NBA 2K9 arrives from 2K Sports on October 10th, and by all accounts look set to maintain the standard of accuracy and realism the series is known for, but it's the host of new features which Visual Concepts has managed to cram into this year's release which has us most excited by the prospect of bouncing our balls again.
For example, in a rather interesting divergence from the usual structure of online play in sports games, NBA 2K9 allows full five-on-five competition over Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. Of course, this means that each player is restricted to a single avatar and must co-ordinate and co-operate with other players to achieve victory and play effectively.
In accordance with the series' mandate for realism and authenticity, players will also be able to quickly push past opponents who seek to block them, with both actions being completely controlled by the player. In addition, players can even grab hold of the jersey of the player trying to push past, slowing them down and denying their evasion. Do this repeatedly, however, and the referee will call foul and blow his whistle in your sweat-soaked face.
The reward for playing well, co-ordinating your team mates, and conducting yourself in a sportsman-like manner is manifested in the form of a 'Team 2K' rating, which will proudly (or shamefully) announce to the online community your integrity, or lack thereof.
In addition to these promising new features, Visual Concepts and 2K Sports have also implemented new ways to share customised players and interact online. Titled '2K Share', the mode will allow gamers to download, upload, and rate the created players that they browse online, derived from the reliably-thorough list of options, settings, and sliding bars the 2K franchises are known for.
Ultimately, those customised characters will look quite impressive, with nicely-detailed models sporting impressive textures and eerily-convincing facial feature animation. The crowds too have seen an overhaul, and now react with visibly more realism than any prior game in the series. The lighting engine is robust, and overall the game satisfies with respect to all the small details which sell the simulation. For graphics-junkies, NBA 2K9 should more than satisfy, and on the audio-side of things the title will be no slouch, featuring the contributions of reporter Cheryl Miller, analyst Clark Kellogg, and Kevin Harlan providing the 'colour commentary' (identities who might actually be familiar to some...possibly).
Aside from the exciting prospect of enhanced online features and improved presentation, basketball fans can also look forward to the reliable mainstay features of the series, including the in-depth Franchise Mode which has itself been the subject of refinements and added functionality - and it is this overall attention to detail and fleshing out of features that should make NBA 2K9 an enticing prospect for basketball afficionados when it sees release in just a couple of weeks.