It’s pretty rare that EA Sports has to play catch up on one of its sports titles. The company, which has generally dominated all sports competition since it began, has often-times found itself racing to catch up with its competitors on the basketball court. While NBA Live 08 was a solid start on the PlayStation 3, the team at EA Canada has taken this past year to follow suit with the Los Angeles Lakers. That is, they’ve improved their game exponentially on all fronts, however, they still come up a tad short in the grand finale. The changes in Live 09 will undoubtedly please fans of the series, but it may prevent those who normally enjoy other basketball titles from making the switch over.
Something that plagued past NBA Live titles was the absolutely sloppy animation. Player animations simply weren’t realistic. Players used to glide across the floor, or they’d display wonky shot mechanics. Fortunately, Live 09 gives off the impression that the developers realized this and made it a priority to fix it. The end result has left the game feeling a lot more authentic. Players now shift their weight appropriately, their feet plant and pivot accordingly and their motions and shot mechanisms now look and feel genuine. Of course, all of these animations wouldn’t mean much if the gameplay was shoddy. Thankfully, that’s not the case.
NBA Live 09 features responsive controls — a breath of fresh air for the series. Gamers may notice that when they move with the left analog, their player on the screen is not only going to move immediately, but realistically as well. There is no more turning on a dime on a fast break or feeling as though you’ve lost control of your player (unless momentum accurately dictates that you should). EA Canada has taken great strides in perfecting these pillars of gameplay.
One of the more improved aspects of the title revolves around the average amount in which dunks and fast breaks occur. The biggest complaint fans of the Live franchise have usually had is the fact that the title seemed to be nothing more than a dunk and fast break-fest. The developers have done a marvelous job in restricting these elements from being abused. Gamers are now forced to create their own penetration within the defense and they will have to set the dunk up by passing the ball around the perimeter and in the inside if they want to slam it home.
For those of you who love taking Kobe, Davis, James, Nash and a plethora of other players to the hoop, you still can. Gamers are still capable of utilizing crossovers, shoulder fakes and more in order to put their defender in bad position to drive to the basket. On the flip side, defensive players are able to press the body of their offensive counterpart in order to keep them under wrap. Live offers up a very user friendly play call option as well. Offensive of defensive players will be able to pull up a list of plays and scroll through them as they see fit. Once selected, overlays on the court will provide gamers with the direction in which they must go to properly execute the chosen play. This makes the game a lot more strategic than you’d think, and gives newcomers to the sport an opportunity to understand the way plays work.
Unfortunately, there are still some disappointments within the gameplay that keep the game from being top dog. One of those issues is the momentum swings. I understand that in real life basketball teams go on 12-0 runs and things of that nature, but this seems to take effect any time the computer is down by a significant margin. It almost feels as though the computer picks and chooses when it will get a run and when it won’t. This means that even a 20-point lead is sometimes not a sure thing going into the fourth quarter. Yes, these comebacks do happen, but not at the rate they do within NBA Live 09. Another issue I had was that passes didn’t always go to the player you directed them towards. This resulted in turnovers and very frustrating moments. Players still take shots at the back of the backboard as well, which take place a handful of times per game, which is another unrealistic total.
For every downfall, there’s a positive. This year, EA Canada chose to greatly flesh out the standard features. Live 09 offers a robust Dynasty mode that will let you start your season right before the 2008 NBA draft. This allows you to draft the players you think your team should have to begin with. Following in the footsteps of game modes, Live also offers users the opportunity to practice in their new NBA Academy. The Academy features progressive challenges based around team exercises and individual drills. This is where you’re going to notice the responsiveness of the controls the most. Making cuts has never been more natural.
Other offline modes of play include the FIBA World Championship, which enables gamers to take their favorite country into the tournament to win gold. Be A Pro mode which is at the same progression as FIFA’s was last year, meaning you only get to utilize an already experienced pro player. Finally, NBA All-Star Weekend wraps up these modes and continues its flashy change of pace breakaway from the standard basketball game. Users can still take part in the three-point competition, slam dunk event, rookie challenge and of course, the All-Star game itself.
Online users can experience a very in-depth style of play. Clubs, which are becoming the norm for EA Sports, have made their way to the basketball court. Clubs allow you and your friends to show others worldwide who the true dream team really is. You’re also capable of teaming up with four other players in a 5-on-5 basketball game. While other standard modes exist, these clubs will likely take precedence.
The newest and brightest feature of NBA Live 09 is NBA Live 365. Live 365 gives games that are connected to the internet the opportunity to download daily reports and statistics that will change the way the game plays. This system takes the statistical averages of what each real life NBA player is currently producing and embodies them inside the virtual DNA of each baller. This offers up and overall more authentic experience and allows players that are running hot in real life to play hot in the game. Player DNA is a revolutionary step forward in basketball games, and I won’t be surprised when it starts popping up in other sports titles from EA.
Visually speaking, Live 09 suffers in certain areas. Textiles (clothing) seems to wave and bounce around even if a player is standing still. Even when a player is moving, however, the wave of the clothing makes the whole affair look quite ridiculous. Last time I checked, hurricane-style winds don’t enter buildings. On the bright side, the player faces are very polished and they look just like their real-life counterparts. Menu screens are just more of the same standard EA Sports presentation, which is perfectly fine. The atmosphere of the crowd is above average and the play-by-play announcing is top notch.
When it all boils down to it, NBA Live 09 is a great example of a series on the rise and it gives fans of the sport and franchise something incredible to look forward to next year. Until that point, Live falls shy of being the premiere basketball title, but it came far closer than anyone expected.