NBA Live 06
Last year I stated that sports simulations had reached their peak on the current consoles and that developers should be looking at more arcade like games such as NBA Street. It looks like the blokes over at EA Sports thought so too as their “only” new feature is based on boosting the arcade feel of the game and it also seems they’ve been putting all their effort in the Xbox 360 version.
I am of course presuming that this is the last NBA Live title for the current consoles. I could be wrong. Who knows, maybe EA Sports is able to squeeze out some more milk next year. I for one hope not, as this version is clearly showing that the end is near. It’s not a blind copy though with only some needed adjustments to the rosters. EA is serving us a totally new gameplay feature called: Freestyle superstars. It’s a sort of addition to the freestyle gameplay that experienced players have already gotten used to. In each team you’ll find specialist in certain areas such as: shooting, dunking, blocking and stealing. When you hold down the left shoulder button on your Xbox controller and simultaneously press X, Y, B or A your player will perform a special move depending on his specialty. When you’re for instance playing with Steve Nash (probably one of the best point guards in the league) and you perform such a move, good ol’ Steve will steal the show and make a behind the back, between the legs, no look pass to another teammate.
This not only looks great but it also boosts the arcade feeling of the game. It’s really easy to score when playing with a “Highflyer” or “Sharpshooter”. When you find yourself ten points behind, you just throw every pass to your three point shooter, perform a superstar move and the ball is likely to hit the cotton. Aside from this, the AI of the opponent has been adapted too. It’s finally possible to make a fast break, when your difficulty level is set to all-star or superstar. This makes the defense of the opponent feel much more realistic. They’re not supernatural anymore. However it’s not like taking candy from a baby all the time. The game’s difficulty still offers plenty of challenge to experienced players.
The fact that the arcade gameplay is even more apparent is bothering me though. I often felt like I was playing a game of kick and rush soccer from the Premier League. Steal the ball; throw it to your best dunker and finish of with a highflying slam. This is making the game less deep and it’s more of a five against five version of NBA Street rather than a simulation of the real deal. I prefer the gameplay of the NBA2K titles which asks for a little more strategy and tactics, but hey that’s just me.
The addition of the freestyle superstars is obviously the biggest but there are more, subtle changes made to this installment as well. The dynasty mode for one has been tweaked a bit with the possibility to assemble assistants, trainers and scouts to give the game a more manager feel. Thank god they didn’t go to far in this because I can’t imagine anyone looking forward to a basketball manager game. You’ll never be stuck staring at boring statistics too long and you always have the chance to just skip the whole manager part. As such, it’s not really worth mentioning, is it? Aside from this you’ll also see some old familiar faces such as the last year introduced All-Star Weekend which is actually two mini-games in one, namely the three point shootout and the dunk contest. They’re both fun to play and give you some variation during the long season.
It feels as if this is the last version for the current consoles. A rational being would reason like this: tweak your current engine a bit in order to be able to put all your energy in developing a new one for the next generation. Well apparently the guys over at EA Sports weren’t thinking rationally as they built a whole new engine for this year’s Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube version. However don’t expect anything mind blowing as the gap between the previous engine and this one is fairly small. The only noticeable difference can be seen in the outfits. It looks as if they are moving but in reality they’re not. They just added a handful of wrinkles to the shirts and shorts giving it a “moveable” look. On screenshots this effect does look right but when you’re playing it feels a bit too artificial, especially when you compare it with NBA2K5 where the outfits where really moving. Now matter how new the engine is, it still feels a little bit aged but that may also be the fault of the numerous Xbox 360 screens and movies popping up here and there, and to be honest: they do look astonishing. Nevertheless the presentation is done well enough, as we’re used to in EA games.
One apartment they do disappoint in is the online ability. Although I’m not a big preacher of online gaming myself, I do feel the need to kick some sorry American’s ass in a game of virtual basketball. Sadly for the Europeans, basketball games sales are too low. Therefore EA doesn’t spend any money nor any effort in developing an online mode for the European market. But think about it: who’s to blame? EA Sports who just aren’t keen on spending money and effort in a market that’s so small you can count them on both hands? Or the European male population who get premature ejaculations when they hear the words: Soccer World Cup? They’d rather see a short skirted Justin Henin playing against a she-male, with more ass crack hair than myself. Just something off the record now and for the Belgian readers: did you notice the huge resemblance between Justin Henin and the singer of Janez Detd (so called punk rockers)? It’s just scary I tell you.
Apart from this little side note, NBA Live 06 is better than its predecessor and fans of arcade gameplay will really enjoy the new freestyle superstars. However you’ll have to see for yourself if you want to spend your money on this or rather save it for a more beautiful and probably better Xbox 360 version.