NBA Live 2005
Platform: XB [PS2/GC]
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: 09/28/2004
Celebrating its tenth anniversary this season, NBA Live 2005 debuts this year on Xbox Live, adds some innovative new features, and makes some gameplay tweaks that may alienate some loyal fans to the series.
The dynasty mode is back as always this season, and is presented in a style similar to virtually every sports game that has been on the market the past year. New to the Live series is the oft-present in other sports genres via the PDA. Your PDA is the place to get league news and communicate with players, coaches, and other league managers.
In a bizarre twist, proposing trades requires a ‘wait and see’ through your PDA. You may propose trades to other teams, but no longer is it an instant accept or decline, but rather the other team ‘reviews’ the trade for up to a couple days, and gets back to you on your handy device with news as to whether or not they’ll accept the trade. This adds a realistic touch, but those who like the quick-fix trade may either be stuck waiting it out, or simulating up to a couple days ahead to find out if your Kwame Brown for Shaq trade goes through or is turned down faster than a Shawn Kemp paternity test.
The other new touch is rookie scouting, where you can hire up scouts and decide firsthand who exactly you want to build your dynasty around. Sticklers for depth will enjoy this added facet, while gamers just looking to play ball may pass it over entirely. In either case, while nothing revolutionary, the dynasty mode provides enough detail to get the job done for most hoops fans.
The biggest noticeable upgrade this season is the incredible polish and detail on each individual NBA arena. The players realistically reflect off the shiny hard wood and the overall environment of the arena seems even closer to the real deal. Player models seem to have been nicely upgraded as well, with incredible detail to faces, body art, and every little detail you’d expect from the recognizable faces of the NBA.
Where the graphics stand out most is the All-Star weekend mode, which we’ll get in to more detail later. Up close shots of your player in the competition really accentuate each player’s face and body. The stars that shoot around the arena provide an awesome environment, and the judges in the dunk competition are easily recognizable to display several NBA legends. The incredible visual detail is something any NBA fan can truly appreciate.
The achillies heel in the graphics area is the arena crowds as usual. Beautiful arenas are downgraded a bit by the crowd that heavily trails EA’s closest competitor ESPN NBA Basketball in detail and authenticity. Every year, we hope for an upgrade in this department, and perhaps its getting there, slowwwwlly but surely.
Marv Albert and Mike Fratello, perhaps the most recognizable voices in basketball provide complete and solid commentary. The public address announcer seems to be improved as well, with each player’s name clearly heard over the system. Together, the voices in the game are extremely well produced, with the only complaints coming from those who don’t like Mr. Yesss and Fratello, but really, the game wouldn’t be the same without them
In-Game music is licensed as always, but seems to repeat more often than it should. Pete Rock and others provide a rap-heavy soundtrack that isn’t as solid as the past two seasons ‘ both of which provided an all-star cast of artists. Maybe we’re greedy, but this season doesn’t quite pack the same punch.
The freestyle controls are back again, offering several new moves and tricks that Live fans have come to learn and master. Nothing extremely notable has been added to the normal game modes, whereas the All-Star weekend has added a new added challenge of controls to learn and master.
In the new mode, All-Star Weekend offers the Rookie vs. Second Year Game, the traditional All-Star game, and everything else the All-Star Weekend has to offer ‘ including the awesome new Slam Dunk and Three Point Shootout contests. At the surface, the addition of those modes would probably seem bland, but EA went out of their way this year to provide an awesome new experience.
Both the dunk and shootout contests offer different controls from the original modes. In the three-point shootout, you must press the ‘R’ trigger to pick up a basketball from the bin followed by any of the letter buttons to shoot the ball ‘ with timing being everything on the release.
The dunk mode is in a way similar to the Tony Hawk-style games, in which you must time out and combo buttons to properly execute a dunk. For instance, you can press the ‘B’ button to begin your takeoff, but time it just right to get air, followed by one more button to slam it home. Once you get the basics of that down, you can further advance your dunks by using modifiers that will fine-tune your masterpiece dunk.
Control-wise, its very hard to fault NBA Live 2005, as it is still easy enough for beginners to immediately pick up and play, while at the same time adds optional advanced moves for the Live veterans.
Live now finally offers the online experience on Xbox Live, whereas PS2 gamers have enjoyed online play for the last couple seasons. Between a deep franchise mode and an online mode, fans of the game have the two modes any sports gamer can ask for and love. The biggest complaint is that the fantastic new All-Star mode is not available to take online. Taking the shootout and dunk contests online next year is something Live fans will be screaming about until next October.
Super deep franchise mode that lasts for 25 years mixed up with the online mode will keep fans of the series happy. Heavier competition and possibly a better gameplay experience may lure fans away from Live and to the less-expensive alternative that is ESPN NBA 2K5. This year the competition is the closest it’s ever been, and this season the two titles released on the same day. People who decide that Live is the game for them, will likely find plenty to love and master (such as the dunk contest) all season long.
While the dynasty mode doesn’t offer huge new innovations, the All-Star weekend is the first of its kind in a basketball game. Since sports titles often lack in this category, adding this added feature finally scores the aging title some originality points.
For the past several years, NBA Live has been known to be more arcade than sim, with a fast-paced dunk and three pointer fest that irritated some fans, but yet addicted many, many more. In an effort to please the sim-crowd, this years Live offers heavier defense and a much more difficult to master shooting percentage. Gone are the days of the bomb pass down the court to a wide open player for a dunk, or games in which each team hits 20-30 three pointers a game.
Granted, playing offline and tweaking modifiers COULD bring this experience back to life. Playing on any normal setting ‘ and especially online, its become nearly impossible to hit any respectable number of threes, get solid looks down low, or really run a fast paced tempo that pushes the ball upcourt quickly. The defense easily can and does intercept any attempt at a cross-court pass or lazy inbounds pass ‘ something basketball purists can appreciate, but those looking for a fun arcade-style video game will find dull and frustrating.
The biggest gripe I personally have comes in the form of passing. Players never make realistic cuts to the basket ‘ pretty much EVER. You make a steal and attempt a fast break and a guy to your left is wide open and you make the pass and what does he do? Comes to a complete stop and faces away from the basket, allowing your opponent to easily get into position to make a stop. The same can also be said about a half-court offense, your players simply don’t make a cut to the basket, ever, which IS something that real basketball does.
I’d best describe it as an identity crisis, as the in-game dynamic seems to have lost its home, while at the same time not entirely jumping into the realism boat, and in the end will cause long-term fans to look elsewhere. Intangibles like those will be the downfall of a classic series.
If you can get into the All-Star Mode, the franchise mode, or online play ‘ you’ll likely be able to enjoy it for most of the NBA season. The variety of modes will allow those who still enjoy the series plenty to try and master ‘ but those who may not enjoy the controls, or want solid 5-on-5 action without the Xbox Live, may stray long before the All-Star break or even the season’s opening tip later this month. It all depends on your taste.
Finally Xbox Live has arrived for NBA Live, and EA has one of the best online environments around. The online lobby features live scores, the ability to see all of your statistics, as well as scout others. An easy to pick up and play Quick Match mode, and even special online trophies that reward your skills against the Xbox Live community.
Thumbs up to EA for a solid online experience, and the All-Star Weekend mode better be Live on Live next season!