While the NBA Live series was once the crown jewel of console basketball games, the series has had a rough trot on the current crop of gaming consoles. Though, for all of its flaws, the series has continued to improve from the dismal days of NBA Live 06. While the much hyped dynamic DNA feature isn't really the game winner that it was expected to be, the tight pick-and-roll control scheme coupled with the signature playcalling feature make this one of the strongest NBA Live releases in recent years.
The vast improvements in NBA Live 09 make the race for best console basketball title even more competitive.
While there are a number of additions to the game this year, the most talked about feature is the inclusion of 'dynamic DNA'. Currently we are yet to see the full influence of the dynamic DNA system, but once the NBA season kicks off in November, Live 09 will get daily updates which will change the DNA of players in the game according to the exploits of their real life counterparts. For instance, if Kobe Bryant goes on an absolute scoring tear at the beginning of the season, the game will calculate the spots on the court where he has had most of his success as well as the areas where his shots just aren't hitting. Overall, the impact of these continual roster updates will depend more on the play of the young up-and-comers in the league rather than the consistent play of the brightest stars of the Association.
Dynamic DNA will also affect a player's playcalling options as opening up the playcalling options, you'll find that the game assigns four plays that are staples of that particular player's game. The other neat thing about this option is that it places coloured markers on the court, enabling basketball novices to quickly learn how to execute plays.
This live roster feature might not seem like much for amateur hoopsters, but die hard basketball aficionados are sure to be clamouring for the the opportunity to see whether their team's top draft pick is setting up to be a breakout star or a costly bust. Though, until the NBA season kicks off next month, we can't say how much of an impact the feature will have on the game over the course of the year.
As already implemented across the range of EA Sports titles (most notably in NHL 09 and FIFA 09), this year's edition of NBA Live sees the successful 'Be a Pro' feature make its way into the hoop world. For those who haven't had a chance to play with the feature, Be a Pro allows players to take control of a single player rather than controlling the whole team in order to develop that player over the course of their career. Unfortunately Live dumbs it down a little by only allowing you to play a one-off game rather than an entire career. Ultimately, this proves to be a shallow experience as players are robbed of the chance of seeing how their diamond in the rough can turn into a glittering superstar.
Will you be able to make this young star truly unlock his potential this season? We won't find out thanks to the watered down Be a Pro mode.
Most of the other gameplay modes are the same as the last iteration of the series, which is a good thing because there is plenty to play around with in NBA Live 09. As well as the return of the staple Dynasty and All Star Weekend modes, players can also test out the NBA Live Academy, a place where players can perform drills in order to hone your craft. If that's not enough, players can also take another crack at the FIBA World Championships to see whether they can topple the best basketballing nations in the world.
For all of its welcome additions, there are a number of glaring gameplay hiccups which take away the shine from this solid basketball title. The most glaring of these flaws are the sometimes superhuman feats that players can pull off. For instance we witnessed Australia's own big man Andrew Bogut pirouetting around the basket as nimbly as a ballerina, while some rookies were able to dunk over an entire key full of defenders. While these superhuman moves might not fuss some players, it does take something away from a series which has prided itself with its realistic approach to the game.
Other issues that plague the game are the numerous clipping and collision detecting issues which will see you being able to literally go through a defender as if he wasn't even there. Players will also be frustrated with the lag associated with rebounding the ball. No matter how perfectly you time your jump, more often than not you'll find that your opponent has grabbed that ball that you were certain you had.
While there are a number of new and/or improved features in Live 09, the gameplay mechanics and control scheme have also seen some advances. The most notable advance is the new Pick and Roll control system. Holding the left trigger will see your nearest teammate set a screen for you on your direct opponent. Depending on how long you hold the trigger for, your teammate will either create an opening for you to drive to the basket or he'll roll himself into a better position to give your team an excellent opportunity to score. The great thing about this mechanic is that even if you don't pull off the move according to plan, a little improvisation will get you out of a jam - not to mention help basketball novices learn about the intricacies of the game.
Presentation wise, NBA Live 09 comes up trumps with accurate facial rendering of a majority of the game's brightest stars. The atmosphere of the arenas and their crowds also adds to the aesthetic, bringing the NBA experience right into your living room. The only disappointment with the game's presentation is the average commentary job by basketball stalwarts Marv Albert and Steve Kerr. It isn't that they are a bad commentary team, in fact they are far from it, but the generic content that they are given takes away from the action. This oversight in the game's presentation is what is most disappointing, especially given the announcing credentials that Marv Albert brings to the game.
While NBA Live 09 isn't a drastic move forward from last year's effort, it is steadily improving the quality of the series. Intuitive playcalling, easy-to-learn controls and fast-paced action make this one hoops title worth checking out.