EA Sports and 2K Sports have become bitter rivals since 2K joined the craziness that is basketball video gaming a few years back. The last few years have seen 2K Sports at the top of the leaderboard, achieving unanimously higher ratings than EA's NBA Live series. This year is no different, with NBA 2K9 being the go-to performer on the virtual basketball court. The gameplay is better, the pace is faster, the lockdown defense is more realistic, and the AI is better, not to mention it looks a bit better than last year.
The lockdown defense is back this year, and it has been adjusted to be more realistic and effective. Mismatches will actually be mismatches this year, which is great news for anyone who likes to utilize screens to create them. The AI has been improved as well, and will react much more realistically to this method or defense. You can't just jam on the button and shut down Kobe—you'll have to adjust to and work for it too.
The AI, overall, has been improved in all aspects of the game. The computer controlled players will pose much more of a challenge overall. On offense, you'll have to work for everything you get. You won't be able to push a crossover button, take two steps, and dunk every time down the court. You'll need to use your offense, and most importantly, your teammates who, consequently, have been heightened a bit in the AI department too. They will now help you rebound, set effective picks for you, move without the ball, and so on and so forth. The game also moves a bit faster than it did last year, which doesn't change much, but it does make the experience more exciting and frantic—in a good way. Fast breaks are the real game-breakers in the NBA, and the increased pace helps to make the fast break a viable and powerful tool in this game. Hopefully the fast break will continue to improve in future basketball games, as it has been a consistent omission as a realistic aspect of the game of basketball. One more point of importance is that the strange phenomenon of players like Kobe Bryant missing easy shots they would never miss is pretty much fixed—for the most part you'll make the shots you should make.
NBA 2K9, in all its splendor, still has its hang-ups that detract from how entertaining this game is. There are widely reported issues with freezing in Association mode. This is strictly a technical problem, but it does manage to be very frustrating—it happened to us once or twice in the first week of play. The presentation and interface this year takes a real backseat to NBA Live. The menus are cumbersome, and it's much harder than it should be to get around and choose your options.
Association is indeed back as the main mode in which you will spend most of your time. NBA.com has been integrated into the mode this time around, and it adds a nice touch. The cumbersome menus really do hold this mode back, and though it is largely unchanged from last year, a better interface would really help it take off.
Other game modes offered this year are Blacktop, which is largely unchanged from last year, exhibition, practice, and online play. Online play is even better than last year, with the gameplay staying smooth throughout our time online. You can now even play five-on-five with only one person per console, which is a really nice addition. It just works, and if you like playing online quite a bit, you'll be happy to know you'll be able to do so smoothly.
Overall, the gameplay is excellent, and takes the cake in this area over EA's NBA Live 09. The controls are much tighter and more responsive, and, overall, it's simply much more fun to play.
NBA 2K9 looks good. The animations are what you've come to expect from 2K—solid, though somewhat repeating. Nonetheless, they look good. You will see some canned animations cycling back through from time to time, but overall they are sufficient. The player models could use some work, as some of the faces actually aren't recognizable at all, unless you're looking at a marquee player. Free throws can also be a bit choppy. The audio is good, and largely unchanged. The commentating is great, even if not very exciting, but it gets the job done without being too repetitive.
NBA 2K9 trails NBA Live 09 in the visuals and presentation department, but it makes up for this shortcoming by whooping Live in the gameplay department. NBA 2K is still the standard for basketball gameplay, and if you're wondering which title to go with this year, NBA 2K9 is your choice.