EA drops the ball…then punts it out of bounds.
A few years ago, EA Sports bought exclusivity rights to football titles so that no other developer can make a football game featuring current athletes. We should all thank the gaming gods that the NBA refused the same exclusivity contract with EA, because NBA Live 07 is one of the most disappointing basketball games to ever grace a console. While we are seeing gradual improvements in EA’s rivals, 2K sports, EA seems to not really care about their basketball game. While Madden is definitely the cash cow of their sports titles, the neglect that EA is showing their basketball fans may cost them some supporters this year.
Obviously, one of the first things to notice are the graphics. NBA Live’s graphics are above current-gen standards but don’t quite capture that ‘wow’ factor that gamers are expecting from next-gen. On replays and up close the visuals shine, but during gameplay they’re usually less than impressive. The player models all look fairly decent, with great muscle, skin, and hair textures but their impact is terribly marred by the horrible animation. The players’ movements on the court aren’t lifelike at all, often coming across as choppy, awkward, and stiff. It does beat NBA 2K7 in presentation though. Also, the coaches and crowds look much better in Live than in the competition.
The gameplay doesn’t do much to improve Live’s appeal either. The use of three different buttons for shooting, layups, and dunking seems unnecessary. Usually, when a player is in the paint and hits the layup or dunk button, he will either be called for an offensive foul or he will magically glide through the defenders to attempt the inside shot. Players don’t have to work hard to try for an inside shot and the ease of it makes it unsatisfying. Also, for some reason, the layup and dunk buttons aren’t disabled when the ballhandler is out of the paint. This means that if a gamer hits the layup button while on the three point line, the player will attempt to shoot an awkward jumper/layup hybrid from the perimeter that is almost assuredly going to miss. It probably would have been wise to make these buttons contextually sensitive, so that when it’s obviously impossible for your player to perform a post move, he can attempt something else, like perhaps a hook shot.
NBA Live has Total Freestyle Control, which allows the player to choose how his basketball athlete behaves. With the push of a button, the athlete can change styles from a High Flyer to a Shooter to a Scorer or a Playmaker. While this does allow for variety in an individual player’s style, it seems awkward for a basketball star to be able to switch his entire gameplay style in the blink of an eye. Despite its unrealistic nature, the feature works fairly well, allowing any gamer to take a particular player and make him become the type of player that’s needed to win in any given situation.
EA has chosen to eschew using the ESPN license for presentation as fully as 2K Sports has done in the past. Instead, EA has a number of features that allow gamers to access fresh content daily via Xbox Live. Players are able to get ESPN Motion video clips, radio podcasts, SportsCenter Updates that inform you of the latest sporting news, and real time scores that run across the bottom of the screen in ticker format. These additions are a nice touch and well integrated into the game, but it would have been great to see the ESPN license being put to use within the gameplay without having to be connected to the internet since all gamers don’t have access to Xbox Live.
One area where EA has always done well is in the commentary, and NBA Live is no different. The commentary between Marv Albert and Steve Kerr sounds realistic with pauses in speech and trademark mannerisms, unlike the fairly chatty announcers in NBA 2K. The announcers in Live speak less frequently than in 2K sports and their commentary is often more relevant. There is also a great well-rounded soundtrack as well, which is generally the norm for EA. EA just slightly gets the edge over 2K in this area, as many of 2K’s songs were exclusively written for their soundtrack, while EA has licensed songs that are more popular and well-known.
Last year, EA omitted a number of modes in the Xbox 360 version that made their way into current gen versions. This year, these modes return. Dynasty mode allows you play the general manager for a team and to micromanage everything about your players from their fatigue levels to their contentment. There is also the All-Star weekend mode which includes the dunk contest, the three point shootout, the rookie challenge game, and the all-star game.
NBA Live is a severe disappointment to fans of the genre. While EA has added many of the features that were missing from last year’s offering, there are still too many issues that need to be ironed out, including the animations, the flow, the online gameplay, and the challenge. This game is only suitable for adamant Live fans. If you’re looking for a good basketball experience, NBA 2K7 is the route to go this year. Hopefully next year EA will shape up its game and come back ready to play some hoops.