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1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine

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by EA Sports

nbalive1-01.jpg (4416 bytes)OK sports fans. Drop whatever you happen to be playing, grab your coat, and head to the video game retail or rental store nearest you to purchase NBA Live 2001. Run along now. I’ll wait…. You’re back? Wonderful. Doesn’t it feel good to have the best new basketball game in your hot little hands? It should. EA Sports brings us the newest NBA title, and boy oh boy, did they pull through on this one. Although there are still several elements on my wish list, these things are relatively minor when faced with such a great game.

nbalive2-01.jpg (4285 bytes)Most basketball fans have complained that not enough attention has been paid to their sport in the games of the past. NBA Live allows you to play exhibition games against all 29 NBA teams as well as the eastern/western all star teams and all-decade teams from the past. You can also pick your favorite franchise and go head-to-head against current teams in regular season matchups, playoffs, and, if you’re good enough, the championships. You’re in the mix on everything from draft picks to player trading, and if that isn’t enough to keep you occupied, the game also comes equipped with a one-on-one function that allows you find out how players stack up against one another. The game is set up for one to two players at a time, but since it allows you to make multiple user profiles and records each one’s stats and game standings, the game is nicely set up to keep track of eight separate users.

nbalive3-01.jpg (5061 bytes)The first thing I noticed about NBA Live 2001 is how easy it is to customize your game and, as an offshoot of this, to add lots of depth and longevity to the title. There are three difficulty levels (Rookie, Starter, and Superstar) which start out the process. The Rookie level is great because it allows non-basketball junkies an easy way into the game by not only limiting the competition, but also taking care of minor tasks for the user, such as regular substitutions and default settings for moves and gameplay. For those who are pros at the genre, the game steps up the CPU capabilities for greater challenges, and allows you to customize your teams by re-ordering the rosters, trading players, or even creating your own players, as well as changing the quarter and playoff length to tailor your game play. You can choose to alter the CPU’s team or leave them on their default settings. I also loved the fact that you could choose the simulation mode (where player ratings affect outcomes) or an arcade mode (where player performance depends solely on the user).

nbalive4-01.jpg (3768 bytes)This leads me directly to what I feel is one of the greatest strengths of the game. Gone are the days when your team ran around like chickens with their heads cut off when they haven’t been given a specific play or you’re not in direct control of them. I remember on several older titles getting so frustrated because I felt like my team behaved more like pre-schoolers than pro ball players.The AI on this game is great, with your own team holding logical defensive/offensive patterns in line with your team’s skills ratings. The opposition also learns as you go, getting faked-out occasionally (again, depending on player stats) but also learning your plays if you get stuck in a rut. This encourages you to keep your gameplay fresh and take some risks.

The one-on-one mode allows you to play in the day or night on what looks like an inner-city court (complete with street sounds and the occasional siren). While the venue isn’t terribly exciting, I enjoyed the option of using any of the players or one of my own creation. I was able to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams in this mode by defeating Michael Jordan (one of the computer’s favorites) while playing Larry Bird (my hero). It was all about the sweet three pointers, baby!

nbalive6-01.jpg (2696 bytes)The graphics on this game are great, from the court floor to the players and the audience. The player’s faces were well done for the most part, being the most detailed and real in the cinema and transition screens, but often recognizable during actual gameplay. The weakest graphic elements during the screens were the player’s hands and occasionally arms, which became flat (especially noticeable because the rest of their bodies were rounded with great skin tone) and very rigid in their movements. Luckily, this wasn’t the case during the game. Probably the most recognizable during the game were Kevin Garnett (the live-action model for many of the moves) and Grant Hill. The crowd was highly detailed, but their movements had distinctive patterns to them. On the whole, though, the graphics were very nice.

There are two different elements of movement to look at in the game. The first is the way in which the players move and the second is the ease of control by the user. The players have come such a long way from even a generation ago. They no longer jump like they’re puppets on a string, they no longer run or dribble the same, and their fakes, shots, and inside moves are unique. Each player feels different to control, and although the buttons to execute moves is the same for each, they all perform them in slightly different ways. As far as user control, the basic controls for this game are extremely easy to master, and moving from player to player is a breeze. Calling plays and a handful of more complicated moves are harder to master, but the response time is excellent and the movements are smooth and logical.

nbalive7-01.jpg (3832 bytes)There are tons of camera angles to choose from to give you whatever view of the court and gameplay you want, with multiple versions of overhead, sidelines, backcourt, or follow-the-ball. You could also adjust the amount of zoom (as well as the angle and camera switching in specific modes). Each mode has its strong points, but I tended to prefer the sideline camera. The soundtrack during cinema and transition screens was excellent, featuring hip-hop tunes by Montell Jordan, Bootsy Collins, and Choclair, and the in-game sound effects and player commentary were great. I was also impressed by the dialogue of announcers Bob Elliot and Don Poier, which was not only relevant to gameplay, but also had enough variation that, for probably the first time in my life, I didn’t want to strangle the commentators. Bravo! And the players verbally interact with each other. Not only was there some amusing verbal sparing (especially in the one-on-one mode) but there was also quite a bit of positive and congratulatory banter between teams! That says a lot to me about game’s attempting to be positive role models in regard to team spirit and sportsmanship.

So what are the downsides to this otherwise glowing report? They are few and far between. I think the addition of alternative venues for the one-on-one games would add a lot of flavor to the game. I would also like to see a more realistic way to shoot free throws. As it stands now, you use a T-Meter in the top right of the screen to stop a moving ball as close to the cross-section as possible, and then the computer physically makes your shot. With targeting systems as advanced as they are now, I’m surprised some other method wasn’t used to shoot when you’re at the charity stripe. I also wish there were more options when you are constructing your own player (which was fun, but quickly over). And finally, I wish that the east/west all-star teams had matching uniforms (maybe it’s the girl in me?) But all in all, this is the best B-ball game I’ve seen to date. That said, get out there and shoot some hoops!!

Monica Hafer

Snapshot

Ups: Good options; a little arcade, a little sim; nice movement; lots of customization.

Downs: Graphics and anims could be perfected; freethrow shooting; more arenas for one-on-one games.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation 2

 

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