When NBA 2K6 was released on the Xbox and the PlayStation 2 earlier this year, it brought forth revolutionary new control mechanisms in the shot stick and the new isomotion juke system. This allowed basketball fans to have extremely detailed control over their players. These new control systems were married to an excellent-looking game engine that shined in both graphics and realistic artificial intelligence. If you've been waiting for the Xbox 360 version of the game, 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.
NBA 2K6 is easily the best-looking basketball game so far this year...
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. Some players look more accurate than others, but whether you can agree with the likenesses or not, they animate well. You'll see players' eyes tracking the ball as it's passed or bounces off the rim, and even mouths open as you go up for dunks or jostle for position in the post. Skin textures do look a little bit like plastic or porcelain, but most of the flaws you see in NBA 2K6's player models are a result of the so-called "uncanny valley." That is, since the player models look so real now, it's the minute flaws that are beginning to stand out.
What also makes the game stand out from a visual perspective is the unparalleled wealth of animations used for player movement, collisions, and more. You'll find a ton of flexibility and variety in the way players move and act, whether it's dribbling the ball, defending, shooting, rebounding, or even saving a ball from going out of bounds. The animations do pop once in a while, and you will notice some clipping, which can be distracting, but overall the fluidity of the animation in NBA 2K6 is fantastic and unmatched. Frame rates are silky smooth at all times as well; we noticed no slowdowns at all. Where 2K6 falters is in the details. The models used for the crowd, coaches, and cheerleaders don't seem to have been updated at all compared to the Xbox version. When you see a shot of the crowd, you'll notice their lack of detail, which immediately stands out from the great-looking players you saw just a second ago. It is also a stark contrast when you look at the players huddling around their coach, who looks noticeably blockier and flatter than they do. Fortunately, you'll spend most of your time watching gameplay and instant replays, and 2K6 shines visually like no other basketball game during these times. If you have a good HDTV, 2K6 really looks a lot like a live basketball broadcast when viewed from a short distance away.
...if you have a high-definition display.
And that's the rub: "...if you have a good HDTV." 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. Sure, there's the addition of a defensive crouch button (L trigger on defense), and there have been some refinements made to the shot stick and isomotion. However, the game is largely the same. If you're stuck with a standard-definition television, then you might as well pay less and enjoy the game on your Xbox or PlayStation 2 if you own one of those consoles.
The court sounds and crowd noise are as good as ever, and the announcing in the game has improved greatly. Kevin Harlan and Kenny Smith take over for Bill Fitzgerald and Bill Walton from last year's game. Harlan gets overexcited, as he does on TV, but he's still a vast improvement over Fitzgerald. Sure, the soundtrack is forgettable, but getting rid of Walton more than makes up for that. The one thing we're really not sure about is the egregious amount of advertising in the game. Having to see a "Powerbar replay" of all major highlights or the Toyota-branded starting lineups is a lot like TV, but do we need it in the game?
Teams and players in NBA 2K6 play more like they do in real life than they have in previous 2K games.
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. Finally, the 2K series has jukes that are just as natural and logical to pull off and chain together as in EA's NBA Live series--isomotion is no longer the redheaded stepchild to freestyle. It's just as good now, and arguably better. How so? Since your right thumb doesn't have to be used to make your juke moves, it's free to shoot or pass right out of your fake. It's a subtle thing, but advanced players will probably appreciate the added flexibility.
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.
NBA 2K6 for the Xbox 360 offers the same control schemes as other versions of the game.