NBA Street: Homecourt Review (Xbox 360)

Posted March 28th, 2007 at 5:23 am

With NBA Street Homecourt, EA takes the series exclusively onto the Next-Gen systems with the Xbox 360 and the PS3. This title provides a whole new level of risk-reward and strategy that has not been present in previous versions while fully utilizing the advantages of the new systems.

Homecourt was built completely from the ground up for the new generation, and the benefits are obvious. The game runs at 60fps in most resolutions while offering the option of 1080p. The graphics and animations are exceptional. Everything about the game feels sharp and well-tuned and the longer development cycle has brought about much of that. It avoids the feeling of being unfinished or rushed and these days that is a big accomplishment.

The idea behind the whole theme is based on “Homecourt”. Telling the real, personal stories behind where these players came from. EA went and did intense research into the background of these players and the very specific details of every court and the environments surrounding them to place within the game.

Graphically I feel that this is the premiere sports title to date. From the players to the courts and environments it all looks amazing. When you add in the beautifully done animations it puts it over the top. As smooth as the game runs, when you pull off multiple moves one after the other its unlikely you will be able to notice where one animation ends and the next begins. Everything is that fluid, and the gameplay benefits because of it.

The story mode works about as you would expect it. You use “Create Baller” to shape your character, and then work him through the process of winning over courts. Based on what you do in the games, your character will improve in those areas. If he is dunking heavily, the dunk rating will rise. If he is dishing out assists, his passing rating will rise. Eventually you hope to get him to the point of earning “Master Skills”.

I appreciate that you aren’t stuck at the start with a character who clearly has no place on a basketball court. You’re decent enough to compete, and it gives you a good base to build from. The story mode is entertaining for what its worth, although I tend to lose interest when going through against the CPU that much. Having the goal of improving your skills and reaching “Master” status however gives a good thing to push for and forces you to change up styles if you want your character to be well-rounded which is nice.

I was impressed with the “Create Baller”. Using a morphing type tool, you select one of the basic generic heads and then you can take two NBA Players and combine their looks. So on one side you can have Shaq and the other Steve Nash. You can take this tool and move it more towards a particular player to go heavier on their features. Its pretty neat to actually see done and is amusing to mess around with different combinations. I would’ve liked to see the Vision Camera used for “Create Baller” and hopefully that can be done in the future.

There are some basic ideas to pulling off all the moves. The frequency in which you press the buttons changes the speed or even the move it will trigger. Tap, press, and hold of the button will all execute different styles of a move. Using the bumpers as modifiers will add even more variations. Then when you get into a gamebreaker, every move animation is unique to that. You won’t see those outside of during an active gamebreaker unless a “Master” skilled player has it in their repertoire. You can get very specific and know exactly what you’re going to pull off, so its not a random deal at all. You have full control over every move you do.

The addition of “Master Skills” into the game is excellent. Only the premiere players that represent these skills have them. Essentially it makes them perfect at it in the game. A Master Shooter such as Ray Allen won’t miss a shot. A Master Stealer like Larry Hughes will be able to steal it every time. A Master Blocker will catch every block instead of swatting it, securing the valuable possession. There are also Passers, Dunkers, and Handlers. This really does a nice job of seperating the dominant players from everyone else. I also really like that it gives more value to guys that might otherwise be overlooked. Someone like Ron Artest or Hughes can be extremely valuable, whereas in the past most people probably would have chosen someone else or they would’ve been largely ignored.

Two new flashy items are within the dunk category. The first is the jump-off dunk. A teammate can setup on the ground to allow for you to jump off their back for the dunk. The players in the game who cannot dunk on a normal basis can dunk with a jump-off. Adding a counter to those who park themselves under the hoop with a Yao Ming, jump-off dunks can not be blocked. You can miss them, but the opposition can not stop them once you are in the air. Prior to taking off however, an opponent can push the player who is knelt down and it will interrupt it. It offers a nice balance and forces the opposing team to change up what they’re doing if they are attempting to just camp out down low and block everything that comes their way.

The other is the double dunk. There is a meter (on the lower difficulty levels) or simply going by the timing, and by holding down the button the right amount length of time you can convert a double dunk which does count for two points. Hold it down too long and you’ll miss, falling on your face to the ground. The double (and triple which is more rare) dunk is one of the most impressive looking things you’ll see in a game. They are extremely creative and I sat in awe the first time I saw some of them. Many are unique to only certain players or types of player.

Gamebreakers are back with an added twist, you can steal your opponent’s gamebreaker opportunity. If you stop them on their initial possession, it becomes yours. When you activate a gamebreaker you automatically knock one point off your opponents score and you have the opportunity to build up how many points you will score assuming you are able to convert. The longer you hold on and try to build that up however, the more you put yourself at risk to failing and giving your opponent a great opportunity to turn the tide of the game.

There really is a concentration on strategy as well as risk-reward with Homecourt. In that sense it separates NBA Street as an “arcade” title. Its not just a game that you can mash buttons and be really good (although you can compete that way) but there is another level of expertise that can be reached with practice and good strategical thinking. How you choose your team and the style you play will greatly affect how successful you are. As you work to build up points for your gamebreaker, you give more chances for the defense to take the ball away and ending up with an empty possession. There is a lot to consider throughout the process on your side as well as reacting to what the other team is doing.

There is seemingly a counter to everything, nothing is impossible to stop. Mentioned earlier were the jump-off dunks as one example. Defense has a new element, adding the option to push which benefits the more physical players to go along with the trusty steal button. One or the other will usually work on the opposing player, its just figuring out which one to use at any given time. This gives the defense a much better chance, and balances out the two sides more than in previous NBA Streets.

There is a difference between good Homecourt players and those who are just okay. There is no catch-up mode in the game, so if you outplay someone in all likelihood you will win. Those people who just want to play without thinking too much will certainly enjoy the game, but its not just mindless arcade action. If you want to put time into improving and shaping the teams to suit your style it will pay off.

There were a few things that I had a problem with gameplay wise. The AI controlled teammates do not always actively pursue loose balls. I saw some occasions where they would be standing right next to it and do nothing, or when a player is set up for a jump-off dunk and the ball rolls by without him making a move for it. When you actually attempt to get it yourself, its incredibly tough to judge where it is in relation to your player. There were times where I literally ran in a circle around the ball trying to grab it and ended up with the opposition getting the possession. I also felt that same helplessness on defense when I was of the belief I was in position to try and push or steal, and I would whiff on the attempt because I was not squared up like I thought I was. The only other thing that began to frustrate me was chasing guys down who would run away and do moves, and run away again. At one point I just gave up trying because I would inevitably miss on my steal/shove and he would run away to a different point and that process would repeat itself. That was more an issue with my online opponents than it was with the CPU. One other thing I wished had been included into the game was a full replay mode which could’ve included a way to save them. Some of these events I would love to watch over and over and possibly share with others.

Online play offers the basic pickup game as ranked with the other assorted offline modes to choose from for unranked games. You can also to take your created player online to face off against other created players. There is planned downloadable content (some free, some not) to look forward to as well. Unfortunately Homecourt did not include the ability to play with five others on their own systems online, each controlling their own individual player. That is something that was going to be in NBA Street V.3 but was scrapped at the last minute. This is disappointing as it would be incredibly fun to have pickup type games online. Performance wise the game plays very smooth and consistent online albeit a little slower than offline. I noticed the difference right away but after about one game I was already used to it and it wasn’t a problem at all.

NBA Street Homecourt is a true representation of what Next-Gen can be. The game looks terrific and plays extremely well. It added several elements to the gameplay and its obvious the amount of care that was put into making it a complete offering. My biggest concern is over the longevity the game will have, I don’t know if it will still feel fresh weeks down the line especially due to the missed opportunity with online play. The bottom line is that its an enjoyable game for those who just want to play with no sense of control as well as those who want to add the element of strategy. It’s a great change of pace for this time of year.

Final Score: