NBA Live 2002 Review
After being mildly content with last year's NBA Live 2001 for PS2, I was almost sure that EA Sports would blow me away with the second Live title on the PS2. I was expecting improved visuals, an all-new audio aspect, and something new and refreshing in terms of gameplay. But who was I kidding, right? The Live series hasn't seen an improvement since its '99 rendition, across whatever platform. Then again, I figured I was in the realm of 128-bit gaming, so surely I do expect my sports franchises to evolve as the developers begin to progressively harness the PS2's extreme capabilities. Either EA Sports has become all too confident that nothing can stand up to the Live series, so they decided to make few -if any changes- to the '02 release, or maybe they just wanted to bring out a slightly updated version of 2001, before Sega unleashes its fantastic looking NBA 2K2 this February. Whatever the case may be, one thing's for sure; the changes in NBA Live 2002 seem too bleak and minimal for the game to stand out as a full fledged "sequel" rather than an expansion pack.
Visually, I can hardly notice any drastic changes being made. The ball players look practically the same, as looking at a side-by-side comparison of both games in action, it took me a while to finally differentiate between the '01 and '02 version of both PS2 titles. The only difference I noticed was that the 2002 version seemed to be less flicker happy, and more anti-aliased than the original 2001 version was. Just recently entering the second-generation means developers must find ways to already make their original efforts seem outdated, in contrast to their most recent ones. Unfortunately, NBA Live 2002 just doesn't present the image of looking better than its predecessor. As a whole, the game looks virtually identical to its initial counterpart, released last November. Few, if any, changes have really stood out for me to notice and I would've definitely made mention if something drastic was done to the visuals, but from the looks of things it just isn't the case. Though, I must point out that EA Sports made the audience sprite based once again, in contrast to the four rows of polygonal spectators that the 2001 version had. Then again, I couldn't care less either way; I have my eyes on the players not the audience. I can't define Live 2002's visuals as second-generation material, as they haven't changed significantly. Although, they still do look decent and cut it for the time being, I don't think EA can afford to not make some substantial improvements to the next Live title.
Once again, NBA Live 2002 retains pretty much the same gameplay aspects of 2001 and keeps the same level of quality in tact. Be that as it may, you can't really consider Live 2002 much different than Live 2001. Aside from the expected roster upgrade, NBA Live 2002 feels, plays and looks the same as the previous one does. Sure, EA Sports gave the game dozens of new dunk animations, and yes the ability to challenge Hall-of-fame NBA greats such as Michael Jordan is a great feature, but the core and the basis of the game doesn't offer anything new. The all-new franchise mode in Live 2002 is an excellent inclusion, but chances are, only the most hardcore of gamers will ever put it to use. In the franchise mode, you take your team through a ten-year journey. It'll be up to you to run the team daily, keep track of scouring reports to see what rookies are coming out of the NCAA so that you can draft them as replacements for retired players or free agents. Trading is of course involved as well, as the gamer will deal with setting certain salary caps to achieve agreements with other NBA franchises. But like I said, it's a mode aimed at the hardcore. Without the franchise mode, the gameplay would've certainly been scored lower, so if you're really aching to feel what it's like to manage an NBA team, go pick up NBA Live 2002. If you're just looking to invite a couple of pals over and play a game of hoops just for fun, then go and get NBA Live 2001 for some kind of bargain price.
What can I say about the audio? Just like the game itself it basically hasn't changed at all. The play-by-play is dull and uninspired. The commentary has been ripped out of NBA Live 2001 and slapped onto 2002, and it all seems too apparent. Any interactivity between the commentators and color-commentary is absent altogether. Comparing NBA Live's dull commentary to NHL 2002's lively, vivacious and humorous commentary is like comparing dog-poo to gold -- get the picture? On top of that, NHL 2002 is a much quicker playing game, wherein areas NBA Live 2002 is not. I'm very disappointed to say the least. I was expecting a lot more, but I was let down. The soundtrack has finally shed the rap and hip/hop and now features an opening song down by Crystal Method. But despite it all, the audio is a severe disappoint no matter how you look at it. And frankly, some of EA Sport's games seem to be very lacking in the audio segment, with the exception of NHL 2002 and FIFA 2002.
Strangely enough the controls have changed, as the incredible degree of sensitivity that NBA Live 2001 once had is gone. The analog doesn't react properly, so when I feel like walking up to half-court with my player, he instead jogs. I really like playing with the analog, as it gives me a whole new feel for the game, and controlling the athletes is much easier and responsive. Unfortunately, Live 2002 has taken that and ruined it for me. Other than the sensitivity issue, the controls have remained the same so veterans of the series have nothing to worry about.
What words can sum up my final feelings for this rehash? It's harsh that I mention the word "rehash", but I can't see NBA Live 2002 any other way. Basically everything about it screams "Hey! I was that game you played last November. Just watch out for my 'older' twin brother". Hell, as corny (and Madden like) as that just sounded, it can't be said otherwise. The new franchise mode is a nice addition, but only for those hardcore folk. NBA Live 2002 looks pretty much identical to last year's game. Aside from that, it plays the same as well, with the exception of the altered analog sensitivity. Using a nifty little feature split-screen feature on my Sony TV, I was able to conduct a side-by-side experiment and everybody around me seemed to agree, NBA Live 2002 is the same game. Maybe next year EA.
11/26/2001 Arnold Katayev