As the baseball season winds down and the NFL heats up, EA prepares us for the start of the new NBA season with the release of NBA Live 09. And like Michael Jordan’s return to the hardwood after his brief baseball hiatus, it’s a championship calibre return.
Every year there is a new crop of EA’s sports sims, and every year we get to decide if it has been worth it - often it hasn’t. There has been criticism that the same game sometimes gets served up with just the minimum number of changes. On occasion the new version has simply been a rushed cross console port, and there have even been times where it seems a simple lack of effort or inspiration has set the title up for failure.
But don’t worry – 2009 is not one of those times. Complete with stunning graphics, in-depth and intuitive game-play, and a wealth of online extras, NBA Live 09 leaves nothing to chance; it takes the rock to the hole and jams it home.
Every new game from EA is quick to point out new features, and NBA Live 09 is no different. However, this time round you have to work through an addition to the franchise before you get to start the game. Go online and download NBA Live 365 and you will get daily updates throughout the entire NBA season. The updates will include every trade, injury and hot or cold streak faced by every team and player in the NBA.
These update will also help shape dynamic player and team DNA. That’s right – if Kobe or LeBron’s stats change, if their 3-point percentage goes up or their defensive effort drops in real life, then their in-game abilities will be modified accordingly. All this is reflected in incredible detail within the game. Just as real LeBron prefers to drive to his left, so driving your LeBron left will make him an unstoppable force.
However, getting to the unstoppable level will take more then simply drafting LeBron James into you team. To get there you will need to put into practice the moves seen in earlier games as well as learning the latest addition 09 version. Among the game play modifications added this year are signature play calling and the ability to set up pick and rolls.
You activate signature plays as your point guard brings the ball down court. Pressing L1 will bring up a play call menu. The plays will not only change throughout the game, they will also updated daily according to team rosters and player stats. Your team mates will automatically get into position and you can free up Kobe Bryant for his signature fade away, game winning three.
Alternatively you can call for a pick by pressing L2. Do this and your team mate will set up on the perimeter. You can then rub off your marker and take ball all the way to the hoop. However, if the opposition shuts down your lane timing the release of L2 will either send your team mate rolling to the hoop or outside for the open shot.
The game is simply filled with these kinds of flashy, but effective tricks, along with various subtle techniques and detailed tactics for you to use and eventually master. If you haven’t played one of EA’s NBA games in a while it will take some time to work your way through it all. However, to help you get the hang of things you can go to the NBA Live academy.
The Live academy is the game’s training mode and it feels a lot more organic then the menu driven trainings of earlier games. It is set in an open gym where you can pick up a ball to practice the timing of your three point shot, or you can run through fast break drills and challenges by talking to the team coaches scattered around the room.
There is also a TV in the gym that continues EA’s association with ESPN. While the real time sports ticker still tracks across the bottom of your screen and ESPN radio reports play while you’re in the menu screen, ESPN news and video plays on the gym’s television. So you’ll still be able to keep up with the Baseball World Series while you’re practicing your lock-down defence or your signature jam.
Of course online play is as comprehensive as ever. As well as quick-pick and play-now options you can take the time to find or create teams with up to ten online players. You can also build a club and take part in drafts and trades within online leagues, all supported with ratings, leader boards and ESPN’s comprehensive and up to date Stats Central.
Ultimately, all the flashy tricks don’t amount to much without good fundamental gameplay. So forget all the leagues and training and injury reports, click on FIBA World Championship and you can instantly be driving past Andrew Bogut with Dwayne Wade. Then hold down R2 for a speed burst and press square for the showtime reverse dunk. With NBA Live 09 the basics are simple, while the possibilities are endless.
Although it’s disappointing that New Zealand isn’t one of the twenty international teams included in the game, that disappointment is greatly outweighed by all the positives. For this year at least we should all feel lucky (although not a lucky as cover boy Tony Parker who, since he married Eva Longoria, could be considered the luckiest person on the planet), that EA has thrown up a prayer from half court and won the game for us all on the buzzer.