A Whiff of Reality In the most lifelike games ever, one version even has players perspiring on the court

November 04, 2002

NBA 2K3
(Sega) $49.99

When it comes to making video games as realistic as possible,
programmers would do well to stop short in one area: bodily
fluids. The folks at Sega went all out in adding a feature to its
NBA 2K3: Players glisten with sweat after they've run up and down
the court a number of times and begin to look fatigued.

To be fair, it's not only the perspiration that makes 2K3
(available on PlayStation 2, Xbox and Game Cube) the most
realistic professional basketball video game on the market. The
overall game experience is authentic--to a fault. Live NBA games
can be slow, plodding, defensive affairs, and 2K3 loses
something by replicating that tendency. In one of the first
games this reporter played, competing as the Dallas Mavericks,
it was so tough to put the ball in the hole that I went
scoreless in the first quarter. On the upside, there's nothing
quite like picking up Patrick Ewing, who despite retiring over
the summer exists in this game as a free agent, and running him
ragged. The arena virtually floats away in a sea of his sweat.
Grade: B

NBA Live
(EA Sports) $49.95

At the other end of the reality spectrum is NBA Live, by EA
Sports. Any game in which the announcer says of Minnesota
Timberwolves guard Anthony Peeler, "One-on-one, this player is
hard to stop," can't be in touch with reality. But Live is the
easiest one of this bunch to play and the best NBA game on the
market. The action moves quickly, but not so fast that it's hard
for you to keep up with the play. The right-side joystick is a
unique freestyle control, providing the ability to juke, fake and
spin that you won't find in other games. When you play Live, you
should have to call your moves ahead of time to avoid cries of
"No way you meant to do that!" after your player heaves a brick
that banks in off the glass.

Live (available on PlayStation 2, Xbox, Game Cube) also has the
best features of any of the games. Teams can be outfitted in
retro jerseys, and it's easy to call basic plays--an iso, a
pick-and-roll--so you can run the offense without pressing eight
buttons. And low-post play is outstanding, with a menu of
Duncanesque moves.

The only shortcoming is that scoring can be too easy. About the
only way to stop your opponent is to steal the ball or block a
shot; otherwise he's probably going to score. Try not to throw
your controller across the room after somebody like Rasho
Nesterovic scores 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting to knock your
team out of the playoffs. Grade: A-

NBA Inside Drive
(Microsoft) $49.99

Falling somewhere between 2K3 and Live is NBA Inside Drive, which
is made by Microsoft (for the Xbox only). It's more like an
arcade game than 2K3 and more realistic than Live, but it's not
as much fun as either of those games. It's also missing some of
the trimmings of Live (no teams of NBA greats, for instance), but
Inside Drive does have a few things Live doesn't have. For
instance, you can have a substitute report to the scorer's table
at any time and then automatically enter the game whenever the
next dead-ball situation occurs; on Live you must wait for the
dead ball before getting into the substitution menu, so it's easy
to forget that you wanted to yank someone, and thus you miss the
opportunity.

Inside Drive's strength is its camera work, which is the best
among the three games. Of the many viewing modes, the top one is
Drive, which follows the flow of play from almost directly
behind the player who has the ball without the camera's being
herky-jerky. But perhaps the game's most clever feature is a
button you press to make your opponent's controller vibrate as
he's shooting a free throw. Grade: B+

COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF SEGA COLOR PHOTO: E.A. SPORTS COLOR PHOTO: MICROSOFT GAME STUDIOS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)