NBA Live 2003 Review (Xbox)
NBA Live has taken a lot of criticism in the last few years, mostly because the series has seemingly gone backwards. Each year gamers have expected EA to come out with some major improvements to challenge Sega’s NBA2K series and each year you are left shaking your head as to what they were trying to accomplish. This year appears to be different, this game may not be for everyone but what it does it does very well.
Fast and almost hectic would be the best way to describe the pace of NBA Live. The biggest addition to the controls is the “FreeStyle Control”. Which I keep thinking should be called freek style. Essentially with the manipulation of the right analog stick you can create all kind of spectacular moves. For some this gives them a feeling of great control and creativity on the court. For me, I really didn’t feel like I was in control, I honestly felt more like I do when I play fighting games, where I only have a vague idea of what the button combo I am hitting will do. Too many times I would come down court hit the speed burst then move the right analog stick back and forth a few times and then hit the shooting button.
Undoubtedly, NBA Live presented some highly entertaining moments and certainly provides a challenge at the higher levels. One of the issues I had with the game was with the use of the FreeStyle Control, the collision detection at times seemed nonexistent even on the All – Star level. There are many instances in which your man will put a move on a defender and when you hit the shooting button, he will magically elevate up and through a defender sometimes from as much as 10-12 feet out for a monstrous dunk. Hey it looks great and it is fun, but then it starts happening to you, you have position and the guy will just jump right over you. This is not to say that defensive positioning is not important, most of the times it is, however there are too many big dunks created by the use of the Free Style control.
Even though the pace is very fast there is still a lot of half court play, it is not all up and down on fast breaks. The strategy and movement in the half court game seems sound, players move without the ball and set picks but it is still a little too fast. Passes are especially fast, the ball moves from player to player so fast that you have a hard time following the ball movement.
On the All-Star level I had a hard time with making passes in to the post and in the half court game. Basically the defender would play my man posting up in front of him or topside and logically you would expect to be able to throw the ball over the defender or to the opposite side of him, but when you attempt to pass the ball is thrown directly towards your guy and is intercepted. I had similar problems making passes in the half court game, the angles just don’t seem right, passing the ball shouldn’t be as risky as it is on the All-Star level.
As I attempted to play on All-Star and Superstar, the pace got even faster especially with full court passes, sometimes I would have the ball stolen from me and before I realized what happened the other team was dunking on me at the other end of the court. I am sure with more time I could have limited my number of turnovers. It seems that the major difference between the Pro and All-Star levels was that the CPU would strip you of the ball more often when you made a move. So, essentially to play at the higher levels you just had to be quicker and not necessarily play smarter basketball. Your shooting percentages on Pro will easily be in the 85 – 90 % range and on All-Star I was shooting around 70% but turning the ball over more frequently.
Defensively, shot blocking is way too easy and shots are blocked by guys who have no business blocking shots, this improves on the harder levels but not completely, the problem still exists. The problem is that everyone has a 3 foot vertical leap when trying to block a shot, there seems to be only one animation for shot blocks. Going for a steal will get you some steals but also a fair number of fouls, which seems right. It is pretty tough to shut down the CPU; even on Pro at the start. I was eventually holding teams to less than 50%, but on All-Star I was pretty helpless against the CPU offense. Part of the problem being the issue with collision detection where the offensive player can just leap without taking a step and dunk on you from 10 feet out.
The AI may be sound, but the pace of the game really distracted me from what strategies the CPU was employing. There are numerous offensive sets with a variation of plays in each set. You can also set your offensive play calling to dynamic auto. There are also standard defensive sets now that the NBA allows zones. The CPU seems to attack you with a high screen up at the top of the 3pt circle quite a bit and then have the point guard fire up a three. The problem with this is that it seems to do it about 5 times in a row and then switch to another play for awhile and then come back to this play again. On the pick play I haven’t really been able to go over the top of the screen and end up having to go behind the screener, which leaves the PG open for a shot.
With the emphasis being on Free Style Control, it didn’t appear that you really needed to run your offense to be effective. I rarely felt like I was coming down the court to set up the offense and run a play. Sometimes I did, but the payoff was much lower than if you just did some button mashing with one of your top players. I don’t want to totally discount the AI, because I can see that if you worked on running the various plays that you could run an offense the way you would like. But I personally got caught up in the pace of the game and didn’t really try to run a real half court offense.
GRAPHICS AND ANIMATION
The Animations are excellent, but not necessarily realistic. Or I should say that over the top animations are used frequently; most dunks and layups are of the spectacular variety. Most every lay up consists of a double pump or changing of hands and or reversing to the other side of basket. I feel that the overuse of these animations begins to hurt the game after awhile, sometimes it is cool to see a guy just lay the ball in or dunk the ball with out all the show.
As with most EA titles they do all the little things well in regards to stat overlays, in game menus and pre-game menus.
If you like Rap and or Hip Hop you will probably like the soundtrack, if you don’t, well you can turn it off.
The announcers are really nothing special but they don’t detract from the game either, but the analysis is pretty limited. Overall the crowd noise and court noise is realistic and mirrors the fast pace of the game.
Aargh, the salary cap. I simmed 7 seasons as the Bulls and really couldn’t make significant improvements in my team. My best finish was 6th place in the Eastern conference. The salary cap is very similar to the real NBA, if you want to sign any big name free agents you are going to have to drop a lot of salary and take the chance that you can sign a big name. Problem is just like in real life some of them might not be interested in you if you aren’t any good, no matter what you throw at them.
There is limited negotiation in the free agent process, you can adjust the number of years and the salary expectations of the player will change but there really isn’t any wooing of free agents. The safe bet is to sign your own free agents to long term contracts, since you can go over the cap.
However, once you are over the cap, pulling off any trades can be extremely difficult, since most teams are like you and they are over the cap. Very real in this respect. The CPU will offer you quite a few trades over the course of a season and 1 or 2 of them will be worthwhile, I was able to improve my team a little bit in this way.
The NBA Draft is a little limited, they have a lottery that just shows you where your pick will be in the draft. Once the draft starts and you get to your pick in the draft, you see a list of eligible draftees, and what their expected draft position is. I had the misfortune of having high picks in years the draft was termed very weak and middle of the pack picks in years the draft was strong. So I really only got one solid starter from the Draft when I had the 5th pick in my second year.
In order to develop your youngsters they need to play, but if you are simming the games this is going to result in a lot of losses. They have a player progression screen, which shows you how your players are developing. Once again this mirrors real life you may have to sacrifice the short term for long term benefits. Both Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler developed nicely, but for some reason Jay Williams although I played him a lot, kind of leveled off.
Somewhere around year 5 the CPU allowed the Spurs to compile the following guys on the same team. Shaq, Tim Duncan, Jalen Rose, Cuttino Mobley, Larry Hughes, Antonio Mcdyess, Donyell Marshall, Shane Battier and Mike Miller. They dominated the last two years of my franchise going 15-1 in the playoffs two years in a row.
I could see some people enjoying NBA Live quite a bit, if you want a fast paced game with spectacular dunks, layups and crossovers than this may be the game for you. The Gameplay reminded me more of a charity All-Star game than an actual NBA game. More than any sports game I have played, your enjoyment of NBA Live will directly correspond to the style of basketball you want to play. NBA Live is more 80’s Lakers Showtime than the current style of play.