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A.P.I Review: TOTAL NBA '98(PAL)

No.1   No.2   No.3
Distributor: SONY 1-8 Player
Game Type: Sports Sim Memory Card
Review Date: July 1998 Standard Joypad

Setting the Scene

Released under the title of "NBA Shootout 98" in the USA,
Total NBA 98 is the third in the TOTAL NBA series of Basketball games 
on Playstation. One of the first games I owned when I got my first 
Playstation was Total NBA 96 and at the time it was one of the most 
impressive of the genre on any platform. SCEE had really shown their 
commitment to the Playstation and that they could develop some of 
the best games. 

The question that comes with every sequel to every game must be asked, 
is this version any better than the previous game, how does it improve 
on it's predecessor and is it worth getting if you have the old game? 

With this latest installment the game has evolved, as you would expect, 
better graphics, faster and more varied gameplay and a full license 
with most of the official NBA players featured in all their glory 
(minus a few notable exceptions).


A sports computer game? 
Isn't that a contradiction in terms? 
Why not just play the actual game? 
We all want to be like Mike, but not all of us can, this game is the solution 
for all those frustrated basketballers out there, if you can't be LIKE Mike, 
you can at least BE Mike (sort of).


Total NBA 98 is a quality product. The usual FMV intro is there (looking 
more like the intro to a TV show than a game) and it sets the scene quite well, 
with shots of the players, transposed with computer generated basketballs 
bouncing around and destroying stadiums it's probably something you'll watch 
once and ignore thereafter.  

The usual graphical menu system adds to the eye candy but not really to the 
function, besides what are we here for menus or the game?  The most impressive 
feature of the game, and the thing you will see and appreciate the most, is 
the size of the players - they are HUGE! Compared to the skinny little whimps 
from the 96 version these guys are enormous.  The players move fluidly and 
although they could use a few more polygons in the head and arm region they 
look reasonably convincing.

Another great graphical feature is the reflective surface of the court.  In 
the 96 version you could see the disembodies legs of the players reflected in 
the court ("Where are their bodies?" I cried).  This has improved considerably.  
The overhead stadium lighting and the players themselves can be seen in the 
reflective surface of the court, dynamic lighting is show in the shadows cast 
by the players and the ball. The ball itself is the most detailed item on the 
court, looking nicely textured and very basketball like.

Sounds and Effects

At first the lack of in game music may seem strange but considering that 
this game is a simulation of an actual basketball match it is good to see 
that SCEE have chosen to concentrate on the effects rather than just stick 
some cheesy techno rubbish in there just for the sake of it. The only music 
present is during the menu selection screens and is a not-too-annoying 
mixture of 70's disco and modern dance (a weird combination but it works 
quite well).

Effects could have easily been overdone and annoying but are cleverly 
restrained and realistic. The crowd cheers, the commentator gets excited, 
shoes squeak and the ball bounces, all the kinds of sounds you would hear 
at a real game, all adding to the realism.


If you enjoy taking charge of a team of giants chasing a small orange ball 
around a wooden court, trying your hardest to stick the ball into a little 
hoop without another giant guy knocking you down or stealing the ball, Total 
NBA 98 is probably the best around at the moment. 

The game opens up with a pretty simple interface.  You can choose to fiddle 
with the options that affect how the game plays and the rules, draft, create 
players and team or just jump right in and play.  The usual options of sound 
and music adjustment are added to by others which will change the game plays, 
like Dunk replays, Close Scores (which will modify the gameplay to encourage 
close games), Player names and Turbo settings. 

Given that most real sports games revolve around a comprehensive set of rules 
that you must obey in order to play, it is good to see that most of the rules 
of basketball can be modified in Total NBA 98. You can turn on or off settings 
like Fouls, foul out limit, back-court violations, out of bounds, player fatigue, 
shot clock and a whole lot more.

There are two basic styles of play which are sim and arcade. While Sim gives a 
full simulation feel to the game Arcade is by far the most fun and easiest to 
play.  Add to these three levels of difficulty and the game can be customized 
to almost anyone's tastes.  

One of the most interesting and fun features of the game is the ability to 
create and use your own players.  With this feature you could create your 
own Dream Team of 7'7" giants who could blitz any other team in the world. 
You can customize the player's name, position, jersey Number, height/weight 
and even appearance.  This feature adds a lot to the playability and 
lastability of the game since you can create and save your own superteam.

Getting right into the actual game, you can play a single exhibition between 
two of the 29 teams present in the game.  There's the option to play out a 
full season where you select a team and follow through an entire NBA season 
or jump straight into the playoffs and battle for supremacy.  When playing a 
full season you can simulate any of the games right up to the last without 
actually playing the game.  This feature will give you a win or loss depending 
on your team's statistical comparison with the opposition. Should you feel 
the game would be too easy you can just skip it and let the computer decide 
the outcome, or if you're not up to a challenge take a chance on winning 
without playing.

While this is a good simulation of a basketball match and is fun to play 
Total NBA 98 doesn't really add much to the genre.  The control is a bit 
muddy at times.  You will push a button and the player simply will not 
respond.  This is particularly annoying when you're going for a big dunk 
when there are no other players around.  By the time you press the button 
again - it's too late and you're swamped.  This problem is intermittent but 
happens often enough to warrant a comment. 

Apart from the usual pass and scoring shots you can also perform a series of 
trick shots and dunks, dodges and assists - the usual range of basketball 
movements.  While the game seems to have the full license and all the player 
names (even Rodman and Longley, which I didn't expect), there are a few very 
obvious players missing. Jordan does not appear in the game and is replaced 
by a silhouette in the player profiles and a generic player during the game.  
A small pity since while this does not detract from the playability at all, 
the presence of ALL the players would have made the game more complete.

Overall playability has improved from previous versions, so playing is more 
fun, the game is also very easy to watch too, so even if you're not interested 
in playing it's quite easy to just sit back and watch a game in progress.

Value for Money

As with any game that has such a specialized theme Total NBA will not appeal 
to all gamers.  Mileage may vary depending on so many factors, not least of 
which is whether you actually like playing or watching basketball.  

Non fans will play the game for a short amount of time to take in the eye 
candy and wow at the graphics. General Fans will probably get into the game 
for it's official license and the ability to create and customize your own 
team. Hard core basketball fans and gamers will enjoy the game for the 
realism it presents, with two modes of play (sim and arcade) and variable 
difficulty levels and fan of basketball or the previous games in the series 
will get a good run from this latest installment.
GRAPHICS: 17/20 I really don't get into Basketball much. While I recognize all the major players and truly believe that Dennis Rodman is an alien this game really didn't keep me interested for too long.

Don't take that the wrong way, speaking from a non-fan perspective this game is great to look at and plays quite well but it just isn't MY cup of tea.

This is my opinion so you will just have to take the fact above and make your own decision about whether it is worth the outlay to buy. If you're not sure then there's always the option to rent it first.

In the interests of fairness, the rating I have given here is based on an average between how I would personally mark it and what I think a basketball gaming fan would give it.
SOUND: 9/10
VALUE: 15/20


GRAPHICS: 17/20 Over the first three years of the Playstation's short life we have witnessed remarkable improvements in the sound, graphics and gameplay departments but it's difficult to know where basketball games go from here.

The earliest 32-bit basketball games were so good that any future changes seemed minimal. It seems all we can look forward to now is slightly higher resolution visuals and all the latest player statistics

Don't get me wrong, if you are looking for your very first PSX basketball game then Total NBA 98 is definately worth checking out, but for the majority I really cannot see the point in purchasing any of this years offerings if you already own one of last years versions.
SOUND: 8/10
VALUE: 15/20


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