Over the course of the NBA Live/NBA 2K series rivalry, there has never been a more significant difference between the two games than there is right now with the 360 titles. It seems that for every aspect one of the games does right, the other one falters, making for one of the easiest choices in terms of which game you want to buy along with your new console -- as long as you know what you want. Unlike in some of the previous years, the issue here isn't the overall quality, but what you want out of a basketball game.
NBA 2K6's main strengths come from its legacy. Since the 360 version is basically a feature-for-feature port of the game that just came out on Xbox and PS2, players can expect a refined, polished, and balanced game engine that doesn't take too many risks. The big new feature players saw on the current generation versions -- the right analog stick shooting -- is back and does a good job of simulating the feel of setting up for a real life shot using the game controller, and the realistic, slower-paced gameplay is as solid as it's ever been. In other words, if you've played NBA 2K6 on either of the current-gen consoles, you know exactly what to expect from the 360 version in terms of controls and feel.
The one area of the game that's likely to cause the biggest debate is the visuals. Unlike what's already been stated above, the graphics in NBA 2K6 have definitely been upgraded from what players saw on the PS2 and Xbox, but it's arguable just how significant that leap forward has been on 360. If you look at screenshots released for the game, you'll notice they are tightly focused on the superstar players and tend to blur out the backgrounds. That's because the backgrounds don't look so hot in the actual game -- sure, fans are comprised of 3D models, but upclose and during cutscene moments, they look blocky, pale, and downright ugly. In fact, the actual arenas that you're playing in aren't terribly impressive either. The game incorporates a nice depth-of-field motion blur system, but it feels like an attempt to cover up the dated looking backgrounds.
The character models, on the other hand, look pretty nice when you catch them from the proper camera angles. Though not featuring as much detail as those in EA's NBA Live (thus making them a tiny bit cartooney-looking in comparison), they appear less awkward with fewer goofy expressions. So the players look extremely good given the graphics engine present here, but that engine can't compete with Live's right now. 2K Sports, for the first time, will now be playing catch up to EA with their visuals.
(As a side note, we should point out that 2K6's graphics benefit greatly from a high-definition television. While both games obviously look better in HD, 2K6 makes a bigger leap than you might expect when moving from a normal to an HD set.)
And that's 2K6's biggest setback -- it doesn't have the instant visual appeal, next-gen look, or out-and-out raw emotion that gamers want to see in a next-gen sports game. The actual mechanics of the game are quite strong (the shot stick and free throw system are perhaps the best mechanics we've seen in a basketball game to date), and it has all the depth and options we've come to expect from a veteran basketball series. If you're an optimist, NBA 2K6 feels like a natural evolution of the franchise more than something that makes you want to rush out and buy it to show off your shiny new console. If you're a pessimist, well, the game isn't much more than a high-definition port of its excellent current-gen counterparts. Shouldn't we expect more out of a next-gen sports game?