a +1 or 2 in those categories while our player's speed rating would almost aways go up by +4 or 5. While every category gets a a stardard +1 after you defeat an opponent it's clear that career progression is nuetered to ensure that players that constantly drive to the basket for the dunk can't get a definitive advantage over the AI too early in the game. This of course drives a more balanced level up system which leaves no room for players to have to deal with the rewards and consequences of their style of play, making it a dull experience in lieu of what could have been established.
Aside from the almost basketball game standards: online match, practice, quick match and three point shootout game modes, the meat and potatoes of Chosen One lies within its career mode. The structure of the Chosen One Tournament is akin to that of a basketball magazine show like NBA Inside Stuff or NBA Action in that it is split into episodes (six in total) which consist of a handful of chapters - each chapter representing a different themed match - that need to be completed to move on to the next episode. Kicking off each episode is a short introduction with the frontman of Public Enemy, Chuck D, giving players the low down on the upcoming action.
Once you've tuned out Chuck D's cheesy intro, it's time to step onto the court to show your opponents how it's done. Unlike previous Ballers which constrained players to playing one-on-one half court duels, the game has now opened up to let you play some classic two-on-two full-court street ball and other variants to keep the action fresh. The game also keeps each match from descending into a pit of sameness by introducing a number of rules which the AI throws at you to keep you on your toes, but by the time you've played through the first half of career mode, you've pretty much exhausted all the different playing options that the game has going for it.
While these rule changes are meant to keep the game from getting stale, the actually accomplish the total opposite by forcing players to play a particular cheap brand of basketball in order to win a match. For instance, we found that every time we played a game with the 'no take back' rule - which for the non-basketball playing gamers among us means that every time your opponent throws up a shot and misses, you need to hike back to the three point line to 'clear the ball' before you can hoist up a shot of your own - we were forced into the cheap tactic of performing one certain special move over and over to build up a scoring multiplier, followed by the steal special move to regain possession and repeat the process until the round is over. The other cheap tactic which was used (especially when playing online) was for players to constantly stand around the basket, grab the ball and shoot. While there is some skill involved in out muscling the other players to the ball, the whole tactic cheapens the gameplay and allows boredom to set in quicker as it is akin to watching the same episode of a television show a hundred times straight.
While Ballers titles have always added a slick set of street moves into the mix, Chosen One takes the idea a little further with the introduction of the combo system. While it adds some much needed variety to the game, in the long run it does nothing more than cripple the game mechanics and entice gamers into one-on-one cheap fests. As you player through the career mode you'll find that it absolutely dominates the gameplay as you are forced to use it, because if you don't you'll often find yourself frustratingly staring at the TV as you've suffered a string of losses. The combo mode is activated by pressing LB and X which then gets your player to perform a flashy move and display a button prompt on the screen. Press it before your opponent and your character will pull off another move and another prompt will appear, link up enough moves and you'll gain a score multiplier - which can make your simple two point jumper register as five points, not to mention add vital 'juice' to your super-move meter.
On the plus side, if you can master the combo system, you'll be able to dig yourself out of large deficits and build up enough juice to pull out a super-move which will give you an instant win, no matter what the scoreboard was looking like before you took the shot.
Audio wise, Chosen Oneis full of very so-so hip-hop tracks, with no real catch tunes to keep you from turning the music off. The games effects are full of the standard player trash talking and rim rocking sounds which are quite serviceable, but like the rest of the game it is quite hollow and doesn't really immerse you into the game environment. Like the audio, the visuals are also a mixed bag. While the levels and players models are quite detailed, the jarring player animations make you feel like the NBA should be retitled the Nanna Basketball Association.
Sadly, NBA Ballers: Chosen One delivers more of the winning gameplay from the versions on last generation's consoles, but the execution of the new features and an overall sloppy package have put this title another step behind the competition.