Certain expectations arise from the words "massively multiplayer game," but Freestyle Street Basketball doesn't meet many of them. The game is a simple online baller that lets players customize their avatars, gain experience, and learn new court skills. There's no virtual world apart from the stylized urban arenas where the matches take place, and those only host six players at most. Socializing, what there is of it, is limited to off-the-court chats, public and private.

The sport itself serves up slightly more meat. Players can chose to play guard, forward, or center. Each position has its unique traits, but they aren't so specialized that they're weak in one-on-one matches. Controls are deceptively simple, using a minimal amount of keyboard buttons. This leaves the window wide open for skill and strategy to rule the day. With a little hustle, those who play smart and swiftly can take on higher-level players and come out ahead. The major upside is that the game is cheap: There's a free download that caps player growth, and no monthly fee. The boxed game, or the upgrade key that opens the full experience, comes for a song. Those with even more cash to burn can spend real-world money to buy skill-boosting gear.

Beyond the game: Free online games tend to attract minors who don't have access to credit cards or PayPal accounts. They're a way for young people craving an online social life to get one without a parental middleman. Not-so-young people may feel a tad out of place.

Advertisement

Worth playing for: Prolonged play evolves avatars from double-dribbling newbies to agile Globetrotters. Pulling off aerial dunks and alley-oops feels that much better when you've earned them.

Frustration sets in when: Bad sportsmanship can make or break an online experience. So far, much of the in-game crowd is cool, but it only takes one over-the-top trash-talker to dampen the mood.

Final judgment: Freestyle Street Basketball isn't as big as it claims, but for the price, the hyperbole is forgivable.

Advertisement