Behind soccer/football, basketball is one of the most popular games on the planet today. Therefore it is of course a no brainer that a basketball franchise is going to be made for game consoles and the leader thus far has been NBA Live by Electronic Arts. Although Live is the leader, there has been a few challengers to its crown this year in both the simulation and non-simulation format in titles such as NBA Ballers and NBA Jam. EA have gone all out this year to create some great new features and it's just enough to keep the competition away for another year.
In terms of game modes the usual ones have returned as well as something brand new that is a major focus of the game. You can play a typical exhibition game, season, franchise, play offs and others and the new game modes all star weekend and freestyle challenge. There is a huge amount of gameplay on offer in the game. The season and franchise mode are moulded into Dynasty mode where the aim is to build an unstoppable basketball team in the NBA and win the ring year after year while managing injuries, suspensions, retirements and trades. While in the past this has been the main focus, this year EA have moved the focus of the game onto something which is much quicker to complete and will appeal to more gamers, the All Star Weekend.
For those unaware, each year the NBA select two teams of the best players from the East and West conference for a one off match to determine the best in the league. Along with this a number of tournaments are held for players to take part in and really the whole weekend is one big party atmosphere, which for the first time is now available in a virtual format. Basketball fans are really going to enjoy this aspect of the title, but from a perspective of non basketball fans the All Star Weekend is a bit of a disappointment other than the slam dunk competition. The weekend consists of a number of events; rookie challenge (first year players join two teams to see who is the best), three point shootout, slam dunk contest and of course the all star game.
The Slam Dunk competition is really the standout for this years game. You along with a number of AI players have the opportunity to impress official scorers with a number of crazy, yet realistic dunks. You do this with a truly sublime control scheme that utilizes the entire control pad. The different buttons initiate different styles of runs, in air movements and finally the dunks. The dunks range from basic spins through to throwing the ball off the shot clock, posters, almost anything which is in the stadium and some of the drunks are truly outrageous, however in keeping with the simulation theme of the game potentially with the right player these dunks could be performed in real matches.
The other modes of the game are designed to display the brand new freestyle movement feature which has been added to this game for slam dunks and other moves the players can perform during a match. This works a bit like what has been implemented in FIFA in the past. Using the right stick enables a freestyle mode where the player will perform special moves and the different movements of the stick perform different moves. You can also link moves together to beat opponents easily. Initially you don't know what each direction does, so a practice mode has been included and this is highly recommended to refine your skills. Another feature taken from FIFA is the off the ball control. Clicking the right stick in allows you to take control of various players on the court. This seems to work better in Live because the court is small and you don't have a selection of ten players to choose from.
The actual play of the game is quite slow and feels like a simulation, which is exactly what the game is supposed to be. This however does not lend itself to people who just want a casual game because knowledge of the NBA may not be a pre-requisite, but it definitely helps to know who has the best players as with any sports game. If you're looking for fast paced, over the top basketball action then Live is not going to provide it. One thing we have noticed about NBA Live this year however is that it seems much easier to gain the ball while on defense. No longer do you have to just wait for the team to score before getting an opportunity to take the ball into the opponents zone.
Of course being officially licensed has allowed EA to include all the players, teams, stadiums and the official tournaments so if you want everything but the kitchen sink from the NBA then this is the game to get. EA have done a great job recreating the individual features of each player and while the names do appear on screen, if you're a big fan of the NBA picking players out via looks its easy and that is always a decent indication that the players are highly detailed. The animation is also superb especially with the new freestyle moves. One great thing about the freestyle moves is the balance that if you use them to excess, you will lose the ball so it really is a case of using a strategy and getting the right timing is key to using it right.
The overall look of the game is really well done. As you would expect, the game uses a TV style format with replays shown for special moves. There is also some great graphic effects such as real time shadows and reflections as well as the aforementioned player animations and graphics. Many things have been added to the look to make the game easier to manage such as the PDA in Dynasty mode which allows you to check over things such as injuries, team owners comments, agents and many other tasks quickly. The sound effects are well done with the squeak of shoes audible and some fairly decent commentary on offer.
NBA Live 2005 really is a great simulation of the NBA. The license agreement allows everything to be put into the game and the All Star Weekend addition just enhances this authenticity even more. Buying the game just for the All Star Weekend probably will lead to disappointment but as a package overall it is a great basketball game.