NBA Live 2003 Review
One of the longest-running sports series around, Live has certainly paved new ways and opened new doors in the sport of basketball. However, EA's last couple of tries have come up a bit short, with sloppy attempts at a solid basketball simulation. Somewhere or another, EA has gotten back in the right direction with a fully-functional and rather enjoyable basketball game, but calling it a "simulation" may be going out on a limb.
The development team has certainly improved the game from a visual standpoint in nearly every possible way. The textures are now much smoother, and the polygon-packed players were improved upon drastically. Still boasting a slight trace of cartoonish influence, the players animate naturally and seamlessly, and the lively action court-side was also creative and rendered impressively, resulting in a very noticeable overall improvement over last year's attempt.
The replays and cut-scenes, largely used to illustrate the emotions of the players court-side, were fabricated excellently. The graphics are at a higher quality here and really help to convey a real basketball game with real drama. The cut-scenes will show how the bench players are reacting, whether good or bad, throughout the duration of the game, and the replays show an excellent play previously made, which is bolstered by the finely-tuned animations.
A comedic approach was taken when making the short cut-scenes, and the end result gives the game a nice touch of humor. One scene, for example, has the two centers standing near the middle, getting ready for the tip off, with the referee enclosed between the two. The center on the left reaches behind the referee's back to tap the shoulder farthest from him. The referee then obviously looks to the opposite direction, and the witty center proceeds and snatches the ball from the ref. This played out quite humorously and came totally unexpected. Another rather funny scene involved Aaron McKie moving into the coach's seat for the last few intense moments of the game, as to get a closer look at the action. The coach, filled with anxiety and suspense, is standing up to get an even closer look; but he then moves back to sit down and sits right on McKie. He then jumps up quickly, turns around, and points a finger at McKie angrily, indicating him to return to his original seat -- funny stuff, indeed.
Electronic Arts offers a slew of modes to engage in, including an online hookup to challenge others. Franchise, Season, Playoffs, Exhibition, Practice, and 1 on 1 make up the game's selectable modes. The 1 on 1 mode is great for serving up your friends and is accompanied by some great hip hop and upbeat tracks. Practice allows players to hone their skills, chiefly the new total player control system; and Franchise lets players take their team through a strenuous journey comprised of many seasons.
Seemingly modeled after a "best of Mavs vs. Kings" game, the pace of the game is completely explosive, nonstop action. From the moment the ball is inbounded to the moment the ball is shot, the game will be moving at a blistering speed. Rebounds and dunks are the parts of the game utilized the most, and the outside jumper can also be deadly to the opposition. Simulation wouldn't quite be the category that this game would fall under, but simulation fans will still have a lot of fun when playing.
Your players' arsenals are brimming with juke moves, so much that taking the ball to the rack gets easier and easier as players get down and master the usage of the moves. Players can spin around, cross over, double cross, go in-between the legs and behind the back, and link a number of those tricks together to form some intricate drives to the basket. Be smart with your numerous jukes, however, as some players will lose the ball quickly on a move they can't and shouldn't be trying to perform.
The blocks and steals also help this title to stray away from a conventional simulation. The shot blockers can get a huge amount of air; and you know something is wrong when Allen Iverson gets three-or-so rebounds a game. Stealing is another defensive move that'll be initiated many times throughout the night. But these two parts of the game help to somewhat balance out the explosive offensive assault.
On top the of the monstrous attacks to the rim and dauntless defensive moves, the referees also let many calls slide. So, a lot of the time players will hit the ground hard but the action on-court will continue. The lack of foul-calling mostly rears its head near and around the painted area, often when a player is charging to the basket.
The controls are responsive and intuitive, and players both new and old will have full control over their players within minutes. The square and triangle buttons both work as juke buttons to help players get around defenders and drive to the basket. Circle shoots the ball while X passes; and the shoulder buttons bring up passing icons, throw a lay-up pass, back down defenders, and give players more speed. These are just the basics, though, as EA has given the analog sticks a much more commanding and configurable role, called the total player control.
With every great new year's iteration in a sports series comes a new innovation that adds a whole new plateau to the experience, and EA has given us just that. Named total player control, which is pretty self-explanatory, is broken down and explained in an extensive tutorial. Once mastered, this system is unbelievably beneficial when playing and really gives you so much more control on what your player does with the ball. Players can post up with spins and jukes, square up and palm the ball with pump faking drives and foot and head fakes as to throw off the defense, and so much more -- all at your commands.
EA handed out a great aural score, with commentators that are always on the ball and a great line-up of tracks. The play-by-play was done nicely and accurately, with the two talking about how the game is playing out while, at the same time, adding in their own two cents on the on-court happenings. The tracks are also great when scrolling through menus and playing a 1 on 1 game, with a line-up of big-name hip hop and R and B artists, including Snoop Dogg, Jermaine Dupri, Xzibit, Fabulous, B-Rich, Brandy, and others.
The Live series has finally redeemed itself and is once again a worthy competitor in the basketball genre. EA's attempts dominantly usurp anything they did last year. The game isn't for everyone, though. The end result is something to the likes of a hybrid of NBA Street and NBA 2K3, with NBA 2K3 having more of an influence. It's a fast-paced basketball game with tons of crazy dunks, equally outrageous stops on defense, and a great replay system -- a well-crafted game overall that most any sports fan will enjoy.
11/1/2002 Joseph Comunale