Tracy McGrady, shooting guard for the Orlando Magic, was last year's NBA scoring champion and is widely considered to be one of the top five basketball players in the world. Clearly, an athlete of McGrady's caliber deserves better than to be relegated to coverboy for a poor product like 989 Sports' NBA ShootOut 2004. A host of problems can be found in almost all facets of the game, so there simply aren't any good reasons to buy it, especially with better alternatives already available.
The problems begin with the game's graphics. Poor frame rate is the first thing you'll notice when you start a game of ShootOut. Instead of capturing the fluid grace and beauty of professional basketball, the game stutters constantly, especially when the camera shifts viewpoint after a change in possession. The problem is so bad, you'll frequently wonder exactly how a turnover occurred, with your only clue being that the camera has swapped sides. The animations look stilted, and your players often appear to skate and slide over the ground rather than run. There isn't much detail put into any of the arenas, and the crowds are completely flat and unconvincing.
This doesn't look much like T-Mac to us.
Most disturbingly, players tend to have their heads tilted upward at an unnatural, almost macabre angle. Heads swivel from side to side as players play defense, and, more often than not, the faces on these heads bear little resemblance to the players they're supposed to represent. Even McGrady's face isn't done very well, and he's the cover athlete for ShootOut 2004. You can extrapolate from there how poorly the faces of less marquee players were done. The overall player models aren't much better. Many appear disproportional, and some tattoos on players are included while some are mysteriously omitted.
ShootOut 2004 doesn't do so well in the sound department either. The crowd noise is dull and indistinct, and you hear no chatter at all between players or coaches. The announcing is done by Ian Eagle and the incomparable (some might say "infamous") Bill Walton. Unfortunately, it gets repetitive and annoying in a hurry. The duo seems to have very few lines, with Eagle getting overly excited at the most mundane of plays. Walton is his usual self, full of ridiculous comments and metaphors. After about the 100th time you hear him talk about the defense "parting like the Red Sea," you'll wish Walton had never read the story of Moses and the Israelites.
Unfortunately, you won't find any salvation in ShootOut 2004's gameplay. The post game is almost nonexistent. Even if you control a potent post player, like Shaq or Yao Ming, and back your man down to within five or ten feet from the basket, you'll find it almost impossible to hit a jump-hook or fadeaway. In fact, the game makes it difficult to hit any kind of shot, aside from a layup or a dunk. Even if the defender isn't jumping at you or otherwise challenging your jumper, they'll seldom fall unless you are wide open. Good luck getting those open looks, as the computer appears to cheat on its rotations out of the double team. Throw a pass to the open man and you'll see defenders racing to cover the pass recipient, seemingly before the ball leaves the passer's hands.
This isn't to say that it's difficult to score in ShootOut 2004. As a matter of fact, it's embarrassingly easy to get a dunk or layup almost every time down the court. Take control of almost any player, jam on the turbo, and start running back and forth across the lane until you can get your defender caught up on another player. That gives you the opportunity to drive straight to the hole so you can dunk or lay the ball in. If it doesn't work, you can usually go baseline and get to the basket that way, as the computer doesn't seem to understand the importance of sealing that driving lane. Master this method, and your shooting percentage will skyrocket. ShootOut 2004 does include some juke moves mapped to the right analog stick, but the implementation and variety pales in comparison to NBA Live's freestyle or ESPN NBA's isomotion. Besides, who needs to use juke moves when you can get cheesy dunks by just running back and forth across the lane until your defender gets lost?
Ratcheting up the difficulty level doesn't help matters much either. At Hall of Fame difficulty the computer simply sends a constant double or triple team at the ballhandler and cranks up the shot blocking to the point where any and every contested shot of yours gets swatted. You can still score using the cheese-method, but it's just a little more difficult to shake two or three defenders instead of just one.
Dunks are easy to come by.