NBA 2K3 for PlayStation 2, $80. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
as the folks who are already protesting next week's release of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City will attest, the line between reality and video game fantasy isn't so much blurred as rubbed out.
Whether you're playing a PS2, an XBox or a Gamecube, the real thrill in video games is putting yourself in the middle of the action. Pretending you're wasting cops with an M16 is one thing, but it's in sports sims that the reality gap has become disturbingly small.
Since the series started on Sega's now-deceased Dreamcast machine, the 2K series of sports games -- NBA, NFL, NHL -- has best captured the live, unpredictable world of sports. Players look like themselves in every game now, but it's in the little things -- logos on pucks, grass stains on uniforms, scratch marks on the ice surface -- that Sega set itself apart.
NBA 2K3 lives up to the series' high standards with one of the hardest, most realistic basketball games on the market. You can monitor players' biorhythms, so you know precisely who's got the hot hand and whose game is in the tank. Threaten to beat the computer and it will start to foul you and call endless time outs, just like the real deal.
Aside from a few choice improvements and newer rosters, though, NBA 2K3 is indistinguishable from NBA 2K and 2K1. It's in the presentation that the reality thing gets a bit dicey.
NBA 2K3 looks and sounds like it's being delivered on ESPN (and TSN) SportsCentre. Turn the game on and the show's theme music and familiar logo appear, along with its trademark halftime and post-game analyses. It's convergence on a massive scale, and it makes me feel a little itchy.
While it's fun to pretend that the little team you pieced together through the draft and the trade is providing the highlight of the night, the fact that the game's just providing advertising for ESPN is disturbing. The broadcaster's logo is all over this game, proving that even in the video game world, advertising is inescapable.
GRAPHICS: Perfect, right down to the sweat on Allen Iverson's brow.
ADDICTIVENESS: I played this game five times before I beat the computer.
ANTI-SOCIAL FACTOR: Wire it up over the Internet and try to whup your friends.
PROXIMITY TO THE REAL THING: According to NBA 2K3, the Raptors are one of the worst teams in the league. Make of that what you will.