FastBreak Pro Basketball 3 (FBPB3) reminds you that a sports-text sim doesn’t have to be able to do everything in order to provide a good gaming experience. Like a dependable, gritty power forward in basketball, FBPB3 may not be flashy or even revolutionary, but what it does, it does well.
Released in 2013, FBPB3 is the latest from Brian Nichols, the creator of FastBreak Pro Basketball and FastBreak College Basketball series of text-sim games. Distributed by GreyDog Software, FBPB3 is one of the deepest and most realistic pro basketball simulators on the market. However, it’s not without a few shortcomings. So, let’s take a peak under the hood and see what this game has to offer.
Reviewer’s Note: This game was reviewed using the latest available version, 3.0.22
FBPB3’s user interface is very clean and approachable. The home-page known as the “Hot Seat” is well laid out. Most menus that you’ll need are just a quick click away, and you don’t have to spend too much time digging for information you need.
Also, the game nicely utilizes a simple color scheme to show you how good a player is at present and the max potential of that player according to your scout. This makes it quick and easy to see who is good and who is not on your roster or any other.
Player cards are also well-designed. A series of blue bars indicate the player’s current ability and scouted potential. You also have access to not only a bevy of statistics, including more advanced player metrics, but you can also quickly find out interesting information like the player’s injury history, achievements and present contract.
However, FBPB3’s graphics and user interface are not without a few limitations. First, I ran into a couple of interface bugs (i.e. run-time errors) that caused the game to suddenly close. Thankfully, this was definitely more the exception than the rule, but you’d be wise to save your game regularly.
Secondly, although FBPB3’s user interface packs a lot of helpful information into a relatively small space, I really wish you were able to maximize the screen window or have multiple windows open on the same screen. In my opinion, this not only helps with game immersion, but also provides more information to the user – something vital in a good text-sim.
Finally, probably the biggest limitation of FBPB3’s graphics and user interface is when you decide to actually coach a game. There are no moving player icons or even a graphical representation of a court. All you have is scrolling text and a working scoreboard. So, if you were expecting this to look like the slick NBA2k series, you will be sorely disappointed. However, even from a modern text-sim perspective, FBPB3’s in-game graphics are pretty minimalistic. Functional, yes, but not eye-popping.
If you’re into creating your own customized professional basketball experience, FBPB3 will more than satisfy your cravings. To start, although the game doesn’t come with real player pictures or actual team logos, the game does allow you to insert user-generated graphics for teams or even player profiles. However, this is just the icing on the cake. Where FBPB3’s customization really shines is in creating your own customized basketball universe.
One of the things that first hits you as start a league is the historical customization of FBPB3. You can certainly start a game in the modern-day NBA if you want, but with FBPB3, you’re not limited to just playing in the present. The game comes with a rich historical database dating back to 1946. So, you want to kick it with Wilt Chamberlain or Julius Erving or Magic Johnson?
FBPB3 allows you to do just that. In fact, as you create your league, you can turn on “Historical Modifiers” which tells the game to model how basketball was played in the past, rather than just spitting out modern-day statistics. Also, if you’d rather have the game start in 1946 and then fast sim to the present, you can do that as well. For instance, I started a league in 1964 and then fast simmed till the end of 2013 season. It was fascinating to see how things developed. True to history, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the league’s all-time scorer and the Lakers had won a number of NBA championships. However, Michael Jordan ended up being drafted by Philadelphia, was a 6-time NBA All-star, but was riddled with injuries and never won a championship. Ironically, his career sputtered to an end in Washington where he was finally waived.
FBPB3 is also extremely flexible in the kinds of leagues it allows you to create. When starting a new basketball universe, you can change everything from the alignment of the teams and conferences (even having tiers) to the schedule of the playoffs (Best of 5 or 7, etc.), adjust game rules (i.e. 3pt shot, rookie draft, draft lottery, game format, period length, shot clock, etc.) and change overall game finances (luxury tax, max contract length, etc.). You are also allowed to start a game with a “creation draft,” use completely fictional players or have your league located internationally. So, for example, just for giggles, I created a basketball universe that financially used a hard cap, began in 1990, had a 32 game season, played with two 18-minute halves, had a 45 shot clock and max contract of free agents could only be 3 years. Now, it would not be the most exciting brand of basketball to watch, but the fact that I could create the league I wanted in FBPB3 was a huge bonus.
Finally, once you’ve started a league, FBPB3 allows you to edit player ratings in the game’s database, adjust your league’s rules on the fly and even force a trade between teams. You can also take over any team you want at any time or just wait until you’re fired!
So, overall I think you get the point. FBPB3 is a deeply customizable game – and for the most part, you can do what you want in this game.
Gameplay & Sim Engine
Smooth gameplay and a realistic sim engine are the lifeblood of sports text-sim. A game might be presentable and even customizable, but if it doesn’t play well and it pumps out ridiculous stats, then it’s not worth your time or your money. Thankfully, FBPB3 is not that kind of game. Time and time again, FBPB3 provides you with smooth gameplay and a very true-to-life sim engine.
When you start out, the game gives you the option of becoming a “coach” of particular team, but in all reality, FBPB3 functions more as a GM simulator that allows you to coach as many games as you would like.
As far as your day-to-day responsibilities as a GM/coach, FBPB3 gives you a wide array of things to do – everything from managing the salary cap, hiring/firing coaches, training players, adjusting your team’s on-court game-plan, participating in up to 3-4 team trades and even deciding whether to build a new arena or move elsewhere. Also, thanks to the helpful “To Do List” on your home-page, you’re never left wondering what you should do and when.
The game’s default trading AI also seems reasonably strong. Although there were times when I questioned certain CPU moves (Jrue Holiday for Russell Westbrook?), I generally found the CPU not to be a pushover or total blockhead. In fact, there were times when they offered me trades that seemed good on the surface, but upon further research weren’t as juicy as they first appeared. Also, in trading with the AI, I found that I had to really work to put together a fair deal, instead of dealing a bunch of scrubs to get a good player. Thankfully, if the game’s default trade settings are not to your liking, you can always tweak things like trade frequency or difficulty or even what the CPU values in the league options.
When it comes to coaching in-game, FBPB3’s gameplay is pretty straight-forward, though it affords a lot of depth if you’re willing to play out the games. When you “coach” a game, you can either choose to act as the head coach and handle everything from substitutions to gameplanning and timeouts or you can just be an “assistant coach” where you only have a say in gameplanning and timeouts. This flexibility is appreciated, especially if you’d like to coach a lot of games and you don’t want to take time to individually substitute every couple minutes. Also, in terms of gameplan adjustments, you can tweak your offensive gameplan, defensive assignments and even execute late-game tactics like only shooting 3-pointers or auto-fouling. I didn’t see a button for “Hack-A-Shaq” but that’s about the only thing I saw missing!
In terms of its sim engine, FBPB3 is top-notch in terms of statistical realism and reliability. The league leaders are often who you would expect them to be, and the in-game box scores often correspond nicely with the game-plan you implemented (or failed to implement!). For instance, if you don’t want your team shooting any threes, they might shoot a few, but they’ll generally shy away from hoisting it beyond the arc.
Personally, the part I enjoyed the most about FBPB’s gameplay was the various ways you can put together a championship level team. Will you do it through the draft or will you go after big-name free agents? Do you re-sign your aging superstar or do you risk the wrath of your owner and rebuild from scratch? FBPB3 really makes you think about how to put together a winning roster. There’s no one simple formula. For instance, I love the fact that role players in this game really matter like they do in the NBA. In my second season with the Cavaliers, I decided to acquire Thabo Sefolosha from the Atlanta Hawks in a trade. Why? Because I desperately needed perimeter defense to help me through the playoffs. Thankfully, the trade paid off, and we won the championship. Yes, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were three big reasons why we won. But I strongly believe Thabo put us over the hump. And I love that FBPB3 seemed to recognize his value.
So, in many ways, FBPB3’s gameplay gives a stand-out performance. But there are few areas where it needs a little refinement.
First, the game could use a little more transparency and explanation about how some of its game mechanics actually work. For instance, when you first create your “coach,” you are given the options of assigning them three “Preferred Skills” ranging from attributes like Inside Scoring to 3pt Shot to Perimeter Defense. However, it’s not terribly clear why these skills are important or what they are used for. Also, training players often seems a little mysterious. For instance, why does the computer put stamina so high for so many players? What is the risk/benefit of doing so? And what is the benefit of training already maxed out attributes? The in-game Help File doesn’t provide a lot of explanation as to how this all works. It was only after I did some digging on some online forums that I learned that training an already maxed out category can prevent faster decline for an aging player. Nice to know, but I wish the “Help File” would have helped me with that!
Another area that lacks transparency was the overall ratings for Team Cohesion, Talent and Owner Approval that you’ll find on your home-page. These ratings appear to fluctuate depending upon the make-up of your team and how you are performing, but there’s no explanation for why they say what they say. And you guessed it – the Help File isn’t much help here either. The game could really use some more explanation and detail on why it does what it does.
Secondly, while the game plays smooth and realistically, it generally lacks personality. For one thing, players don’t have any personality attributes that I can find, besides a few attributes such as Loyalty, Play For Winner and Greed that are tucked away in the contract section of the player card and seem only to affect contract negotiations. Also, the players will periodically get upset, but usually only over not getting enough playing time. And even then you just get a generic email indicating their displeasure. It all seems too simple and predictable when you consider the complexities of the modern-day NBA where GMs and coaches not only have to manage talent, but also contrasting, sometimes conflicting personalities.
Finally, and probably my least favorite, the game’s Draft process is also pretty uninspiring and unengaging. There is no build-up to the draft. There are no players to scout or work out. You are essentially given a pre-scouted list of names from which to choose. And unless you’ve imported them from Fast Break College Basketball 2010 or are playing a historical league, they’ll likely just be random names you’ve never heard of and who you have little connection with. Honestly, it’s kind of a let-down. In essence, the game does a great job allowing you to create your own smooth-running basketball universe, but it doesn’t always do a good job of really immersing you in it.
When it comes to online play, FBPB3 gives you everything you need. Nicely, the game does appear to be able to support a league with the full allotment of NBA teams.
Also, FBPB3 does allow multiplayer leagues to use HTML screens to post information about their league on the web. In fact, some of the online league pages are just as interesting as poking around your favorite sports news site.
Probably best of all, playing FBPB3 online provides some unique experiences that you just won’t find in single-player. For instance, there’s no trading block in the single-player game, but with online multiplayer, your league could allow you to post your needs in a forum and a feel out what others teams are looking for as well.
So, if you’re into online multiplayer, FBPB3 will definitely not leave you disappointed.
I started off the review talking about how a sports text-sim doesn’t need to be able to do everything in order to provide a good gaming experience. FBPB3 doesn’t have a lot of graphical pizazz. And its gameplay isn’t always as approachable or immersive as you would like.
However, when it comes right down to it, FBPB3 gets the job done. In basketball parlance, the game is definitely more “swish” than “brick.” For the most part, FBPB3 affords a smooth ride to those looking for a statistically-realistic, historically-rich, deeply-customizable simulation of professional basketball.
Simply put, it’s a game that kept me coming back for more. And it’s a game you will probably enjoy if you want a clean, crisp, no-frills professional basketball simulator.