NBA LIVE 2003
General/Summary: I’ve stayed away from this game since the PS2 has come along mainly because EA, until recently, has done a poor job of making great games. In that time fortunately the folks at Sega have provided more than enough competition and isn’t that free market economy on display…there is nothing greater than competition to produce quality games.
This year we finally have TWO quality games to choose from. While I know this is a review of NBA Live it is hard to deny any comparisons between Live and the 2K series. Having played both games and I will state for the record that I’m a big 2K fan. This years Live has certainly gained some credibility with me. The obvious statements have been made about the differences between these games. The biggest and most common comparison is Live is arcade while 2K is sim. This simply is not true.
The differences in these games are NBA style of basketball circa 1983 versus current NBA style. Anyone who thinks Live is arcade like dosen’t have a sense of NBA history. In the late ’70′s and through the mid-80′s NBA games routinely finished with both teams socoring well over a hundred points. I remember in 1983 the game between Detroit and Denver that finished with both teams scoring over 175 points each!!! Back then the NBA was about open and offensive play. Sure defence is important but 20 years ago no one really cared. It was about running the court and getting the easy baskets on the other end.
Todays NBA is all about defence. Players are bigger, faster, stronger and they even play harder but all of that leads to much less scoring. In a nut shell that is the difference between Live and 2K. Live is open, fast and defence is secondary in strategy. In 2K it is much more half court, run your plays to perfection and play good hard defence. Which is better? Thats up to you. If you prefer old-school NBA to modern NBA then Live is your game. IT IS NOT AN ARCADE TITLE.
Gameplay: The biggest one year improvment I’ve seen in a PS2 game. EA has obviously felt the heat from Sega and stepped up this years game. First I would like to address some common complaints that I’ve read on this site and others with regards to the gameplay being like an arcade game. Arcade games have flame trails behind the ball and players take karate style punches at their opponents….none of these are in Live. Like I mentioned above Live is old-school NBA. But that does not take the strategic element out of this game.
First if you’re scoing a hundred points a quarter then try bumping up the level of difficulty. On its easier settings Live is very loose and easy to play than the comparable settings on 2K. But once you decide to boost the difficulty you’ll find Live to be very challenging. Fast breaks and shooting percentages at first seem a little out of whack. But once you get into the strategy of the game they can be managed to obtain a more "sim" like level of performance. For example if the CPU is getting one fast break after another turn your "box out" option off or watch who you double team on defence. When I started implementing the different strategic aspects that are available shooting percentages went from 70-75% to 45-50% which is closer to what a real NBA team should achieve. In this years biggest change the "freestyle" moves add a new dimention to this title. This has been discussed over and over so I’m sure your familiar with the concept of "freestyle" and it really ads to the feel of the game. It is however much more prevelent when you play a human opponent.
The CPU doen’t seem to use the "freestyle" abilities to their maximum capabilities. In other areas of gameplay all of the obvious options are here….franchise, create a player, hall of fame players etc. And they are all up to par with what we’ve come to expect. The one area that really needs improvement is the AI. Now by AI I’m not talking about the level of difficulty which usually means how tight the computer plays. I’m talking about how SMART the CPU is. This is my biggest complaint about all sports titles regardless of publisher….they’re just plain DUMB. The next evolution in sports gaming has to be a CPU that has some sense of time. There have been small steps. Most of this years football titles make small strategic moves late in the game which tell me that the CPU recognizes that the game is winding down. But these steps seen small and really take away from some of the fun. An example of this in as far as Live, goes like this. There are 20 seconds left in the game….you lead 106-105 and you have the ball…Great game right? Thrilling finish! What’s your next move? No worry here. All you have to do is hold the ball because the CPU will do nothing! It will just stand there as time expires. And there are other examples of this as well. Like when the CPU is trailing by a point witt a few seconds left and doesn’t even attempt a shot before time expires! This is unaccecptable at this level. Out side of the AI complaint Live really doesn’t have big problems.
Some enhancements could come in the form of things like home court advantage or momentum meters that would give the game some stategic depth. Also something that would really help this is a continual movement of player ratings like they have in Madden. This gives the players the chance to get better or worse as the season progessses. Also something that would be particularily beneficial to an NBA game would be a seasonal fatigue rating that would prevent you from using your best players all the time. Aside from the AI complaint Live is a great basketball game and a lot of fun….particularily if you remember when the NBA used to be fun! Last night 10/31/02 I noticed Boston scored a whopping 69 points! Now who wants to "sim" that? I’ll take the old-school 120 point games ANY DAY!!!
Graphics: This is the one area EA has excelled in. This year however 2K has then beat. Not that these graphics are bad but they are not overly impressive. Each arena in Live is the same. Yeas the floor decorations are customed to each team but the area is identicle. NBA 2k has each cities area which is a nice touch. Live has good player models but the crowd and the courtside character need a lot of work.
Sound: Nothing great here. As a matter of fact it is by far the weakest point of both Live and 2K. Play by Play is still handled by Don Poier and he got old along time ago. One thing I noticed in this years Madden game was what a difference Al Michaels made. When I thought about it I realized it wasn’t just Al Michaels because he pretty much says the same things. It was simply that he was DIFFERENT! Many sports titles could benefit from more than one announcing team or change them from year to year. Anything to break the monotony of hearing the same voice attached to a title year in year out. The ambiance in this game is decent but not great and should be better. Arena sounds are the same from city to city. It would be nice to hear New Yorkers cheer for the Knicks and the fans in Atlanta to cheer for the Hawks. These elements are available in other EA titles. Look at NCAA 2003 for example. There are hundreds of college fight songs and team chants available which really gives the game "staying power" and just makes it seems less repetitive. What is present in Live is good it is just that there is not enough of it.
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