NBA Jam HD Online Impressions

Posted November 29th, 2010 at 3:00 pm

One of the big selling points of NBA Jam for the 360 and PS3 was the inclusion of online play. Beyond just the typical head-to-head, EA Sports delivered on a variety of modes to play online. The potential for NBA Jam to be one of the most enjoyable online experiences available was evident but unfortunately that hasn’t turned out to be the case.

Aside from traditional head-to-head, a patch that arrived alongside release NBA Jam provided Remix, Smash, Domination, and 21 as playable online modes. That certainly adds some variety but the troubling thing is how difficult it is to find opponents.

Generally I have been able to match-up against someone online in the regular 2v2 games, though there have even been times when searches have been unsuccessful for that. But those other modes are near impossible to play unless you have someone to directly set up games with. With a barren online community the chances of catching someone searching for a game in one of those modes at any given time is slim.

That leads into an omission that has severely hurt the online community. There are no lobby rooms and as such that leaves people looking for games to use the matchmaking.

The actual online performance has been excellent. No lag has been experienced in any games played so far. It feels as though they are being played offline. However there are other issues that have arisen.

Several times now when I’ve had a secure lead the game has frozen. The console hasn’t frozen, just the gameplay. I’ve been able to pause or pull up the Xbox Guide but I’ve been forced to quit the game. Most of my losses have been due to this issue. That it has happened only when I’ve had a big lead has made me wonder if it is being caused by opponents but I have yet to figure that out. Needless to say taking on a bunch of undeserved losses is frustrating.

There is also word from many that quitters do not receive losses. So that makes things sting even more, that people can quit out (maybe that’s what is causing the games to freeze?) and they aren’t penalized for it at all.

The actual gameplay isn’t quite as fun as I had thought it would be online. Many of my opponents have played in ridiculous fashion, running around backcourt and heaving full court shots attempting to get a rebound and put-back. The pushing can be out of control as well, it is especially tough in the back court. Some of this would be tempered if it were a friend but against random online players its just not that fun after a while. At least when playing co-op that solves the horrid CPU teammate AI problem that damages the single player experience.

One nice thing about online for NBA Jam is the level-up system and ease of viewing records through the “Jam Card”. New icons and titles are opened up as levels are achieved which could provide some incentive to keep playing though I don’t find them terribly compelling. I have heard though from a few people that once Level 50 is reached the game only begins recording losses which is killing those people who have gotten that far.

I’ve also touched on previously the lack of a roster update and the silence coming out of EA Sports regarding the topic. At this point, given what appears to be slow sales and lack of interest, it wouldn’t surprise me if they have abandoned any plans for post-release support unfortunately. I would have trouble recommending a game where the company wasn’t going to back it and not releasing any roster updates would be a sign that they don’t care.

What has gotten my attention has been a startling lack of enthusiasm about NBA Jam from some people after having tried it out. Having played against several people who planned on purchasing the game each one has decided against it feeling it wasn’t going to be worth it. I can’t blame them for that as if I had the choice I wouldn’t have paid $50 for the game knowing what I do now. I expected to get much more value out of it.

NBA Jam for the 360 and PS3 seemed to be an ideal fit for a light and fun online experience. Unfortunately a lack of online community and some technical issues have severely tempered any excitement that I had going in. Look for a “Hits and Misses” review of NBA Jam HD to come later this week!