FreeStyle Street Basketball - PC - Preview 2
The game had a rather simple explanation back in 2006 during a pre-E3 media tour – play pickup games, earn points, get stuff. In hindsight that would be like explaining a Madden football game like get the ball, score points, win the Super Bowl. There is so much more to FreeStyle Street Basketball than merely playing pickup games, et cetera.
First, the game is about skill, knowing your position and using your position strengths to their fullest advantage. 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.
GameZone.com was on hand at the Sierra Spring Event, showcasing a variety of upcoming titles. FreeStyle was one of the PC titles on display. The game moves into an open beta on the 19th of the month, at which time servers may contain a wide range of games, other than the sparse number available during the event.
But hands on was available and the game was surprising in the flow and skill it takes. Control will have a bit of a learning curve, with the body movement relegated to the arrow keys and game mechanics (steal, pass, rebound, shoot, et cetera) tied in to the W, A, S, D and F keys.
Yes, you do earn points and can buy better street gear, but 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.
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 (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. 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 buy the game. There are other advantages to buying the game – such the ability to open up other character slots.
The game has some elements that might detract. The collision paths are broad and you may have trouble working around a body just standing still. But once the controls become familiar, the game starts to sparkle with on-court gaming that is rather enjoyable.
The first time in a game was a little discouraging. The character created to play was a power forward, and that meant playing inside. The other team had a level 3 shooting guard that could light it up from three-point range. The game ended in regulation. The controls, though, had become semi-comfortable. Game two involved two forwards against two guards. It started off badly with the guards making some steals (Ok, they were picking my pocket so clean I won’t have to worry about lint for a long time), and hitting some outside Js. But just as they started to get too comfortable in aggressively trying to steal the ball, quick passes opened up lanes to drive inside and dunk. Regulation ended in a tie. The guards hit some three-pointers in OT to nurse a lead, but the rim seemed to tighten up on them and rebounding allowed the forwards to get back in and tie the game at the end of that first overtime.
Games can’t end in a tie. That second game went several overtimes before inside dominance put the lead out to double digits with less than a minute remaining. The guards, forced to toss up deep 3-point attempts, couldn’t get back into it.
The feeling of earning a hard-fought win was very satisfying.
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 and rebound for possession.
The game has been big in Asia, and there is some U.S. content going in. When the game launches, there will also be tournaments and ladders that players can participate in to make the experience an ongoing challenge, as well as fun.