NBA Live 06 Review (Xbox 360)

I can only describe this game with one word - frustrating - and not for the reasons you might think. The game is frustrating because it does a few things well, but those are essentially rendered useless because the game is missing so many needed features. That said, while playing this game, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that this game could have been really good if EA would have put some effort into anything other then the graphics.

Let’s start with the positives. NBA Live 06 for the Xbox 360 is the best looking basketball game I have ever played. The arenas are absolutely astounding and extremely accurate with the exception of a few small things, like the placement of tunnels. This game really makes you feel like you are actually in the arena. The lighting in each arena is slightly different and very true to life. Watch a game at Madison Square Garden and the SBC Center in San Antonio and you will see that the Garden is much darker then the Spurs’ home. You will notice the same thing in NBA Live 06. The arenas also feature small touches like accurate real-time scoreboards. These scoreboards have the current point and foul total for every player on the court and it surprised me that EA went to these lengths to create authentic arenas.

The player models are another area where this game shines. Every major player is accurately represented with the correct tattoos and moving hair for players like Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki. The jerseys are also extremely well done, and move in a very realistic fashion. While the players are accurate, the players show no emotion and this simply kills the immersion factor. It doesn’t matter if a player just took a hard foul or hit a game winning shot, every players looks stone faced and doesn’t react to what’s happening on the court. The length of the arms is another negative. If you look closely, it appears that most of the players have “monkey arms” - arms that are distinctly too long for their body. It’s not a big issue, but it is noticeable, and it's the only area where the player models are off.

The crowds are now three-dimensional and very intelligent. If the home team goes on a run, you will see the crowd on their feet. If the home team is getting crushed, they will sit on their hands and hardly react. One thing that annoyed me about previous basketball games is that the home team could be down by twenty with two minutes left in the game and if a player on the home team hits a three, the crowd immediately will jump up and celebrate as if the basket mattered. In NBA Live 06, the crowd reacts intelligently to the on-court action, and only baskets that matter will cause the crowd to move. Another improvement over the Xbox version is in the game sound. This is one area that EA has definitely improved upon when creating their Xbox 360 versions of their games and NBA Live 06 is no exception. The crowd can get very loud when the home team is succeeding, and this helps the overall arena atmosphere.

Another aspect of the game that EA succeeded with was the interface and the loading screen. While waiting for the game to load, you can shoot hoops with any player in the league and this feature is something that every basketball game should include. The on-court interface is another great change for the Xbox 360. During any stoppage of play, you are able to make substitutions, strategy and playbook changes on the fly. No more having to press "start" and go through different menus just to make basic changes.

Now, on to the on court part of the game and this is where NBA Live 06 falls apart. I’ll begin with the lack of features. As most of you know, NBA Live 06 doesn’t have a franchise mode - only a season mode. This has been said before in other reviews, and by many posters in the OS forum, but I have to say it again: I cannot understand how EA can justify charging sixty dollars for a game for a game with so many missing features. Here is the list: No franchise mode, no multiplayer season mode, no manual instant replay, no superstar moves, no dunk contest, no three-point contest, no one-on-one mode and no practice mode. All of those features are missing and EA didn’t have the decency to lower the price to a more reasonable amount.

On the court, the Xbox 360 version of NBA Live 06 is similar to the previous versions in that you have to work with the sliders in order to make this game resemble a real NBA game. The major difference between this version and the current-gen (well, what used to be current, anyway) versions is that the Xbox 360 version is actually too slow out of the box. The only way to get it to resemble real basketball is to turn the game speed up to 100, and even that doesn’t completely fix the game’s pace problems. Another major issue is the defense’s inability to get back, and because of that the game turns into a fast break fest. This is a problem no matter what the game speed is and even if you have your team's strategy set to “get back.”

"Sliding", or "skating", is still prevalent in the Xbox 360 version, but it is not as bad as the Xbox and PS2 versions. Hopefully, this is a sign that EA is attempting to fix this issue and that there will be less "sliding" in future versions of this game. Without adjusting the sliders, the fatigue and stamina of players is also out of whack. Playing with ten minute quarters and no slider adjustments, there were several times when the CPU only subbed when players were in foul trouble. The reason behind this problem is that the players do not fatigue properly. For example, while playing with Allen Iverson, "The Answer" was at 67 fatigue at the end of the first quarter. Well, at the start of the second, his fatigue level was back to 99. Yes, that’s right; the five minute break between quarters restored his stamina completely. Another thing that goes into the “Things EA Removed” category is the number of selectable plays, which have been reduced from eight to six.

Now, we reach the online aspect of the game - which, unfortunately, isn’t much better. Remember when I said that without slider changes this game doesn’t resemble NBA basketball? Well, there are no sliders online, so basically playing this game online is hopeless if you're looking for a realistic basketball game. All of the games that I played turned into fast break fests with no defense whatsoever. There are ranked and unranked games available, but there are no user-controlled leagues.

There are even problems with the features that EA added to the Xbox 360 version. This version includes a new free throw system. Now, I agree that Live needed a new free throw system for years (Live had been using the old system since the Sega Genesis days), but the new system is impossible. The new system is similar to the NBA 2K6 system, which uses the right analog stick to control the shot. There are two differences, though. One, the 2K Sports system gives feedback on your shot (whether you released the ball too soon or too late, etc.). Two, the EA Sports system doesn't really work. During my time with the game, I took over one hundred free throws. Take a guess about how many of those I made? OK, time's up. I made one - and it wasn’t from lack of trying. I tried moving the right analog stick vertically fast and slow, and neither way seemed to work. The only way to have a realistic game with free throws is to switch your team to computer control every time you shoot a free throw. EA also added signature free throw routines, but there is no option to skip them.

Even with all of the problems, there are still some positives. Even though you can’t press a button to activate the "superstar" moves, they are still available and occur during normal action. I actually prefer it this way because they happen naturally and depending on the position of the player and defense. The Xbox 360 version also features individual signature styles. Players like Nowitzki and Shawn Marion have very distinctive shooting motions, and those motions appear in this game. The pace is slower, and in certain parts of this game it’s just right. In previous versions of this game, the pace was extremely fast when it came to foul shots and substitutions. The Xbox 360 version actually takes it’s time during timeouts and substitutions, and this helps you feel as if you are actually watching a NBA game.

In the end, however, there is no way I can suggest that any person pay $60 for this game. The most I would pay for this game is $25, and that’s if I had a little money to throw around. If you need a NBA Live game, I suggest that you buy the Xbox or PC version instead. If you need a basketball game for the Xbox 360, I would suggest picking up NBA 2K6. Still, graphically this game is almost perfect, and with slider tweaks, NBA Live can be made into a decent basketball game. Hopefully, EA will focus on the gameplay and adding features in future versions - starting ASAP. With some work, next year's version can have more than just a pretty face.

NBA Live 06 Score
out of 10