NBA Live 09 Review

30 10 2008

I’ve written about my obsession with NBA Live before – basically I’ve been hooked on the game for over a decade. I’ve played it on the pc, ps1, ps2, and this year I’m graduating to the Xbox 360. Last year was my worst experience of the game – it was flawed in so many ways and eventually I ended up buying NBA 2K8 and spent all my time playing that instead. This year, with my new 360 console I was looking forward to playing the game as they meant it to be played, with all the new bells and whistles. Only, it didn’t come out when it was supposed to and I ended up getting NBA 2K9 as well. I posted my review of 2K9 and while it was solid I still was looking forward to NBA Live 09. And here is my review:

The first thing you notice coming from the ps2 versions of the game is how much slicker it looks. I was expecting it to be prettier and more developed, after all it is the 360, but I was pleasantly surprised. My test on how realistic it looks is Kirsty’s reaction to it. If she volunteers that it’s just like watching a game then it’s pretty good, and yes, she did say that about this version. The close-ups of the players and the courts are beautiful, the players have a slightly icky sheen of sweat that covers them as the game goes on and the replays are for the most part of dramatic moments. Which is an improvement on the anaemic version of the highlights that 2K9 presents at the end of the game (really? A bog standard jump shot from Maurice Williams is your highlight over the thunderous dunk that LeBron threw down? Really?). Still the visual presentation is not a patch on 2K9. 2K9s crowd and bench player reactions are brilliant, they really get behind your team at the right moments and that does a great job of building atmosphere in the game. In NBA Live most of the players sit there on the bench, seemingly bored with events as the game moves on, only haphazardly reacting to what’s going on. Essentially NBA Live could learn something from 2K9 in the presentation of the game. I quite liked the default camera angle that NBA Live 09 selects for us however, as it’s the view that I usually select for myself anyway.

Ultimately however, I’m less fussed about how the game looks but rather how it plays. Happily NBA Live 09 succeeds for me on that count. I much prefer the way shots and moves are handled through the controller in NBA Live than 2K9. 2K9 was just too fiddly and required much more of an effort to pull anything off. NBA Live 09 on the other hand is smooth, and reacts more to the way I play the game.

I’m finding the defensive aspect of the game much more realistic as well. In 2K9 I had to do a lot of game slider adjustments to get the game to play in a realistic fashion. In NBA Live 09 I’m able to play more realistic defence. It helps that they have a defensive assist function mapped to the LT button and at first I was using that regularly but now that I understand the rhythms of the game I’m using it a lot less. I also like the lockdown defence you can play, and I’m using it in a much more strategic fashion now. It does however cause the odd unrealistic turnover but then players in NBA games do stupid things all the time as well.

I love the new pick and roll control and I use it on most possessions. I also love the new dynamic play calling, very fluid and easy to use and with it mapped to the specific players on the court, much more realistic. It brings the actions closer to what a real NBA game would be like for a coach.

I’ve actually found the gameplay in NBA Live 09 much more realistic than 2K9s. Until I adjusted the sliders radically in 2K9 and found the opposition players sinking an unreasonably high field goal percentage – like 90% kind of unreasonable. It was depressing. In NBA Live it’s much more realistic – sure you’ll get the odd game where one team will be around the 60+% mark but that’s usually due to playing like crap than an obvious glitch. Another area where NBA Live is realistic is in the rebounding, people have to gather themselves before they go for a rebound and that I guess is more true to life.

One of the keys of a good basketball game for me is the dynasty mode and so far I don’t have too many quibbles with NBA Live 09. I’ve been playing as the Portland Trailblazers and they’ve been up and down like most young teams. One thing which I did find however is that it is too easy to acquire top draft talent from other teams – I’ve been able to acquire Michael Beasley and OJ Mayo for my roster as well as a veteran point in Kirk Hinrich. All I had to give up was Raef LaFraentz and Martell Webster for Beasley, Sergio Rodriguez and another scrub for Mayo and for Hinrich, a draft pick and Channing Frye. It felt a bit toooooo easy for me. At least the interface for the Dynasty mode in NBA Live is better than 2K9 – easier to navigate and view all the relevant info.

With the NBA season having just started I haven’t really delved into the NBA 365 feature, but I figure it’ll be a prerequisite when starting a new Dynasty game. I probably won’t replay many previous night’s games either but it’s nice to have that feature.

I haven’t actually delved into the new Be a Pro feature – from the reports I’ve read it doesn’t do anything for me. Maybe if it expanded into a dynasty type mode I’d play it.  

I did find that I had to adjust a few sliders – namely the sliders related to fatigue, but it was nothing like what 2K9 needed.

There are a few other flaws and they are mainly to do with presentation. At times the game glitches and a player will run out onto the court to pass the inbounds ball. And it’s not just a step or two, it’s like a metre or two. At other times there will be a foot on the line during 3 point shots that doesn’t get called. It happens once or twice a game and is really jarring. There are other times when the controller doesn’t match up with what you’re trying to do – especially when you’re trying to throw a lead pass on a break. The solution is to always do a direct pass but it’s frustrating.

Overall I’ve been loving NBA Live 09. It’s a definite return to form and the fact that I am well into December in my Blazers Dynasty having played every game is probably a good indication of how much I’ve been playing and enjoying it.

8/10


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