NBA Live 09 could end up being its own worst enemy. This year, as the Live feature set continues to balloon and impress, the gameplay has to try and keep up. Let’s not forget that just two years ago the Live series was in shambles; but, while the gameplay has been re-created during the last few years, the feature set has been going full speed ahead -- especially this year. We’ve talked about Online Team Play and Live 365 on OS in the past, so I’m not going to regurgitate info about those features, but keep the Live feature set in the back of your head as you read this, because it’s an important part of my original point.
I previously talked about Live 09 during E3, and at this point I’m even more impressed by how the game looks now in certain situations. Live 08 was fine while not in motion, but visually the players looked entirely robotic while moving. This year, while robots still can be found in Live 09, there are many more situations where the players interact and move quite naturally. The best situations I’ve seen so far occur during collision animations in mid-air and blocking animations. During my recent play time with the game I was at one point using the Clippers and playing against Oklahoma City. During one instance, I controlled Marcus Camby after I turned the ball over and basically glided behind the OKC ball handler with Camby and waited for the right time to go up and swat the layup attempt from behind -- I timed it right and swatted the ball out of bounds. It was an empowering moment, but more importantly it looked like a normal basketball highlight that you might see on the Top 10 during SportsCenter.
Post play has to improve if NBA Live is going to reach superstar status ever again.
It seems some other animations haven’t seen the same improvements this year though. Players still don’t try to fight for loose balls, dive for balls going out of play, and they still seem to have issues transitioning from catching a pass to moving quickly -- instead slowing down and pausing when receiving passes while moving on the break. It’s subtle in a lot of ways, but I basically sum it up as lacking those split-second-in-between transitions that would make the impressive motion-captured motions look much better.
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So the problem I have with the play-calling isn’t the feature itself but rather the still hit-or-miss analog passing. It’s great that you can now keep the pass icons up the entire time while passing, but in general analog passing still isn’t accurate enough, and point-to-point passing still isn’t rapid enough for my liking. It’s especially difficult when trying to pass to the post. On the wing I would be attempting to pass down low to the block or top of the free throw line, and on more than a few occasions I passed across the court or back up to the top of the key, rather than to the man in the post. Now I generally use icon passing in NBA 2K and Live so it won’t bother me much, but for those who enjoy analog passing more, they may be frustrated by the inaccuracies. The game still isn’t final and the developers did say they were still working on it, so hopefully it’s improved by the time the game comes out in early October.
Graphically, NBA Live 09 seems to be a matter of personal preference. I think Live 09 has unmatched textures and lighting, but the player models are far too skinny and similar, and still look odd at points while in motion. I’ve talked with people in real life and on the forums who have agreed and disagreed with that sentiment, so it seems to me, if you liked how the player models looked before, you will be more impressed with them this year. That’s obvious I guess though.
Live looks to improve upon its 08 campaign with a slew of new features.
Returning back to the play in the paint, alley-oops and post play are the final two things I’ll touch on for now. Alley-oops are handled very well this year it seems. They are not overpowered like a year ago, and look much smoother (as do dunks) when occurring. There doesn’t’ seem to be the famous Live tractor beam that sucks people towards the rim in unnatural fashion like the old days. They also aren’t overpowered, as more times than not the player will just try to go up and grab the pass to bring it down, rather than to try and hammer home a dunk. Post play, though, still seems to favor the offense. It could be that I’m out of practice on the defensive end, but I did score 28 points with Marcus Camby, mostly on post moves and mid-range shots.
Now I’m not going to say Marcus Camby couldn’t do that, but I only missed two shots with him, and I had similar success in the post at E3 with the various post players. The post player has more moves at his disposal this year (a drop step move for one), but it still seems like the defense shouldn’t be at the mercy of the player in the post. I feel almost helpless when defending the post, because either I guess the way the post player is turning, or I get burned. However, if you are terrible at post defense you can at least just let the CPU handle it by not touching anything on the sticks once the ball enters the post. It’s the easy way out, but it seemed to be more effective than manually trying to play post defense during my time with the game.
Live seems to be making baby steps in some gameplay departments, and leaps in others; but, at this point is that enough when the feature set looks so promising? At the end of the day, all the features in the world won’t matter if the gameplay doesn’t match up in terms of quality and depth; and, it’s tough to say if the gameplay has at this point.
NBA Live will be releasing on Oct. 7. So until then, that question will remain.