Posted by Neil Paine on November 4, 2010
That's right, it's officially video game week here at the BBR blog. On Monday, I looked at 2K Sports' NBA 2K11 for the PlayStation 3 -- the best hoops game the consoles have to offer -- and today I'm going to look at Wolverine Studios' Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball 2 for the PC, which should appeal to gamers seeking a management-oriented alternative to 2K11.
NBA 2K11 is a lot of things, but at its core it remains about a graphical representation of basketball, requiring you to mash buttons and manipulate thumbsticks to control the action. Most of us grew up on games like that, but there's also something to be said for text-based management sims like Out of the Park, Baseball Mogul, and NHL Eastside Hockey Manager, which offer a different, more cerebral challenge than their more arcade-styled console counterparts.
And while basketball has traditionally lacked a standout text sim, DDS: PB2 is definitely following in the footsteps of those great sports sim games of the past. Although it's at a slightly earlier stage on the development curve than some of the games I mentioned above, I would definitely recommend DDS: PB2 for any player looking for an in-depth, immersive game that focuses on the management side of the NBA.
From the very first time you start a game, you get a sense of how many customizable options are available in DDS: PB2. In addition to the game's default NBA-style universe, there's also an NBDL-esque developmental league, and you can also choose to manage one of more than 70 European clubs. Another cool option that I don't see very often in sports games is the choice of when to pick up the action in the offseason -- before the 2010 draft (allowing you to scout and pick the rookies you want from this past June), or at the start of the regular season.
Each new league also offers one of two financial models -- a limited one with a hard salary cap & simplified free agency, and a full model that simulates the NBA's current soft-cap rules, right down to Bird rights and restricted FAs. Both models have their own challenges, and I would suggest studying the documentation closely if you choose the "full" mode (assuming you don't have Larry Coon's CBA FAQ memorized).
Like any good sports sim, the game follows your coach/GM character through multiple seasons, and DDS: PB2 features a novel system where you can allocate skill points to your virtual self in various aspects of management. The skill ratings you assign impact how difficult the game will be for your character, so if you are a coach and you give yourself a high offense rating, it will be easier to get your players to execute offensively than if you gave yourself a low rating (this also applies to GMs in their ability to accurately gauge a player's talent and potential). I like this feature a lot, because it incorporates an aspect of role-playing games that you don't see as much in sports management games.
From there, it's just a matter of immersing yourself in the minutiae of the league and beginning the daily grind of managing and/or coaching a professional basketball team. The game proceeds in stages (i.e., coach hiring, rookie scouting, the draft, free agency, summer league, etc.), and at each stage you'll have to weigh the team's long- and short-term finances against both its talent and the individual personalities/media interactions of the roster. On top of that, the CPU teams' trade AI drives a very hard bargain even at lower difficulty levels, and free agency is a somewhat clunky process. However, if you have the patience to stick with things, these aspects do get easier to manage as you get to know the game better.
Plus, there are plenty of tools to help you manage your squad. As a numbers guy, I quickly found some cool categories (including +/-) and the much-appreciated option to calculate them per-game, per-36 minutes, or as raw totals, in addition to a "magazine" filled with APBRmetric data. Also, when you play mutliple seasons, the league keeps an almanac of past player, team, & league stats -- a staple of recent sports sims, but always a welcome feature. And finally, each player carries the usual array of skill ratings to help you determine how they fit in on your team. All in all, I was impressed with the front-office management aspects of DDS: PB2.
There's also the option to manually coach your team's games (if you've enabled coaching in the game setup), and it's the standard sports sim fare, though certainly well-done for a basketball game. You can adjust the speed of the play-by-play, call timeouts, make subs, and even work the referees for calls. Personally, I rarely micromanage the action at the game level in any sports sim, but it's nice to know the option is there if you want to take the reins at any point.
My main overarching complaint about DDS: PB2 is that the user interface takes some getting used to -- it can be unwieldy at times to manage the sheer amount of information at your disposal, and sometimes you have to make decisions without as much information as you'd like. However, those issues didn't have a huge impact on my enjoyment of the game, and while there are some little idiosyncrasies here and there, I didn't encounter any major bugs either.
In sum, Draft Day Sports: Pro Basketball 2 is a rewarding sports management simulation, especially if you persevere with it and allow yourself to be immersed in the game's universe. It's easy to recommend DDS: PB2 as a basketball sim, since there aren't many other worthwhile text-based competitors in the genre, but I think it also stands up well across genres -- say, against a game like Baseball Mogul. It doesn't fully have the polish of an OOTP or Football Manager yet (few sims do), but you can tell developer Gary Gorski is very passionate about basketball, and that means I like the direction this franchise is headed in.
My Grade: B+