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.



NBA 2K9 Review

13 10 2008

After the disappointment that was Friday when NBA Live 09 failed to show Kirsty solved the problem on Saturday by telling me, nay, ordering me to go and buy NBA 2K9. I guess she got sick of me moping about the house. It was made worse by ESPN screening the Heat/Nets exhibition game from Paris. Did it dazzle me with its brilliance? Not quite, in fact it was more the opposite. I sat there groaning at the offensive ineptitude of the Heats/Nets bench players trying to win a game. I know if I’d been in the crowd I would have been chanting Wade’s name – if only cause I’d paid good money to be there.

Anyway so at Kirsty’s urging (probably more like demand for her own sanity) I went down and bought NBA 2K9. It immediately solved some of my b-ball craving. Don’t get me wrong I’m still getting NBA Live 09 this Friday but as a short term fix 2K9 satisfied.

The whole package of 2K9 is slick. The animations are beautiful, the stadiums in particular are things of beauty and the player animations are top notch. It really creates this sense of immersion, you believe that you are watching a telecast. Which makes the glitchy nature of the commentary so jarring and disruptive. There are moments when the commentators will talk about a particular team and there is a fractional delay while the game loads the requisite team name. It’s like they spent all the budget on the visuals but didn’t leave enough for the audio.

The gameplay seems to be smooth and effective, players have the requisite style of play and signature shots but its offset somewhat by the screwy 2K9 settings when you first start playing. Your team just doesn’t play defence, nor do they contest shots. It’s easily fixed by adjusting different sliders but why couldn’t they have it adjusted perfectly out of the box? Once I adjusted the sliders appropriately the gameplay improved immeasurably.

Another thing I had issues with is the Association mode. I love the franchise mode in NBA games – its one of my favourite features and I play for several seasons. But the 2K9 interface is awful. They base it around the site and while that might work on the pc where you’re a few inches from the screen, on a normal sized tv (and no I don’t have a 42 inch Plasma or anything – try half that size) it’s almost unreadable. The controls are also awkward and at first glance it frustrates more than rewards.

So far NBA 2K9 has done nothing to suggest that it is drastically better than NBA Live 09. It’ll be interesting to compare the two. Despite my reservations I still have enjoyed my experience with it.


NBA Live Day Tomorrow!

9 10 2008

Tomorrow is NBA Live Day, the day I finally get my hands on the 09 version. I’ve sneakily arranged to take the day off so I’ll be able to immerse myself in it. Needless to say I’m kinda amped about it ūüėČ The reviews I’ve seen so far seem to be mostly positive though it still seems that NBA 2K9 is the more favoured game. As I mentioned in a previous post¬†I’m getting Live but it’s good to have a backup!

Star Wars: the Force Unleashed Review

21 09 2008

As this article illustrates Star Wars games have been around for a long long time. Some, such as Knights of the Old Republic and Rogue Squadron have been awesome, others less so. But with the release of Star Wars: the Force Unleashed LucasArts is hoping to capture the awesomeness once again.

For the most part they succeed. The plot (which is probably the game’s best element) features everyone’s favourite asthmatic, Darth Vader developing a secret apprentice to carry out his bidding and ultimately confront the Emperor.

We are plunged into the action straight away as we takecontrol of Darth Vader as he butchers his way through armies of Wookies and his own stormtroopers (which earns you probably the coolest Xbox 360 gamer points: Worst Day Shift Supervisor Ever) on his way to confronting a fugitive Jedi.

There’s something incredibly visceral and satisfying in this opening in being Darth Vader¬† and slicing apart hordes of Wookies and¬†stormtroopers. We are also introduced to the awesome force powers we can use in the game whether it’s Vader’s patented force choke or summoning a Naruto-like ball of force energy to obliterate everything in our path.

Yet this prologue also reveals some of the frustrating elements of the game. We can obliterate the bark and much of the trunk from a 1000 year old giant tree yet we are unable to cut down a piddling little sapling? Please.

Also the game reveals itself to be frustratingly linear. In this prologue I found myself wanting to jump to the ground below to fight the AT ATs  and the like only to be prevented. In many ways the Force Unleashed is a glorified platformer following a very linear structure through the levels. There are baddies to beat up, puzzles to figure out then end bosses to defeat.

But in saying that its still a whole heap of fun with a genuinely compelling story. The game looks beautiful and it features some inspired character and vehicle design, the new ship we use, the Rogue Shadow is a classic design that we want to play with, while Proxy the droid is insanely good value.

Definitely worth checking out. 7 out of 10


17 09 2008

Way back in the day I used to ride my bike over to my mate Todd’s house to play computer games on their Commodore 64 and later Amiga. We had awesome fun even if you sometimes had to wait an age for anything to load. One of our favourite games was Speedball 2.

For those who don’t know or can’t remember, Speedball 2 was a game about a future sport called (funnily enough) Speedball. Speedball is a cross between football and wrestling with the object of the game to score as many points as possible in the opponent’s goal while you beat the crap out of each other. Needless to say we loved it. The game was brutal (the team you play with is Brutal Deluxe), fast paced (each half is only 90 seconds) and highly addictive as you tried to literally improve your team enough to advance to the next division and then ultimately win the title.

I’ve missed this game. It’s near the top of my personal favourite games of all time alongside GTA: San Andreas, NBA Live, Mario Kart 64 and the original Command and Conquer. So when I found out it was available on Xbox Live I had to have it.

The game is remarkably similar to how I remember it. We still view everything from the top down and the players still do the “Johnston jiggle” (my term) when you score a goal. They’ve expanded the divisions to 4 so the gameplay is prolonged but there is still the same visceral pleasure as you injure an opponent enough that they get the med robots to carry them off. In other words it’s still awesome!

Speedball 2 is a triumphant slab of nostalgia. It’s a button mashing masterpiece and the only downside is that your thumbs will hurt after you play it for hours on end.

Mass Effect

21 08 2008

I finished playing Mass Effect in the first days of my latest illness. In many ways the makers stole the bones of Knights of the Old Republic and simply gave them a nice polish. At least they chose a good game to rip off, I love KOTOR, so much so that Kirsty will attest to my frantic obsession as I trolled every game shop and second hand bin trying to find the sequel.

Still the games are a wee bit too similar for me. In many ways MEs biotic powers are the force by another name. The interfaces are incredibly similar also. Like KOTOR we view events from over the main character Shepard’s shoulder and like KOTOR we explore the game world in a group of three. We can assign roles to our allies – send them forth as cannon fodder if you want or have them hang back and pound the enemy from a distance. ¬†When we engage in dialogue we are presented with a range of options which expand even further based on our personality choices in the game. So far this is all similar to KOTOR. There is even a gambling mini game which is like sabaac from Star Wars.

Combat is at times confusing and frustrating, especially in the early days of playing. We’re presented with four options: pistol, assault rifle, shotgun and sniper rifle and through the allocation of points gained through experience we can advance our skills. ¬†Eventually you adjust to the various weapons and you’ll chose your favourite but I found there just wasn’t any incentive to swap between the various types.

The thing that stands the games out from each other is the depth. It’s like they did a bionic rebuild on KOTOR. The game is beautiful and with a far greater level of depth then KOTOR. The next gen platform allows them to make the game look stunning and it does – the cinematics are some of the best I’ve ever seen and the animations of the characters are at times incredible. We literally have a whole galaxy to explore and the story takes us throughout it.

But the game’s sheer depth is also to its detriment. There are too many worlds and they are not diverse enough. I simply couldn’t bring myself to explore every solar system to find the lesser items needed. Towards the end I found myself confining myself to the main quest, I just didn’t want to land on another desolate world and battle a few baddies on it for a treasure or two.

They also have included romance options and while they do have importance in the overall story, I found them a tad lame. I just didn’t believe the relationships we were supposed to be interested in – at times they seemed ludicrous. The relationships were flawed ambition on the part of the creators and I couldn’t help but compare them to the effective and meaningful relationships in GTA. What Nico experiences towards the end of GTA:IV is a much more effective and moving experience.

What makes ME stand out is its brilliant story. For the most part the writing is excellent and the voice acting is superb. I’m eagerly looking forward to the sequel (whenever it arrives)

8 out of 10