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NBA Street v3

Review By:  J. Michael Neal

Developer:  EA Sports BIG
Publisher:  EA
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Sports
ESRB:  Everyone
Online Play:  Yes
Accessories:  Xbox Live (online play), Memory Unit
Date Posted: 

5-28-05

I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t get the big deal about NBA Street. It was fun, but hardly worth the amount of praise had it received from critics and consumers alike (I call it “Burnout 3 Syndrome”). Vol. 2, however, won me over hard, and its cooperative “NBA Challenge” mode kept it in steady rotation for the better part of a year. The game was difficult? Hell yeah it was difficult, but that’s what made it so rewarding – in order to win a match against the CPU, you really, really had to bust your ass and work like a well-oiled machine with your teammates. Even the single-player was fulfilling, something practically unheard of among “arcadie” sports games. So, we all kept an ear to the ground for the next installment. It was a long wait, nearly two years, but the next Street was always in the back of our minds. We knew EA Sports BIG would do some good things with their star franchise.

And for the most part, we were right. NBA Street v3 is exactly what we expected – a beautiful, enhanced version of the previous game featuring stellar production values and enough new additions to make it worth the upgrade. It got the kinds of scores we expected it to get, and sold the kinds of numbers we expected it to sell. However, V3 has two things we didn’t anticipate. The first, an utter lack of cooperative career modes. I know! I was as shocked as you are. The second - a difficulty level so high, and AI so unbelievably frustrating, it practically renders the game unplayable. I’m serious. Trying to enjoy this game simply becomes and impossible task, alone or with friends.

V3 sports a few new features, chiefly, its revamped trick system. Now, the “Trick Stick” handles most maneuvers. Flicking the right analog stick in a given direction while handling the ball will kick out a funky dribble; on defense, a steal or block. If you are doing a Gamebreaker dunk, or in the cool new “Dunk Contest”, the Trick Stick will allow you to link tricks together in mid-air. The more turbo buttons you hold down while using the Stick, the sicker the trick; the more tricks you link together, the more you fill up the word “COMBO” on your “Trick Icon” meter. This meter allows you to create some pretty wicked strings out of the 96 possible various, and certain predestinated combinations acquire more points, so memorization and timing become a key factor. It’s not quite “DDR Street”, but it’s pretty damned close. As usual, EA provides the most deficient manual humanly possible, so you’ll have to learn the finer points of V3 on your own.

EA has also beefed up the “Street Challenge” mode, adding more depth to the create-a-player aspect (who wouldn’t like to design their own basketball shoe?), as well as the ability to build a custom court for your equally custom team to ball on. For the most part, the Street Challenge operates like last year’s “Be a Legend” mode – climb your way through the ranks, fill out your team’s roster, build up your created baller, retire. This isn’t entirely a complaint, as its formula still has some life left in it, particularly with the newfound importance placed in your “Rep” and the ability to join real-life NBA teams along the way, but where is the cooperative mode? An NBA Challenge-style mode is M.I.A., and without it, multiplayer is restricted to quick matches and Dunk Contests only, and both these grow tiresome fast. It’s still a fun game, don’t get me wrong, and still a good time alone or with friends, but its lifespan has been shortened significantly unless you become enamored with its online play.

I guess EA assumed it would be more beneficial to allocate resources for the inclusion of Xbox Live play, but I’d hardly agree – I’d rather they kept the game offline and included a cooperative career mode. Frankly, that’s what I was looking forward to most from this game. I had no intentions of even bringing Street online. Have you ever played a sports game online? An EA sports game online? It’s one of the most painful experiences imaginable. You are either playing against God, who hands you a slow, painful defeat, or Joe Soreloser, who quits 2 seconds before you clinch the victory. I’d rather work with a friend against a common enemy while making long-term progress, like earning unlockables.

You don’t have to have an Xbox Live subscription, however, to experience painful defeat – you merely have to play the game on its normal difficulty setting! Yup, luckily, EA has recreated all the agony of playing online, without all those nasty monthly fees, by including what is possibly the worst catch-up AI ever programmed. It’s enough to make Ed Boon wince. On the easy setting, the AI’s so dumb it’s not even fun whupping its ass. On normal, it’s dumb until you get about 3 points from the win, than it turns into the T-1000 and destroys you without warning. Your teammates, however, ride the short bus no matter what level you’re playing on. In a nutshell, when the CPU wants to score, it will score no matter what you do. You can “feel” the invisible barrier that radiates from your computer opponent when he goes up for one of those miracle dunks. I have seen players literally teleport from the foul line to the bucket to prevent me from blocking the shot. I have seen them walk through my defenders. I swear to God they can rain threes from MY end of the court if that’s what it takes. I have never seen anything like it. The CPU does everything sort of rubbing Icy Hot in your eyes to win.

I explored the possibility that it’s just me, maybe I just suck, but no. I’ve experimented, I’ve had every gamer I know play the game, and they all walk away with the same frustration that I do. It’s so demoralizing to be shamelessly robbed of victory time and time again that it does ruin the game. It shouldn’t have to be this way. It’s a beautiful game, its visuals are high tuned, it has an excellent soundtrack (and yeah, the infinitely annoying Bobbito, a.k.a. DJ Cucumberslice, God bless him), it has a wonderful feel (I even dig the smooth little spoken word poetry that introduces each court), but what good is any of it if you spend the entire time pulling your hair out? I love me some difficult games, but there’s a difference between nigh-impossible (Devil May Cry 3, Ninja Gaiden, Ikaruga) and flat-out inhumane.

Highs:

  • Typically high EA Sports BIG production values mean equal quality visuals and a well-placed soundtrack.
  • Trick Stick keeps the NBA Street formula from getting stale.
  • New additions like the Court Create are welcomed.
  • Dunk Contest is fun, though short lived.

Lows:

  • No cooperative career mode seriously kills longevity.
  • Xbox Live is cool, but I can lead a happy life without ever playing another online sports game.
  • The worst AI EVER PROGRAMMED!
  • DJ Cucumber is still annoying. I like him, but he’s annoying.

Final Verdict: 

The NBA Street franchise has been a funny one. The first game, I like but I don’t love. The second one, I love to my surprise. Then the third comes around and drops me right back to liking but not loving. It’s a good game, and would have been a must have if it hadn’t taken the dive in a few key areas, namely its piss-poor, cheap-as-all-hell AI and the exclusion of some sort of multiplayer season mode. If you enjoyed the previous games mainly as solo affairs, feel free to add this one to your collection. It’ll be worth it. The same if you consider online play a selling point. However, if you are looking for a fun party game on par with Vol. 2, frankly NBA Street V3 will leave you disappointed, and you might want to go elsewhere for some multiplayer fun.

Overall Score: 8.0

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