Games

NBA Street V3

Josh Lee

It's a shame that the game exposes its weaknesses through forced repetition, because it comes frighteningly close to transcending its own artificiality.


Publisher: EA Sports
Genres: Sports
Price: $49.99
Multimedia: Nba Street V3
Platforms: Xbox (also PlayStation 2 and GameCube)
Number of players: 1-4 s
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: EA Canada
US release date: 2007-07
Amazon affiliate

The biggest addition to the latest edition of the NBA Street series is the inclusion of the Beastie Boys as players. Why them, and not some other hip-hop outfit? The Beastie Boys started out as a trio of white boys who converted their obnoxious novelty punk band into an even more obnoxious novelty rap group. Now, though, they're among the grand old men of hip-hop, with legions of fans hanging on their every paean to Brooklyn or confab with the Dalai Lama. Their MTV Video Vanguard award was presented by none other than Chuck D, a rapper with no shortage of cred himself. Somewhere along the way, they crossed over from being a prank to being the real thing. Similarly, NBA Street V3 is about more than just playing basketball; it's about playing with the idea of authenticity, of what it means to be real.

Unlike some of the newer entries in EA Big's Street library (NFL Street, FIFA Street, etc.), NBA Street is rooted in a real-life phenomenon. Walking by the park or flipping the dial past ESPN2 on any given day, you're liable to see skinny kids dribbling circles around each other, letting off no-look passes, and throwing down sick dunks. Streetball comes with its own questions of authenticity and authority: some basketball fans decry it as pointless showboating perpetrated by clowns who don't know the first thing about team sport; streetball's fans will tell you it represents the true soul of the game, that it's the basketball equivalent of freestyle rap or improv jazz. Toronto Raptors guard Rafer Alston is in many ways emblematic of this conflict: as Skip to My Lou, he was a legend on the playground, but since "graduating" to the NBA, he's bounced around the league, alternating between "mature" and "selfish" play, unable to shake the image of the streetballer as an aspiring solo artist.

Alston is, of course, playable in NBA Street V3, as are a host of other pro players from the present and past, all modeled in great detail and looking almost -- but not quite -- like their real-life counterparts. Because this is a streetball game and not an NBA simulation, however, tricky moves that would get you thrown out of a pro game are not only encouraged, but required. In fact, in an era of ever more sophisticated sports sims, with their GM modes and intricate defensive schemes, NBA Street is refreshingly straightforward: once you figure out which buttons pass, shoot, steal, and block the ball, you're pretty much ready to roll. Pulling off tricks isn't much more difficult: simply wiggling the right joystick causes good things to happen. It's very easy to look very good playing this game, making it more of a fantasy than a simulation.

Since the gameplay is so fantastic -- outlandish even by streetball standards -- other elements of the game must seem more real in order to maintain the game's credibility, to make the fantasy seem concrete rather than purely imaginary. The players' faces are supported by the voice of hip-hop "renaissance man" Bobbito Garcia on play-by-play. Garcia's commentary, as in any sports video game, gets repetitive if you play for long enough, but his enthusiasm is undeniably infectious as he taunts, cheers, and even serenades the on-screen players (it puts Madden's soporific mumbling to shame). Even when he drops corny jokes and malapropisms, Garcia's constant patter is welcome; actually, these slips are some of the best parts of the commentary, giving it an improvised feel that makes the whole affair seem a little more live and a lot less canned.

The other voice of NBA Street V3 is that of Rich Medina, who provides a spoken-word introduction for each of the game's courts. These courts are, naturally, based on real-life streetball destinations: Rucker Park, Venice Beach, even Brighton Beach in England. As Medina quietly waxes poetic about each venue, the camera pans dramatically -- perhaps even worshipfully -- across the hardwood and the rims. These courts are not just levels in a game, they're hallowed ground, where the likes of Stephon Marbury learned to play.

Then there are the shoes. Even before Spike Lee explained the real source of Michael Jordan's abilities to the world, shoes were an integral part of the game and its style. NBA Street V3 not only allows you to construct a custom player with a wide range of tweakable body and facial features, it allows you to create a custom pair of brand-name kicks for him or her (you can create a female player, but there are no WNBA players in the game; perhaps one of these days they'll get around to letting us play out a Katie Smith-Betty Lennox showdown). Sadly, while you can unlock old-school NBA players like George Gervin and Spudd Webb, you can't unlock old-school shoes like the Chuck Taylor All Stars or the original Air Jordans.

The problem with all the unlockable bonuses and customizable features is that they require a lot of hard work to earn. Playing the game, pulling off fancy moves, and throwing down big dunks earn you reputation points, which you then cash in to gain access to a player or a different style of headband. You can also use reputation points to increase the skill level of your custom player, making him or her a better ball-handler or a stronger shot-blocker. Suddenly, playing the game isn't about slick moves and roundball poetry, it's about juggling stats and maximizing earnings.

This wouldn't be half as annoying if everything weren't so expensive. Having to play for hours and hours to get your stats built up and the goodies you want unlocked makes it more obvious that the game's arcade-like simplicity also implies an arcade-like lack of depth. Every game boils down to pulling off tricks until you can make a "Gamebreaker" dunk, which piles on enough bonus points to put the match out of your opponent's reach. The first few dozen times you do this, it's a huge rush, but eventually it gets really old. What should be a great game for picking up, playing for a few minutes, and putting down again becomes a grind and a chore.

It's a shame that the game exposes its weaknesses through forced repetition in this way, because it comes frighteningly close to transcending its own artificiality. What NBA Street V3 lacks in realism, it makes up for in style, garnering credibility -- a patina of authenticity -- by immersing the player not in the action of streetball, but in its culture and style. At the end of the day, though, would-be ballers might be better served by going down to the park and working on their crossover dribble.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

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