Sony's NBA ShootOut series on the PlayStation has reached a plateau of sorts, only marginally improving with each new incarnation. Such is once again the case with NBA ShootOut 2002. The game features all of the same modes as last year's version and looks virtually identical to that game. In fact, in some ways the game has actually suffered--with its fluctuating frame rate and choppy animation--when compared to last year's game.
Perhaps the primary difference in NBA ShootOut 2002 is that it features all of the players and teams for the upcoming season. The league's first pick, Kwame Brown, is on the Wizards, and Stephon Marbury is now sporting his new Phoenix Suns jersey--interestingly, Michael Jordan didn't make it into the game. Despite the updated rosters, there are some problems with player performances. The unbalanced player ratings mean that several times we were able to light it up with less-than-stellar players, which greatly hurts the game's overall realism. For example, in one game we scored 58 points with Eric Piatkowski, while shooting a scorching 62 percent from the floor. Piatkowski is generally a relatively good outside shooter, but he shouldn't be able to drop 58 on any team.
The gameplay in NBA ShootOut 2002 remains fast-paced. It is quite clear that the development team was concerned with catering to fans of wide-open, fast-break basketball. Most games of ShootOut, particularly when playing against a human opponent, turn into general dunkfests. Although the game provides the option to set up and run a methodical offensive game, to win, players must take the ball to the hoop and pull up for open jumpers. The game's offensive AI, which has improved slightly, is still dependant on taking advantage of defensive mistakes, rather than creating offensive opportunities. For example, almost every time the human player attempts a steal, or finds himself out of position, the computer-controlled player will take it in directly to the hoop for a dunk or layup. Sophisticated offensive routines are hardly ever implemented by the AI teams in the game.
Visually, the game looks similar to last year's game, which means that although the graphics are solid they can't hold ground against competing products on the PlayStation. In ShootOut 2002, the courts are generously detailed, with animated 2D crowds and team-specific decals, but the player models, particularly the faces, aren't quite up to those same levels. The player models and faces are blocky, and they don't seem to push the graphical limits of the PlayStation. The facial textures border on absurdity, as just about every player in the game has an almost cryptic smile on his face. And they don't look very different from one another.
In the audio department, the commentary in ShootOut 2002 is one of its bright spots. New Jersey Nets announcer Ian Eagle is back to provide the commentary and has recorded more than 100 hours of speech for the game. That comprehensive commentary is clearly evident when playing the game, as Eagle refers to each individual player by name and uses a variety of his signature calls. Aside from the announcing, the sound effects are hit or miss. The crowd noise is anemic--a handful of weak cheers are played after every dunk or buzzer beater. On the other hand, other ambient arena sounds, such as sneakers squeaking on the hardwood floors, are quite realistic.
NBA ShootOut 2002 is virtually identical to last year's game. If you're interested in the updated rosters and slightly faster gameplay, then the game is worth a closer look, but otherwise, NBA ShootOut 2002 hasn't changed enough to warrant a purchase.