Last year's NBA 2K2 was largely regarded as the best basketball game ever released. Between all of the excellent features, smooth gameplay, and the online capability of the Dreamcast, it had everything a hoop fan could want. This time, the NBA 2K series begins its reign on the other consoles, and performs with flying colors.
NBA 2K3 offers all of the play modes a fan could want. Practice, Street, Franchise, Season, Playoffs, Tournament, and best of all, Network. Everything a fan needs to get into the game.
In addition to the different modes of play, there is a veritable plethora of additions to the game. Most notable is the ESPN license that has infected the presentation of all Sega Sports titles. There are some gameplay additions as well though; the post game has been tweaked to allow for more physical play. Maximum Passing (one of the best innovations to football games ever) has been incorporated, and allows you to throw different kinds of passes to your teammates. One other spiffy addition allows you change your shot in mid-air.
At the same time that many new features were implemented, many complaints with last year's version of the game have now been resolved. The issues with the goaltending and shot percentages have been fixed, and you can now even control things like shot percentage to tailor the game to your tastes.
As a whole, the gameplay now works pretty well. Play-calling is a bit shoddy and too in-depth, but NBA 2K3 is still the definitive basketball sim. In the franchise mode, you can do things like fire or hire coaches, and import classes from the upcoming college basketball game.
Having such an in-depth franchise mode bodes favorably for the replayability of the game. However, the online mode is also a major factor in this. Going online, you can download updated rosters for the team and play exhibition games against other players from across the globe. The online experience is excellent, and very fluid with few hiccups.
The graphics in NBA 2K3 are extremely impressive. At times it looks as if the game is on TV (a fact helped by the ESPN license). The players are all modeled accurately, and the arenas even moreso. Subtle differences such as lighting are taken into effect, and a true basketball aficionado will wet himself with the accuracy. The animation is top-notch, with hundreds of different animations for the different moves in the game.
I'm a big fan of the commentary in Sega Sports' titles, as it's usually excellent. That's sort of true this time around. While the play-by-play is great, the color is the same stuff we've been listening to since the first NBA 2K game.
NBA 2K3 is without a doubt the most realistic basketball game ever to hit the market. It's got everything a fan could want: franchise mode, online mode, create a player, and the best gameplay around. It doesn't get much better than this, as Sega Sports has come up with another slam dunk.