Freestyle Street Basketball Review
Street style sports games have really started to gain popularity in many gaming circles as of late. Most of them take a totally different perspective on the game, putting it in a much less formal setting, such as a playground or a marked up grassy area. One other hallmark of these style of sports games is that the players are often superhuman, able to leap far up, make a massive slam dunk and, in essence, do things that none of us could ever dream of doing, even with years of practice.
This idea seems to be what has popularized the genre. The most popular of the street style games seems to be ones based, however loosely, around basketball. The first basketball game that really bent the rules and gained popularity (while not being a “street style” game) was NBA Jam. While others may have come before it, none were as immensely popular or oft-played in the arcades as NBA Jam was. Instead of worrying about all the players on the court, you just had a couple of guys to control. Fouling was normal and you were expected to shove a player down to try to steal the ball. This ended up spawning off tons of other titles, leading up to the popular NBA Street series.
After seeing the success of the series, an Asian company took the chance to make a street basketball game. The major difference with this one was that it was online. To be specific, Massively Multiplayer Online. Called Freestyle Street Basketball, the game had players pick a position and play in games to “level up” and raise their skills to get better, much like in an RPG. Well, Sierra must have seen something they liked as the game has now been released in the US. No monthly fee to play, but to get past a certain level, you have to buy a 20 dollar code.
Freestyle Street Basketball is pretty straight forward. You can go and download the game and play it for free for awhile, which is nice. The “trial” of sorts actually lets you go through the first 15 (of 40) levels, learning the game and bettering your stats as you play. You'll also get points that you can use to buy some gear. Most of the really neat stuff, though, also costs bills – you can buy these with real cash or get some when you buy the 20 dollar box off of store shelves. To be honest, I'm actually a fan of this idea – those that want to play the game for free can be nearly as successful as the player who dumps cash on the game. The main difference is that the big cash player may look cooler than the one thatj ust plays for free.
The gameplay is pretty simple. You'll pick from three different positions (two of which can, later on, advance to upgraded positions) and each of these positions plays differently. Personally, I went for the Center position – I parked my fat butt right near the basket and just rebounded all the failed three-point shot attempts. That was my first real problem with the game, the other players. See, most people assume that the only way to play the game is by shooting three-pointers. Now, this isn't a a problem if you have a clear shot for each one. However, these people will shoot them while they have a clear pass to someone under the basket and have two guys on them. They'll shoot them when another guy is wide open for a three and, heck, I'm sure they'd shoot them in a massive windstorm with no hope of making the shot. To put it bluntly, the players are, at least through most of the lower levels, dumb. Sadly, with a game that relies heavily on teamwork, this leads to players like centers either feeling left out of the game or getting really good at grabbing rebounds. Admittedly, the game does get better as you move up to the higher level rooms, though the crappy play at lower levels will turn off quite a few people.
The actual controls are pretty simple, though, and are keyboard based. You move around with the arrow keys and perform various actions with the normal WASD key setup. There's even a practice mode to get these controls down before you play against real people. While some people may look at the game and think the controls wouldn't work well, they'd be surprised. They are responsive and easy to learn.
There's one issue that really hounds the overall experience of Freestyle Street Basketball, and it is one that every single online gamer is horribly familiar with – the evil lag monster. While some games work well with laggy connections, Freestyle Street Basketball is definitely not one of them. Even the slightest bit of lag from a player to Sierra's servers can mess the game up. In a game that is fast paced like basketball, you need to be able to react quickly to shots to grab a rebound or move over to cover a guy after a pass. When the game lags slightly, though, your timing will end up off. Even worse, if you get hit by more major lag, shots will go in and you won't be able to do a thing about it. With six players in each game, it will be damn near impossible to avoid someone that is lagging. When you can, though, things are nice and smooth.
Outside of the actual mechanics, the game has a neat style to it. The graphics have a cel-shaded look to them, which works pretty well for the game. It runs well on most any system, which is another nice plus. The actual style of in-game items is very fitting with the street theme. Even the voices in the game are fitting with the overall feel of the game, though they do get annoying and, at least the in-game ones, horribly repetitive. I can only hear the same “nice shot” or “pass” exclamations a few times before I want to punch through my monitor at the person triggering them.
Overall, Freestyle Street Basketball has the potential to be a neat game. The idea is solid, the graphics and overall style are neat and the gameplay is pretty fun. However, the horrible players you have to get through to eventually play with the decent ones will turn people away and the lag will push even more away. If the lag issues can be smoothed out somehow, though, the game could be really good.