No Championship Ring
for EA this Year
To some gamers, the NBA Live name has become somewhat tainted over the past several years. Though it once ruled the court against 2K’s take on basketball simulation, poor gameplay mechanics and choppy animations have resulted in many ball fans siding with the competition – especially after 07’s offering. While EA has made some improvements with 09, it’s evident the developers have attempted to compensate for continually frustrating gameplay issues with several new features such as the highly publicized Dynamic DNA and Live 365.
The ability to download updated player statistics and keep the game refreshed with what’s happening in the actual NBA makes Live 09 pretty revolutionary. 2K has done something similar with their new Living Rosters feature, though it is less detailed and features weekly updates as opposed to EA’s daily information. As players are traded, rosters will change. Lineups will change depending on different coach’s decisions around the league. In-game, player skills will change depending on their current statistics. This is definitely a cool idea that will probably alter sports games as we know them. How well it actually works throughout the season is yet to be determined. The new feature may be attention-grabbing for basketball fans, though it’s certainly not a big enough reason to purchase the title on its own. In its first year, Dynamic DNA and Live 365 are sure to have glitches and only time will tell how well the system functions throughout the next several months. The same goes for 2K’s very similar and far less publicized new feature.
Dynasty Mode has been given a little upgrade that lets you choose your goals from the beginning, whether you want to take your team to the championships or simply rebuild your franchise from the ground-up. Be A Pro mode is back, which puts you in the shoes of one athlete throughout a game. The mode translates to online play, which allows up to ten different players to take control of all athletes on the court, which is also offered in NBA 2K9. The Be A Pro mode in NBA Live 09 is incredibly disappointing, however. Whereas similar modes in other EA titles such as NHL or Madden allow you to play as a specific athlete throughout an entire season to build stats and earn your ranking as one of the league’s most elite players, Be A Pro mode in NBA Live 09 only spans one game. That’s right, one measly game.
Another thing that makes EA’s basketball title unique is the inclusion of its FIBA Tournament, which has been upgraded this year to include 24 teams representing countries around the world. EA recognizes the international appeal of the sport as well as the impact athletes from around the globe have had on the NBA, which has been rapidly increasing in recent years. Again, this simply may not be enough to entice basketball fans.
Game modes aside, the biggest flaws in NBA Live 09 are found during in-game play. Though EA has made a few significant improvements from last year, creating a realistic basketball sim is flawed by too many noticeable errors on the court. First of all, NBA Live 09 isn’t much of a defensive game. It tends to be more about weaseling your way to the basket by posting up or combining a couple of trick moves to deke through defenders. EA has implemented new functions to try to make their NBA experience more realistic, one of which is dubbed Quickstrike Ankle Breakers. Spin moves and crossovers are completely controlled by holding turbo and flicking the right analog stick. If you’re using someone with decent handles, you can simply keep flicking randomly until you eventually make your way to the basket depending on how many players are trying to stop you.
Pick and Roll Control is another new mechanic designed for fundamental two-man play. Controlling the ball handler, you’ll call plays and set screens with another teammate, at which point you’ll be controlling both players at once. You’ll decide whether you want the screener to fake a screen and head to the basket, screen and head to the perimeter for a jump shot, or simply pick and roll to the hoop. The new mechanic works very well, adding more variety of scoring opportunities, and it is a technique that will separate more seasoned gamers from the newbies.
However, you’ll find that even using the new mechanics often become irrelevant throughout a match. The game relies far too much on its rubber band effects both when playing against the CPU and during multiplayer. Matches are kept close by hindering one team’s abilities, while inexplicably speeding up players on the other team to allow them to get back on defense. In one game, I was up by over 30 points when I suddenly fell into a huge cold-streak where nothing would go my way, turning the ball over possession after possession, as the match got as close as coming within two points. Sure, momentum is a major element of basketball that can switch at any given time, which is why you call timeouts and make coaching decisions. It just happens far too often when playing NBA Live 09. Good players turn into bad players and bad players turn into good ones for absolutely no reason other than the poor rubber banding that occurs.
There are many other noticeable in-game issues which reoccur from last year. Collision issues happen pretty frequently. I noticed instances where players will completely glide through each other or a ball will bounce through someone’s midsection. It seems some framerate issues have been improved from last year, such as the visually horrendous in-bounding glitch after a scored bucket as players shudder their way up court.
While they fixed that error, shuddering and skipping still occurs, making the game look unpolished and still in need of work. You’ll notice some players stepping over the sideline with the ball and not getting called for it and other flaws that make EA’s attempt at a basketball simulation far from realistic. Overall, observing a game with ten players moving around onscreen really isn’t impressive as they habitually flicker about. It is especially disappointing to think that all these issues haven’t been worked out in the year EA has spent trying to improve their title.
Another change from last year is the way free-throws are shot, which is gauged by a sloppy-looking meter that runs along the top of the backboard. You must tap a face button to begin filling the meter, then hit it again when it fills to a gap indicated by a different color. How big the gap is depends on the player’s natural ability to sink a free-throw, and filling your meter to the proper colored area will allow him to sink it successfully. I found last year’s analog pull-back and push-forward free-throw mechanic to work very well, and I don’t really see why EA felt they needed to change it. At the very least, they could have made a more visually appealing meter than the one they’ve whipped up.
Off-court, stadiums are very well detailed and crowd animations are pretty decent, and spectators look three-dimensional yet move somewhat robotically. In all, anyone who has played an NBA Live game in the past couple of years won’t be overly impressed with the slightly improved graphics. Player likenesses still have no consistency either. Some players look incredibly like their real-life counterpart, whereas other athletes only somewhat resemble who they’re supposed to look like. In the opening menus, the little practice gym has been given a tweak. The central hub not only allows you to shoot around and kill time before loading up a game, but now large screens show saved replays in the background. This simple and enjoyable touch is a welcome addition, and it is stuff like this EA should continue to work on in the coming years.
NBA Live 09 is definitely a step up from last year and a leap ahead from 07, but it definitely needs further improvements when it comes to how you actually play the game. Though EA is doing all they can to create a realistic basketball sim, there are far too many blatant errors in their formula that make it far from perfect. The inclusion of new online features may not be enough to make up for repetitively frustrating mechanics.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.3 Graphics
Well detailed stadiums and decent player models draw the player into the action. Unfortunately, off-court graphics are overshadowed by choppy in-game animations and framerate issues. 3.7 Control
Inclusion of new Pick and Roll Control adds a variety of offensive possibilities, though work still needs to be done on the defensive end. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great stadium ambience enhances the play experience. Commentating is non-repetitive, yet isn’t overly exciting. 3.2 Play Value
New features such as Dynamic DNA may not be convincing enough to purchase this title, as gameplay is somewhat spoiled by incomprehensive controls. Both Dynasty and Be a Pro offer little new to the series for those who own last year’s title. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.