NBA Live 2005 Review (Xbox)
I have to admit a mistake when I make one. Last year, I scored "NBA Live" too high. At the time, I didn’t know and take into account how much the lack of offensive rebounds would annoy me and take away some of my enjoyment of the game. With all that said, I still played "NBA Live 2004" more than any other game last year. I recognized that even with the rebounding problem, it was a fun game. So before diving into "NBA Live 2005", I was just hoping that Electronic Arts (EA) just didn’t take a step back with this year’s version. Thankfully, it appears that they didn’t.
Compared to the competition, "Live’s" player faces and models don’t hold up. While many of the major players in the game have accurate faces, many of the midlevel and lower tiered stars still have generic faces. Also, players like Shaq and Oliver Miller should have distinct player models, however, they are built like most centers in the game, tall and thin. The arenas are still very accurate and I love that EA has continued to add to the authenticity by making the changes to different arenas that have occurred over the past years and by including arenas that they were unable to get licenses to last year to this year’s game.
The commentary is hit or miss this year. The in game commentary from Marv Albert and Mike Fratello is very repetitive, and it doesn’t appear that EA added much new commentary from them this year. EA’s commentary focus seems to be on the All-Star Weekend as Ernie Johnson Jr. and Kenny Smith call the Slam Dunk Weekend and Three Point Contest. The duo sounds as good as they sound on "Inside the NBA", as they constantly go back and forth and make relevant comments about the contests. I’m willing to cut EA some slack when it comes to the in-game commentary because the All-Star Weekend commentary is so good.
Let's start with the new additions to this year’s game. The biggest addition is All-Star Weekend. All four events, the Rookie Challenge, the Slam Dunk Contest, the Three-Point Contest and the All Star Game, are all available. The Slam Dunk Contest is well done in every way. The arena looks exactly like it does in during the actual Dunk Contest with the exception of only half of the court being visible. While this isn’t the first game that features a dunk contest, the game features the best way a dunk contest has ever been executed. Instead of hitting a combination of buttons in order to execute a dunk like in "ESPN College Hoops", a dunk in Live depends on positioning, the type of gather you choose, timing, and creativity. It takes a lot of practice to be able to execute the more complicated dunks, but the learning curve isn’t that hard. I’m usually the type of person who gets bored with the extra features of a basketball game, and only focuses on the gameplay of actual contests - but I found this mode to be really addictive and I keep coming back for more. There are also some nice small touches; like players at courtside excitedly jumping out of their seats to react to a great dunk.
"Live" is the first game to recognize that there is a totally different pace to an All-Star game than a normal NBA game. The Rookie Challenge and the NBA All-Star Game are always played at a faster pace, with more exciting plays and less fouls called - and that’s exactly how the game plays in "Live". It’s a great change after playing half of a season’s worth of tough, grind-it-out regular season games, to play a game that’s just plain fun with the best players in the NBA. Another added twist is that you only can play the All-Star Game if a player on your team is selected for the game. So all of you Clipper and Hawks fans have to work extra hard to ensure one of your players is recognized.
The last part is the Three-Point Contest and while I always have fun with this mode, I refuse to give EA credit for adding a mode that they had in the game years ago. The mode is essentially the same as it was in past years, except now players have their own signature shooting styles. I hope to see the day when signature-shooting styles can be utilized during an actual game.
Now lets get down to what’s actually important, the gameplay. There were three major complaints with last year’s game: the lack of offensive rebounding, the lack of a mid-range game and the lack of actual fast breaks. EA fixed two of those problems. "Freestyle Air" is a new feature that allows you to decide how to rebound the ball on the offensive end. Just like they did last year by adding multiple buttons to shoot with, EA added separate buttons to rebound, one to attempt a tip in and one to grab the ball and bring it back down. This feature alone increases the number of offensive rebounds and brings another realistic aspect to the game.
I’m pleased to say that there is a mid-range game in this year’s game. The CPU will not only shoot mid-range baskets when a player is wide open, it will also penetrate and take a pull up mid-range jumper when it has a player capable of taking that shot. Unlike "Live 2004", this year’s game isn’t simply a post and three-point game. You will have to defend the CPU all over the court this year.
EA missed once again on fast breaks. The majority of fast breaks in the NBA are of the 2-on-1 or 3-on-1 variety, and require solid passing and players filling the lanes. This isn’t the case in "Live 2005". The CPU has unrealistic catch-up speed on fast breaks and with the rare exception of breakaways, the CPU is usually in position to stop you on a fast break. Also, players constantly stop to catch the ball on the break, which gives the CPU even more of a chance to catch up. What makes this even more frustrating is that EA has programmed an animation into the game where players can catch the ball in stride and finish the break. How do I know this? Well, it seems like once every 30 fast breaks, that animation will kick in when I attempt a break. The problem is that animation doesn’t kick in enough, and it becomes frustrating when every game becomes a half-court battle - no matter what team you use.
Another small problem with last year’s game was the automatic double-team of every post player. It didn’t matter if it was Yao Ming or Calvin Booth in the post; the post player was always doubled in last year’s game. This year, the AI is much more intelligent when it comes to double-teaming players and only doubles when its appropriate. The number of fouls is perfect in this game. This is one of the few games to get this aspect right. If you consistently penetrate or post up, you’ll see an accurate number of offensive and defensive fouls.
With the exception of fast breaks, the gameplay is as close to the NBA game as you’ll find in a video game. Still, there are a number of small problems that need to be addressed. Things like the lack of substitution notifications and players only subbing in after the second foul shot are things that were in the game last year and should have been fixed. There also seems to a small problem with instant replay. For instance, if you want to replay a nice “and 1”, you better replay it before the foul shot because if you don’t you wont be able to replay the shot. There seems to be a short limit to the amount of time shown in a replay. I can’t seem to find the Crash Boards or Box Out options in this year’s game. Maybe EA moved them, but I can’t understand why they would do such a thing. Finally, even with the block sliders turned all the way down, there seem to be too many blocks in this year’s game.
EA did the right thing this year. They built a great foundation last year, and then they built upon it. The additions of "Freestyle Air" and the All-Star Weekend make this game worth double its price tag in my opinion. If it weren’t for the lack of fast breaks, this game would be an accurate interpretation of NBA basketball.