Publisher: Sierra Online
Developer: JC Entertainment
N Amer - 05/15/2007
Digital Download - 05/15/2007
FreeStyle Street Basketball Review
Anyone that has played an MMO (massively multiplayer online) game knows the death knell is the lag. If the game is tied to coordinated efforts with other gamers, lag can have horrible repercussions. Consider what happens when that is tied to a sports game, and one in which team play is a guiding element within the game.
(And please, don’t try to say the host machine is not good enough – it more than exceeds the game specs – or the connection is not strong enough – a 7-meg connection that is shared by another machine and the connection does not drop on that other machine when the game disconnects – because those are not relevant to the problems outlined here.)
That is one of the hurdles that Freestyle Street Basketball still must overcome if it wants to attract a broad player base. As it is, the game itself can be entertaining, but with lag issues and the occasional game disconnect (the game just dumps back to Windows), the game can be frustrating. Why? Consider that you see a steal on the screen and instead of having to work the ball back outside in the half-court game, you are lining up for a restart (which occurs after points have been scored) … or a shot that is wide open and is blocked out of nowhere … or having the ball stolen from you from another player that is five feet away from your ballhandler. Those are the downsides to the JCE/Sierra title. But there are upsides as well. But to that in a moment ...
First, the game is about skill, knowing your position and using your position’s strengths to their fullest advantage in concert with other players. A center heading outside the arc to throw up three-pointers is like a guard playing inside and thinking they are going to be a dominating rebounder – it’s not going to happen very often. If you get on a team that knows how to play positions, it can be a thing of joy – even when you lose.
Game features …
Freestyle has a fairly good foundation, with 45 levels players can attain, and defining player skills. Guards can pick from shooting guard or point guard routes; forwards can choose either power forward or small forward; and centers … well, centers are just centers. Too slow for the one-handed tomahawk jam move, but solid walls and rebounders inside the paint.
There are three gameplay modes besides the tutorial: one on one, two versus two and the cornerstone of three-on-three team play. The dev team also has a wide range of tournaments that are constantly taking place. And, as you play, you can achieve a player ranking.
Eight courts dot the Freestyle landscape, which are all based on the half-court basketball game. A couple are even patterned after some real courts. The courts also sport some advertising, like signs on the walls nearby or clothing tags. Some courts, though, seem laggier than others.
The control scheme …
Actually, this is rather easy and recognizable to most gamers who have had experience with either massively multiplayer online games, or with shooters. Body movement relegated to the arrow keys and game mechanics (steal, pass, rebound, shoot, back down, screen, block) are tied in to the W, A, S, D and F keys. As players level, you will have the ability to buy special skills, which are held on a bar in the my skills interface. You highlight the ones you want active (one for regular skills and one for freestyle skills), and those are available simply through use of your regular game keystrokes.
Yes, you do earn points and can buy better street gear, and the gear is not just for show. They are like buffs in a massively multiplayer online game (which, technically, Freestyle is). You may have a shirt that improves your rebounding skill, or you get more accuracy for three-point shots. Tattoos can create bonus experience (experience is earned with in-game play) from a game.
Starting the game …
The game setup is simple: you create a character (male or female), select a position, drop into the game’s central lobby and then get into a game. You can play in the versus mode (1v1, 2v2 or 3v3, for example), or hop into the team lounge, get onto a team and play a court until beaten.
As you earn points you will level up and be able to acquire better gear. As mentioned, the game has 45 levels and the first 15 are free to download and play. If you wish to progress past level 15, you will have to pay a fee.
Sights and sounds …
Freestyle sports a cel-shaded graphical look that works within the context of the game. The ball will flash white when it is going through the hoop. No flash means a miss and a free ball that you will need to track down. There is a drawback here, though, in that the camera angles, while having the ability to rotate, can create havoc with tracking down a loose ball. This is a game that tries to give a three-dimensional feel but does it with seemingly two-dimensional elements.
As for the soundtrack, it starts out decent and then becomes highly repetitious. Trash talking is tied in to numerical keys and there is little trash involved. “I’m sorry” is not high on the list of “trash” that players would dish out on the court. After playing for a while, it was just as easy to go into the options and eliminate most of the sound, and turn what was left down low.
The joy of the game …
Sure, you can get into a stat rut, where players care more about the stats your character brings into the game than they do what you actually contribute on the court. A center may be booted from a team because he or she does not have a high enough rebound per game average (the game tracks all that), or you may find yourself booted from a team for no discernible reasons (other than you scored a lot after being continually fed inside, but you get labeled a ball hog nonetheless). But when you finally get on a team that works well together and understands the principles of the game (you work the inside to draw the defense in to open up outside shooting, or you pop the outside shots to draw the defense out and open up the inside game) of the sport, then – win or lose – the game can be a lot of fun.
Basketball is a game that – much like baseball – relegates a lot of a player’s worth on statistics. A couple of bad games (as in playing much too long and not playing like you are capable) and the stats drop and you are suddenly a pariah instead of someone welcomed onto a team. That is unfortunate. Build up a reputation for being a solid gamer and all that goes away and you are welcomed.
Freestyle has the right intentions, but it also has some problems. If the problems can be addressed, and the game draws more players (the community seems to not be overly large at this particular juncture) then Freestyle may have a decent run in the new MMOSG (massively multiplayer online sports game) genre.
Review Scoring Details for Freestyle Street Basketball
Lag and disconnects aside, the game can be entertaining in terms of flow. Each game is timed and you can juxtapose the score against time remaining to determine the best course of action. The control scheme is easy to understand but some of the elements are tied to timing.
Cel-shading graphics do have a charm but this is a two-dimensional game built within a 3D world. Tracking down a loose ball can be an adventure. The collision paths seems to be there at times and gone at others.
Repetitive and worth turning down after about 10 minutes.
Not every guard needs to stand outside the arc and continually throw up three-pointers. Basketball is as much an exercise in strategy as it is a game of skill.
A very good idea that has a few implementation problems.
The community runs the gamut from guys you enjoy playing with to jerks. Hacking is suspected at times, but certainly nothing that can be proven yet.
The game can be addictive and enjoyable, but when you get down to the last two minutes of a tight game and are suddenly booted to your Windows desktop, or the lag is so bad that you are rendered immobile or things are happening that have no base in real physics or logic (like sliding across the court to a position the game determines you are at regardless on how often you try to move to get involved with the game), then frustration will mount. Freestyle is a game that, given some time to correct these issues, may deserve a better score down the road, but for now, the frustrations seriously impede the entertainment value. When the game is running smoothly, though, this is enjoyable.
Freestyle Street Basketball has some issues that can impede the fun, but when the game is working like it should, it can be very entertaining
Reviewer: Michael Lafferty
Review Date: 06/20/2007