NBA Ballers: Chosen One Review (PS3)

If NBA Ballers is to be believed, then the life of a superstar is truly something to be envied. Apparently, when they aren’t playing roundball for David Stern and all his stuffy friends, true players like to spend their offseason hoopin’ it up in locales such as opulent yacht clubs in Turkey and on rooftops in China. Furthermore, everyone knows that basketball jerseys and shorts are the absolute worst thing to play in, and the only way to truly roll is rocking satin vests and tons of bling.

This is the world Midway has created with NBA Ballers: Chosen One. It is a celebration of superficiality, with style coming in ahead of substance every time. While you are meant to believe that this is a basketball game, it’s really an elaborate game of dress up with a bunch of basketball mini-games tossed in to keep you from figuring that out. Rather than crafting a fun, playground version of the game, as was done with NBA Street: Homecourt, Midway has chosen instead to celebrate the “look at me” lifestyle of super athletes, at the expense of enjoyable gameplay and any discernable fun. Make no mistake: this game is truly a wasted effort, and you would be better served spending your cash on pretty much anything else.

Chosen One tries to present itself as basketball at its most basic and fun level. Matches are broken down into 1v1, 2v2, or 1v1v1 varieties, and players are given exaggerated abilities and physics-defying supermoves. This is a tactic Midway has been employing since all the way back in the days of NBA Jam, and normally it works quite nicely. Things fall apart this time, however, due to a number of overpowered moves, a complete disregard for balance, and game stipulations that cross the line from challenging to stupid several times over.

The first issue to address is the super abilities the title grants for the sake of you gaining the upper hand on your opponent. The most basic elements are jukes and passes which, when strung together, grant you points and fill up a bit of your special meter. Once the special meter fills, you are granted a Level 1 “Shut ‘Em Down Supermove” (either a juke on offense or a steal on defense), which you can either go ahead and use, or continue storing up energy for a Level 2 or 3 move. It is at this point that the game starts to tip from fun to ridiculous, as gaining a Level 3 move results in your character performing a dunk that is apparently so mind-blowing, earth-shattering, and life-changing that it’s game over, you win. That’s right, no matter what the score, no matter how much time is left, if you unleash a Level 3 super, that’s it.

You would hope that with such an unbalanced element in the game it would at least be difficult to acquire this ability, requiring players to sacrifice potential given points and play an incredible all-around game in able to acquire the power. Well, that’s not the case here as Midway saw fit to allow you to gain all the juice needed for a Level 3 move in two or three possessions. This is due to the game’s “Act a Fool” combo system, which allows you to string together timed button presses to rack up the points and pretty much goose your special meter at will. Put a couple of these together, throw in a steal or a block, and almost any game can be over in well under a minute.

In case you weren’t already frustrated enough with the game, it throws several stipulations at you as you play through Story Mode which makes playing a straight-up game of basketball nearly impossible. A few of these rules are actually enjoyable, like using old schools scoring (most shots are worth 1 point, anything from outside the arc is worth 2), and making dunks worth 3 point; but others, such as not allowing your opponent to score any points, and not getting blocked once in a three-period game, are merely there to try your patience. The most egregious rule is “no ball checks,” wherein every time a basket is scored, the ball remains live and whoever gets to it first gains possession. This means if your character isn’t a terrific rebounder or if you are even slightly out of position when the ball comes through, your opponent will likely grab the ball, put it back through for two more points, and just keep repeating this pattern ad infinitum until the game is over and you’ve thrown your controller out the window, through the TV, down the stairs, or any combination therein.

The gameplay is further hamstrung by overly complex controls that the game never bothers to explain in any way. You’ll need to keep the instruction manual close for quite some time as you try and figure out what convoluted combination of buttons you have to hold down just to perform a simple juke. Throw in game stipulations where you have to hit certain combos in a certain order before you can win, and you’ve got all the makings of a finger-twisting mess.

As stated above, it’s obvious that Chosen One decided to forgo any semblance of a good game in favor of trying to show off just how good it could make NBA stars look. Unfortunately, it fails at that too. While the players all have wonderfully modeled faces, all of them seem to be placed on one of three body types, and everything about them just seems rigid. Even their clothes, which are supposed to evoke from you feelings of awe and envy, are just flat, untextured rags of various colors, and shapes.

Animations suffer almost as badly, with every character sharing the same repertoire of moves, none of which look that great. In addition, every time a supermove is activated, you’re forced to sit through a 7-12 second long unskippable cutscene that plays out the same way ever single time. It completely interrupts the flow of the game, and there’s really no reason for it rather than to let the developers show off more bad animations. Topping it all off is a crowd of about 20 people all based on the same 4 repeatedly duplicated character models, identical right down to their clothes and movements. If you’ve ever wondered what pure laziness looks like, then look no further than the sidelines (or court for that matter) of Chosen One.

The one and only area of the game that is even remotely respectable is the sound and voice acting. Public Enemy’s Chuck D. provides the commentary, and he also introduces each chapter of Story Mode from a slick TV studio. Unlike most celebrities turned announcers, Chuck doesn’t mail it in, and actually does a respectable job both on and off the court. If he doesn’t already have a studio sports show, he could very easily have one today and hit the ground running.

Just Blaze does a respectable job with the game’s soundtrack, providing some solid hip-hop beats to back up the action. While those who aren’t into the genre likely won’t truly appreciate the work, it’s nice to have something different from the standard stable of pop-rock and gansta rap that seems to pervade basically every other sports title out there. It may not be the most inspired music you’ve ever heard, but it’s better than another EA Trax sampling.

Perhaps the biggest sin committed by Chosen One is the fact that it buys into its own hype. The title is so oversold on its own importance, that it seems Midway truly believes it doesn’t need to provide a solid basketball experience, but can rather coast through relying on the star power of the NBA license. However, no matter how much makeup you put on a pig, you can’t hide the truth. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to pick this game up as a rental, a purchase, or a gift (unless it’s a gift for your greatest enemy), particularly with so many better games out there. Do yourself a favor and just stay away.

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