Review: NBA Live 2004 (PS2)

NBA Live 2004
System: Playstation 2 (Also available on Xbox & Gamecube)
Genre: Sports — Basketball
Release Date: October 15, 2003

Last year’s NBA Live 2003 was considered a dunk fest, with fast paced action and little to no defense, suspect foul and traveling calls, and very few jump shots. In other words, it was just like the real NBA and some people absolutely loved the game. For those looking for a simulation style game, they were forced to look to Sega’s NBA 2K3 if they liked the slow tempo style.

This season, EA hopes to please both types of basketball gamers, as NBA Live 2004 features the fast paced action some grew to love last season, as well as a simulation style for those who love the supposed “realism” of the NBA. The mix provides two very different styles of play, although surely some kind of mode that any basketball fan can easily get into and enjoy.

Gameplay

Last season, EA revolutionized basketball games by introducing freestyle controls. Using the right analog stick, players could control exactly where to dribble the ball on offense, put hands up in the air on defense, make their own steals and create lightning fast drives to the basket. The freestyle control is back this year, along with a new partner in crime called the Pro Step. Pressing the triangle button, your player gets a few extra charity steps as he drives to the basket, hopefully putting him in perfect position to lay it up or dunk it home. EA added one added step by making the Square button execute the lay up/dunk move. Once you get into the rhythm, mixing the freestyle control, pro step, and finally the layup/dunk, you feel in absolute total control of the game. The controls are quite possibly as good as they can get for a basketball game, as every single motion is entirely in your power, and that power is easily learned within several minutes of turning on the game for the first time.

All the modes you’d expect from an NBA game are included in Live, as well as an online mode exclusive to the Playstation 2. Dynasty mode allows you to take over a franchise, hire coaches, and make GM moves to turn your team into a championship contender. Like its NFL counterpart Madden NFL 2004, Live features a preseason training camp to develop players and add skill points. As you progress in your dynasty, you can also spend reward points to hire coaches that specialize in such things as rebounding and conditioning. When these coaches are hired, your team benefits with even more added skill points. The farther you develop in the dynasty, the more points you earn, the more coaches you can hire, and the better and better your team develops.

The GM office allows you to make trades and sign free agents, and this season a little visual bonus is added as after you make a GM move. Affected players are seen either walking out of the locker room, dejected for being released, or in the instance of a new free agent, being welcomed by teammates. Making front office moves is easy, and over the course of several seasons, it’s fairly easy to pick up big name free agents as well. Right out of the gate of your first season, the likes of Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett are available as free agents that you are able to go after and sign, eventually turning your franchise into an All Star Team if you choose to go that route. Overall, the Dynasty Mode has made lots of small additions since last year, making it even more deeper and adding to the overall replay value of the game.

One of the more unique new modes this season is One-on-One mode. Also available online, you can take any two players from any NBA team and pit them against each other using streetball rules. Playing by ones and twos, and requiring a player to take the ball back behind the three point line after a miss, one-on-one adds a little extra fun mostly geared towards fans of multiplayer and online.

Graphics

Player models have been polished up and improved since last year’s version along with several new in-game camera effects. The camera angle is fully adjustable, and depending on the view you like, the better the graphics appear. The “Center Court” cam provides up-close action, and in return shows impressive player detail and polish. The downside however, is that the camera focuses in so tightly, that it is hard to see the entire HALF of the court, let alone the entire scope, sometimes causing unwanted turnovers and steps on the out-of-bounds line. Panning out and using a wider view makes the graphics look weaker and less crisp, as the players look far less detailed and realistic. Of course, in return, it is much easier to see the entire court and in turn be better off at making good cross-court passes and avoiding careless turnovers. Basically, it all depends on the camera angle you choose when it comes to the quality of Live’s graphics.

Sound

The world’s most famous basketball announcer Marv Albert makes his debut this year in NBA Live 2004 alongside longtime partner Mike Fratello. Depending entirely upon whether you’re a fan of Albert’s style will depend on whether or not you enjoy the sound of this season’s game. While the announcers generally do a good job of calling the game, little snippets of information tend to repeat over and over if you enjoy playing solely with your favorite team. For example, after a nice move by Michael Finley, Albert and Fratello talk about a game of one-on-one Finley had in high school with Michael Jordan. The interesting the first time you hear it fact gets old in a big hurry if you prefer playing most of your games as the Dallas Mavericks.

As has been the tradition in recent years, game menus are filled with music from major label recording artists. Outkast and Chingy are among the featured rappers in this year’s hip hop themed music, and you can select which “EA Trax” you want to hear through the options menu. Like the commentary, it all depends on your taste whether or not the sound quality of NBA Live 2004. If you’re a fan of Marv Albert and Hip Hop music, THIS is your game!

Fun Factor

The Playstation 2 has the added bonus of Online Mode, which adds to the replay value big time if you own a Network Adapter and are a fan of online play. Online mode features roster updates as well as a tournament option and headset capabilities. For those who aren’t big into online play, the deep Dynasty mode should keep your attention for at least a couple of seasons before it begins to wear thin. The added one-on-one mode is recommended when wanting to battle it out with one of your friends. In all, Live has a little something for everybody, and should keep you busy well through playoff time this NBA season.

Ratings
Gameplay: 9.0
Graphics: 7.5
Sound: 8.0
Fun Factor: 8.5