If you've been waiting for the Xbox 360 version of NBA 2K6, then we have good news, and, depending on how you look at it, bad news. The good news is that the Xbox 360 version maintains everything that made 2K6 on the Xbox one of the best basketball games released in years. The bad news is that if you already own the Xbox or PS2 version, this version doesn't play a whole lot differently -- it's pretty much the same game.
If you own an HDTV capable of 720p resolution, then NBA 2K6 is one of the best-looking basketball games you've ever seen most of the time, that is. The court looks extremely sharp thanks to antialiasing, with great contrast on the lines and painted areas. The player models are extremely detailed, offering lifelike cloth physics on jerseys and shorts, and modeled sweat that intensifies over the course of a game. You'll see players look dry at the beginning, but as the game progresses you'll see sweat stains on the chest and upper back areas of the jerseys, as well as around the waistband of players' shorts. Sweat on skin is a realistic, glistening sheen that's easy to see when replays zoom in close to the players. The players' faces are also carefully detailed.
Playing NBA 2K6 on a standard-definition television results in a game that is difficult to distinguish from the regular Xbox version. You can make out some of the cloth details as players move around, and the replays certainly look better, with player models that are obviously more detailed. But at the default camera angle, player models are noticeably fuzzier and less detailed. Even the court itself doesn't look so great, with ugly jaggies on the painted lines. The point is that you need an HDTV to fully appreciate NBA 2K6 on the Xbox 360, especially because the gameplay mechanics are so similar.
Moving on to gameplay, the change made to NBA 2K's isomotion system in 2K6 is likely the most dramatic one you'll notice if you're a veteran of the series. First of all, you no longer have a turbo button in the traditional sense. Instead, the right and left triggers serve as "aggressive modifiers," which change how the game interprets your input with the passing and shooting buttons, and most importantly, with the left analog stick. Instead of wiggling the right analog stick to unleash canned and stilted juke animations, the new isomotion combines your movement and your jukes into the left analog stick. Without holding down any trigger buttons you can simply move the left stick to move your player around. Holding down the aggressive modifier and moving your character in one direction will cause him to sprint. Wiggle back and forth and you'll lower your shoulder and do a crossover. Whirl the stick partway in one direction and then the other, and your ball handler will fake a spin and then come back the other way. Similarly, you can use the left stick plus a trigger button to "emote" wraparound dribbles, jab steps, and step-back moves.
So what's the right analog stick used for now? Believe it or not, it's used for shooting. In the same way that basketball video game players have been emoting ballhandling moves for years in most basketball games, the new shot stick feature in NBA 2K6 lets players do the same with their shots. If you stand still and toggle up on the stick, you'll raise up for a standard jumper. Releasing the stick releases the ball, just as if you pressed a shooting button in any basketball game. Toggle away from the basket and your player will put up a fadeaway J. On the dribble drive, you can use the shot stick to attempt a dunk or layup right over the top of a defender, or you can toggle to either side to lean around for a cleaner look at the basket. Out of the post, the shot stick can be used to attempt turnarounds, hook shots, or even drop steps. It takes some getting used to for sure, and when you start, you may even forget to use it (a standard shooting button is still available for those who don't like this feature). But once you do get used to the shot stick, you'll appreciate the flexibility it brings.
The tweaks made to both isomotion and the introduction of the shot stick in NBA 2K6 represent what is probably the biggest fundamental shift in basketball game control mechanics since freestyle control was introduced in NBA Live 2003. These controls are not necessarily easy for a casual fan to pick up, but hardcore hoopsters will definitely feel rewarded for putting in the time to learn them.
The AI in the Xbox 360 version seems like it has been toned down somewhat at the default difficulty compared to the other versions of the game. But taking the difficulty levels up a notch brings a satisfying challenge to seasoned basketballers. You'll really need to work hard to find open shots by breaking down the defense off the dribble or by working the ball around, and possibly even dipping into your team's playbook. Playing defense is also a challenge and requires a good amount of concentration, as the computer will look to exploit mismatches or just sloppy, lazy defense.
Aside from the basic gameplay, 2K6 has also greatly overhauled its franchise mode, called Association. Last year's franchise mode gave some interesting ideas, like having meetings with players, and a card-style minigame to simulate individual games. Unfortunately, a lot of these ideas seemed out of place or just didn't work very well, so they've been scrapped entirely. What we've got instead is year-round scouting of prospects. Much like last year's College Hoops 2K5, you can send scouts to evaluate prospects over the course of the year in preparation for the draft. As you reach the off-season, you can bring in these prospects for individual workouts and actually play with them in games or scrimmages to see how they actually feel.
Other features in NBA 2K6 include the usual tournament, season, and street modes, where you can play street-style games like two on two, three on three, or 21 in various real-life and fantasy blacktop courts using NBA players. The crib is also back, and it gives you something semi-interesting to do with all those points you're earning by playing games of NBA 2K6.
NBA 2K6 brings everything that made the game so great on the Xbox and PlayStation 2 to the Xbox 360, with the same excellent control mechanics and challenging AI, due to realistic player and team tendencies. You also get a full-featured product complete with a franchise mode, online play, and the 2K series' signature 24/7 mode. The primary attraction to this particular version of the game is its sharp-looking player models and visuals, though you need a fancy TV set to see them in all their glory. If you have the proper equipment, though, NBA 2K6 for the Xbox 360 offers the best graphics and gameplay combination you're liable to find in a basketball game.
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