Anyone who’s been playing next-gen basketball the past few years knows the story of Live. It’s gone from a broken-down catastrophe to a full-fledged winner over the course of its lifetime. This season continues that positive arc, as Live 09 builds on its success and, despite some problems that keep it from all-time greatness, offers a stiff challenge to NBA 2K9’s claim to the championship.
Unlike so many current sports titles, Live doesn’t assume you know your way around ever-morphing control schemes. In fact, the game centers around the NBA Live Academy, which offers plenty of opportunities to learn its nuances at your own pace. These can easily be bypassed, but even series vets owe it to themselves to get familiar with important features such as the updated Pick and Roll function, which we used regularly to zoom past annoying defenders on the way to a high-flying dunk.
Live is a decent-enough looker for a next-generation basketballer, with impressive arenas and player animations. We also love Marv Albert’s commentary – when he’s calling the game, it screams authenticity. However, the action is not always as smooth as it could be, especially coming out of breaks. In addition, Live’s on-court warts show most often in the replays, highlighting how often players seem to jump one way while looking the other or take awkward angles to the hoop. At full speed these are less noticeable, but that’s also when the occasionally logic-defying bounces the ball takes off the rim make us do double-takes.
Information is a big theme this season, as each player’s DNA is central to managing your squad in-game and during a campaign. Data is everywhere, especially on the scoreboard HUD; each time your baller makes a move to the basket, the success percentages for that particular play are displayed at the top of the screen. It may please hardcore number-crunchers, but we found it distracting and utterly unnecessary.
Integration with ESPN is amped up a bit more this season, including Top Ten Nominees when you pull off particularly highlight-worthy dunks. Another nifty feature is the return of the FIBA World Championship, made especially enjoyable by the appearance of the Redeem Team in all its glory. After their feel-good romp to the Gold in Beijing, teeing it up with Kobe, LeBron, Chris Paul and the gang in their legit Team USA uniforms is a delight.
If pro hoops was a one-man video game gang this year, we’d be pretty happy with Live. Luckily for us, though, competition is king and Live falls a couple of free throws short of the superior NBA 2K9. There’s plenty to like, though, and we’re looking forward to winning an NBA title or two in both games. After all, variety is the spice of life.
Oct 13, 2008