NBA Live 09 09 Review
A Review - By Gaetano Prestia
Once upon a time, the NBA Live franchise was the pinnacle of basketball video-games. Other franchises had come close to topping it, some had failed miserable, but from 1995 through to 2004, NBA Live was king of the basketball video-game genre. So what has gone so wrong over the past five years?
We’ve seen a slow downward spiral in quality from the EA Sports team and the rise and continuing improvement of 2K Sports’ NBA 2K series. NBA Live 06 on 360 was a mess, with no franchise mode or All-Star Weekend. NBA Live 07 took three steps back, bringing back those two modes but losing a considerable amount of quality in the gameplay. NBA Live 08 improved on the gameplay front slightly, but the game was miles behind NBA 2K8. So, what was to be of NBA Live 09? Much like with their campaign for FIFA 09, EA Sports attempted to sell the game well before its release, announcing new features, improved gameplay and an overall dramatically improved basketball gaming experience. Has EA stayed true to their word and does NBA Live 09 hold its own against the NBA 2K series?
To answer the question latter, no, it doesn’t. NBA Live 09 is still a few steps behind the NBA 2K series. But that’s not to say that Live 09 isn’t an improvement on last year, because it is. In fact, there has been a dramatic improvement on almost all fronts, thankfully meaning that Live fanatics will this year get a pretty solid basketball game. There are plenty of new inclusions on the gameplay and mode front that easily make this game the best Live game of this current generation (which isn’t hard).
EA made a big deal about their latest and biggest feature of Live 09, NBA Live 365. This feature is very ambitious and innovative, with an aim to provide a realistic performance-based outcome. Basically, the game will automatically take stats from real NBA games and integrate them into the player attributes. If LeBron goes for 50 points on three straight occasions, hitting 5/6 three-pointers and going 75% from the field over the three nights, his shooting abilities in the game will be increased so that he has the ability to perform just as well in the game.
Much like a strand of human DNA, each player has their own DNA tendencies that cover each of the main basketball skills. Some parts of their DNA are stronger than others. For example, Shaq is going to have a high post-up DNA count, while his outside ability is going to have a lower number. The DNA is also used to scout opposition and upcoming draftees, giving you a detailed analysis of each players abilities on the court, their strengths and weaknesses and their shooting hot spots.
If trades and other roster updates are made during the season, the game will make the adjustments to the ingame rosters as well, pending you allow the game to make such changes and you don’t have auto-update turned off.
This new feature does a few problems though. Because the season hasn’t started yet, it’s difficult to really rate its ability to have an impact on the game. Also, games doesn’t seem to incorporate a players DNA all that well. You’ll notice during games that a players DNA ability percentage appears besides the scores whenever you do something on the court. However, it’s a bit glitchy. If you slam down a dunk in the post with Oden from his left, the game will tell you his percentage rate on his right. If you hit a 3-point shot fade-away from the right corner, it will tell you the player’s percentage rate for a 3-pointer at the top of the key. It’s unknown whether this is simply a display glitch or if it actually has an effect on the gameplay, but it won’t please statistic freaks who were looking forward to the implementation of the feature. The season is still a few weeks away so maybe a fix is on the way. However, it will be disappointing to see a player hit 10 points from a right-hook with 100% accuracy in real-life, only to have his left-hook DNA updated. Also, the feature seems to disregard the sliding settings. If you have the sliders set to 30 for long-range shots, a player with a hot-hand from down-town will still hit his shots from a hot-spot, no matter how cold the team is. It just feels logical that if you’re going to include a feature that allows the game to mimic real-life statistics, that you make the sliders inaccessible if the gamer chooses to use NBA Live 365.
Overall, the NBA Live 365 feature can be applauded, if not for EA’s dedication to statistical updating, than to their attempt to provide as realistic a gaming experience as possible. The feature has a lot of potential and hopefully it works out for the better first-time round, rather than making fans wait until next year.
On the gameplay front, there have been a few improvements and some additions, not all of which are good. Starting off with the good stuff is the addition of the Signature Playcalling and Quick Strike Ankle Breakers.
The playcalling is a welcomed addition as it makes it a lot easier to call plays and pull them off. In previous Live games, it was difficult (especially for those not totally familiar with the sport of basketball) to master the play-book, both offensively and defensively. You could call plays but if you hadn’t memorised the position and passing strategies, you’d find yourself passing to the wrong player, setting the wrong screen or even pausing the game to double check what the hell you were supposed to do. That’s been rectified this year, with an improved playcalling system that leads you in the right direction. It guides you to an area on the court, dictates which players to pass to and when to shoot the ball, and your AI controlled team-mates work well to set picks and roll towards the basket when needed. A play’s success is also dependant on your ability to read player DNA and acknowledge each player’s strength and weaknesses. If you set a play in the book for Larry Hughes to post on the left when he’s better on his right, you’ll find it will rarely end in a basket directly from the play.
Quick Strike Ankle Breakers make a significant improvement from last year in which they were almost non-existent because of their flawed presence. Implementing improved player animation and better tendencies with good ball-handlers and the gameplay feature can be devastating if used correctly. Players like Tracey McGrady and Kobe Bryant are almost unstoppable after performing an Ankle Breaker, as you’ll notice as the defending player falls to the ground or clumsily moves to the wrong side of the player.
Easily the most enjoyable addition is the Pick and Roll system, which hits a home run in its first appearance. It’s easy to set up a pick and roll and a successful execution can lead to devastating dunks and jumpers.
Unfortunately, the Lockdown Defence doesn’t work as well as the above. All you have to do is guide your player with the left stick to the ball-handler and they will automatically stick onto them. While it works fine when executed correctly, sometimes your player just won’t do it. Even still, it’s too easy to block a player in the backcourt and lead them over the boundary line. It’s not difficult to stay with them no matter how good a ball-handler they are and this often leads to point guards dramatically under performing. One of the major concerns with last year’s games was the dominance by the PG, but now it’s simply too easy to shut them down.
The game AI is improved from last year, both on the defensive and offensive end. No longer will players be easily boxed-out and left open for easy lay-ups, and your ability to scout the opposition and acknowledge sharp-shooters and big rebounders is key to your success.
The NBA Academy is another new addition in Live 09 and it’s a mixed-bag. It’s great to teach you the fundamentals of the game and introduce you to the new features, but it’s more tedious than enjoyable. It’s set up like a real-life practice gym where you can shoot-around and practice your shots. There are also four different coaches spread out across the gym that each have mini-games on different areas of the sport, from offensive and defensive rebounding, to the pick-and-roll and fastbreak mechanics. It’s integrated into the Dynasty Mode in the training camp and rookie scouting, but to take full advantage of it, you have to complete 12 mini-games otherwise the analysis won’t be fully utilised and you would have gotten nothing out of it.
Live 09 also has a few gameplay glitches that are worth noting. EA seem to have altered the boundary-line physics, fixing it so players don’t running out of bounds randomly like they did last year. However, it seems too over-worked, with players who visibly step over the line not being called out-of-bounds. Also, the ball has to bounce several times before being called out, and if a player happens to grab it before it’s called, play continues. Also, the game suffers from graphical clipping issues that affect the gameplay experience, with players magically gliding through the backboard or slamming the ball through the net instead of the ring. The opposition is also unexplainably fast, catching up to you on a fast break no matter how far a head you are. It’s not encouraging when Shaq catches up to a sprinting, fast-breaking Tony Parker.
Dynasty Mode is back and while it doesn’t seem to have changed all that much from last years Live, it does offer a bit more challenge. First of all, the game makes some very smart moves on the trade and draft table, so you’re always going to have tough competition from the other teams in the league. Secondly, trading is a lot more realistic than in years past. Last year, you could trade an aging star with a high salary to a team with plenty of money in the bank for a low-ranked rookie and no salary. This would allow you to dump a large salary and declining player and obtain a solid young bench player. This year, it’s a different story. If you have a 34 year-old star rated 90 with a salary exceeding $10 million per year for the next three years, you’ll have trouble dumping him for a smaller contract. Even a team well under the salary-cap probably won’t accept the trade, even if it’s for a player with a rating lower than 60 and a salary around 700k per season. You might find a suitor who is in desperate need of a player at that position, but just like in the real NBA, hardly any team would be prepared to take on a declining player with an atrociously high salary…unless you’re the Chicago Bulls or New York Knicks.
There are a few weird glitches in the mode though. The rookies generated by the game look identical with the same facial structures and features, with some occasional differences in hair and facial hair. But most of the time, you’ll draft two players that look exactly the same. Also, the game generates awkward player rotations, sometimes putting players in positions they are totally unsuited for. For example, sometimes a SG can also play PG, so if you have two high-rated SG’s on your roster, the game will put one of them as the starting PG over a low-ranked PG. However, if the SG is a genuine SG with low team and offensive awareness, the last thing you want is that player running the point, even if he does have a rating of 90. The same thing seems to occur with PF and C, with slow C’s placed in PF, which is suited to more agile and quick players.
Overall, the Dynasty Mode is enjoyable and deep and should please those looking for a solid simulating experience. The game provides box-scores and you can interact with a match half-way through simulation if you want to bring your team back from a deficient or be a part of a championship run without missing out on everything.
Be-A-Pro Mode is pointless, at least when compared to FIFA 09, as you only take control of a player for one game. It’s good to get an analysis of your style of play and know where your faults are, but it feels unfinished considering what is available with the mode in FIFA 09.
Live 09 is a decent online basketball experience, with ranked versus, quick and custom matches at your disposal. Lag is minimal and is an improvement on last year and Live 07, which suffered from terrible lag. Team Play and Clubs has also been included like in FIFA 09, allowing you to create a team of up to 10 players, all playing on the court at the same time. It works well and is very enjoyable and challenging, offering an all-new experience to the online component of the franchise.
Unlike in recent years where NBA Live has been the staple-pin for basketball titles on a graphical front, Live 09 seems to have taken a step back. The crowd animations are cool, with people getting up from their seats, walking around during a match and cheering aggressively during close games, but their design is horrendously ugly. The crowd up-close is PS2-esque, which brings the quality of the title down a whole level. Player design and animation is great, but there are still a few noteworthy graphical glitches, which also affect the way the game plays. You have dunking and clipping issues, as well as awkward jumping styles that pop-up every now and then.
The soundtrack is impressive, with Live 09 going for a more electronic direction than in previous years. There is still the hip-hop love in there, but there are some cool, hard-hitting electric sounds that balance out well with the rest of the title. Crowd sound-effects are nice, and the commentary team of Marv Albert and Steve Kerr offer plenty of humourous banter and great gameplay commentary.
NBA Live 09 is a dramatically improved step in the right direction for the franchise. It still has its problems and inconsistency’s, but overall, Live 09 is a solid basketball game. There are some great gameplay additions with Pick and Roll and Playcalling integrated well, while Lockdown Defence has its pros and cons. NBA Live 365 can be good, but it can’t be rated until the season proper begins. The general consensus is that it will work well, but here’s hoping no dramatic improvements are needed.