Having played the PC and PS2 versions of NBA Live 2005 for the last month, creating a roster patch for the PC version and finally getting around to starting a Dynasty, I felt it was time to weigh in with my opinion of this year’s game.
As much as I stress fundamentals and gameplay over nice but unnecessary glitz and glamour, as soon as I got the game I headed straight to Slam Dunk School to view the tutorials, have a quick practice of the basic moves and enter a dunk contest. I quickly found out it would take a little more practice before I could make a serious bid for the slam dunk crown.
I also had a quick Rookie Challenge game to get a basic feel for the new gameplay and to try out the self alley-oop. I then proceeded to Dynasty Mode to check out the new PDA and calendar based tasks. I was thoroughly impressed and looking forward to beginning a Dynasty as soon as possible. But then I hit a snag.
While I could see improvements in the gameplay, I also noticed elements that I didn’t like. Too many blocks, the CPU players’ advantage in speed and their ability to hit shots despite tight defense. I was also dismayed to see that CPU players could slice through the defense and easily get to the basket while my players struggled to hit open shots. This was a huge problem in NBA Live 2003 that was corrected in NBA Live 2004; needless to say, I was a little disappointed.
I actually quit out of a game in the second quarter even though I was only trailing by five, which is never a good sign. But being the avid NBA Live fan that I am, you know that this story is going to have a happy ending…
Contrary to the adage, first impressions don’t always last
Deciding that I simply needed time to adapt to the new game, I rolled up my sleeves and started tweaking the sliders. I found that I could achieve realistic scores with 12 minute quarters fairly easily with default sliders but sometimes the road to the final result was a little frustrating. EA wisely added even more gameplay sliders this year and with a little bit of work, I’ve been able to come up with slider settings that address some of the issues I had with the game out of the box.
With such a diverse following, a game such as NBA Live must have gameplay sliders. It would be nice if we didn’t have to do so much tweaking, but the default sliders aren’t too bad a base to work from. And of course, the important thing is that we can actually modify the gameplay to suit our needs. While I may have been somewhat disappointed with my first impression, I’m really enjoying the 5 on 5 game now. There are still a few issues that need to be fixed next year, but I’ll get to those later on. First up, the graphics.
“I’d trade great graphics for great gameplay anyday…”
Such is the feeling of many longtime NBA Live fans. Fortunately with NBA Live 2005, we don’t have to.
I’ve been back and forth about the lighting effect that EA have used this year, and I’ve finally decided that I kind of like it. It doesn’t look quite right in low resolution but when you turn the details up to maximum on the PC version the effect works. The cyberfaces are leaps and bounds ahead of NBA Live 2004, from the headshapes to the player’s faces themselves. With all due respect to previous Lives, these are the best faces the series has ever boasted.
The courts and arenas are fantastic too. The reflections of the lights up in the catwalks are very realistic. Shoes appear to be a little more detailed than last year and the jerseys remain nicely textured and while they still don’t have move and ripple along with the player’s bending and movement, they hardly appear to be painted on.
I didn’t have a huge problem with the player models in NBA Live 2004, but I feel they’ve definitely improved in NBA Live 2005. The size of the player’s feet seems much more realistic this year and a clear difference remains between Eddie Jones and Shaquille O’Neal. Smaller details such as muscularity remain true to life.
All in all, NBA Live 2005 is a step forward in terms of graphics. I have nothing but good things to say about this part of the game.
Gameplay: the guts of the game
No matter how amazing a game’s graphics might be, terrible gameplay can render it nothing more than eye-candy. While I might not have warmed up to NBA Live 2005’s gameplay upon playing my first few exhibition games, I now feel that it’s the best of the series. I do however have a couple of nitpicks and gripes which I’ll get to in a moment.
EA addressed the problem of the pro-hop being too effective by adding a pro-hop slider for the user and CPU. I found that the default setting gave the CPU too much of an advantage (similar to the one that the user had last year) while the move is practically impossible for the user. A low setting for both the CPU and the user evens things out, allowing effective use (but not overuse) of the pro-hop.
I also like how the pro-hop is more likely to draw an offensive foul when you simply barrel into the lane straight into a waiting defender. The spacing and collision detection are much better this year too. It’s harder to fight through screens and there’s more bumping animations when play gets a little physical.
With players fighting for position in the post and on the perimeter, you may sometimes find yourself throwing passes out of bounds as players move the wrong way or are too slow to jump out and receive the pass. This is frustrating, but in a good way. The miscommunication between players feels very real and doesn’t happen too often, especially when you anticipate it.
Blocks are still a little too numerous at times even with the sliders set to 0, but the blocks themselves are realistic. Blocks off the backboard look much better this year and the way they come off the glass is much more true to life. Steals are also much better this year. It’s easier to knock a ball loose but if you swipe at the ball too aggressively you now not only run the risk of committing a foul but also overplaying your man and giving him room to blow by you.
I’m not completely satisfied with Live 2005’s D though. Defense doesn’t seem to be quite as effective as it was last year. The “Hands Up” freestyle defense doesn’t deter shooters as much as it should, nor does jumping to block or at least contest their attempt. This means that CPU opponents hit a few difficult contested shots that they really shouldn’t make all that often. Nevertheless, shooting percentages remain fairly accurate and so far I’ve only exceeded the 100 point mark once playing 12 minute quarters, and that game went into OT.
Freestyle Air consists of the ability to choose what you want to do on the offensive glass. You can now attempt a tip in, tip dunk or simply bring down the board and reset the offense. Any feature that gives us more control over the moves the players execute is a great addition in my opinion, so I consider this another excellent extension of Freestyle Control.
Speaking of mid-air decisions, the adjusted shots are more varied and on the whole much, much better than they were in NBA Live 2004. A wider variety of up and under, switching hands and double-clutch layups are now available when you change your mind about a dunk or layup. Annoyingly, these switches will sometimes force you behind the backboard and committing a turnover by shooting the ball into the back of the glass, but for the most part the adjusted shots have improved.
Perhaps the biggest improvement to NBA Live 2005’s gameplay is the addition of a mid-range game. The CPU will attempt a realistic amount of mid-range jumpshots, a strategy that the user must also learn to use. When the defense collapses on a driving player, there’s usually a player open for a 15-18 foot jumper. This is an element of the NBA game that has been missing throughout the series. The number of three pointers taken by the CPU has also been reduced to a realistic amount.
The dunks have been toned down for NBA Live 2005 and I for one am glad to see that happen. Don’t get me wrong, I love a spectacular dunk as much as the next NBA fan, but the last couple of years it’s just been too easy to execute highlight reel dunks in traffic. The variation and selection of dunks during 5 on 5 gameplay seems to suit the situation and are well within the realm of possibility. The number of dunks per game isn’t too bad either, but a slight tweaking of the sliders yields a desirable result.
I’m a little annoyed at the difference in speed between CPU and user-controlled players. The CPU’s players seem a little quicker in comparison which sometimes interferes with fast breaks and makes playing defense a challenge, but I wouldn’t consider it to be a huge problem as I did back in NBA Live 2002. On the whole, I really enjoy NBA Live 2005’s gameplay and feel that despite a couple of small annoyances, it is another step forward and is worthy of more than just a passing grade.
NBA Live 2005 also features a couple of small touches that don’t make the list of selling points but are welcome additions to the series. It is now possible to arrange for substitutions to be made at the next dead ball as well as deciding to make subs when it is legal to do so. The rim animations are also much better this year. Players really seem to hold onto the rim when they dunk, and I’ve yet to see anyone put their arm through the rim on a jam. And finally, the Key Players of the Half screen has returned, which gives the game a nice retro feel.
No more crashes and explosions
The sound effects in NBA Live 2005 are a welcome change from some of the more arcadeish sounds in NBA Live 2003 and NBA Live 2004. Dunking no longer produces an echoing boom effect; that sound has been replaced by the thud/spring-back of the breakaway rims. Additionally, all of the ball sound effects are true to life. These are only small details but add to the atmosphere of the game. Nice work by EA in this area.
The commentary track in the 5 on 5 game isn’t significantly better than last year for the most part, but a bunch of new lines have been recorded and I’ve noticed that Marv and Mike continue with their analysis a little longer into quarter breaks, halftime and the conclusion of the game. The commentary in the All-Star Weekend is just outstanding however; more on that later.
I don’t really have strong feelings about any of the soundtracks NBA Live has featured, but I kind of prefer NBA Live 2004 over NBA Live 2005 in this area. Still, for me it’s a very small part of the game and doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the game either way.
Presentation & Frontend
Abandoning the players dribbling in the frontend was a good move. Even though my card is good enough to run most games at maximum detail and resolution, NBA Live 2004’s menus would sometimes lag a little. NBA Live 2005’s menus have very smooth transitions in comparison. I mentioned before about the Key Players of the Half lending the game a retro feel. The same can be said for the player action shots in the frontend, as well as the photo portraits in the roster management screens. I really like that EA have gone that way this year and hope that they’ll keep some of the old school style in future games.
The layout of the menus is a little different this year and while I’m used to it, some of the menus have a bit of needless back and forth especially the Roster Management menus. Buttons are also used where a mouse-click would have been more appropriate, such as the Open/Close Game Listing buttons in the schedule in Dynasty Mode. The UI is user friendly enough and looks nice, but a PC specific UI remains one of my fondest wishes. The layout is fine for the console version however.
There’s an unusual difference in the Substitution screen in the PC and PS2 versions. On the PS2 version it is possible to change the stat layer so that you can view current game stats rather than ratings. I still haven’t found a way of doing this on the PC version. It seems a strange difference to have and while it’s not a huge deal, it was handy to view minutes played and other stats when subbing. It is also impossible to sort stats in various screens, which is a bit annoying. Those quibbles aside, I’m pretty happy with the layouts and presentation in NBA Live 2005.
Adding the real NBA Store as the menu for all the unlockables is also a really nice detail, as is the EA Sports Lounge and Hall of Fame for all your records, trophies and retired jerseys.
The All-Star Experience
A new and exciting feature in NBA Live 2005, the All-Star Weekend hardly disappoints. One suggestion I would make for next year would be to add the ability to adjust the sliders for the All-Star Game and Rookie Challenge. The return of the Three Point Shootout is most welcome and the addition of the Slam Dunk Contest is long awaited. As much as I love Dynasty Mode and the regular game, I always find myself staging a couple of contests when I’ve got some time to kill.
The Three Point Shootout returns virtually unchanged, though there are couple of significant improvements. The 24-second tiebreaker has been added and is in effect for all rounds. There is also around 30 different shooting styles from Ray Allen’s textbook form to Peja Stojakovic’s unorthadox release. It would be great if more of these styles could make their way over to 5 on 5 mode but it’s a really nice touch for the Shootout.
I had my doubts when I heard that the dunk contest would feature some slams that pushed the limits of realism and while I still think the option of having a more realistic contest would be nice, I think the way EA have gone with the contest was a good idea. The ability to throw a perfect pass off a camera and perform a between-the-legs dunk would be a once-in-a-lifetime jam in the real dunk contest if someone was to ever pull it off, but it keeps this mode fresh and exciting.
I also like the way EA implemented the combinations in the dunk contest, using different gathers for the take off (one footed, two footed, one footed 180, two footed 180) then trick buttons as well as modifiers and the right analog stick to pull off various dunks. The contest makes good use of the right analog stick for alley-oops too. Moving the stick in different positions and rotating it certain ways allows you to throw all kinds of lobs. It really is an excellent system for performing all the moves.
As I mentioned before, the commentary in the Dunk Contest and Three Point Shootout is simply amazing. It really feels like a real broadcast with Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson responding amazingly accurately to the action, offering analysis and conversing with each other in a really natural way. Eventually they become repetitive as they can only record a limited number of lines, but there’s a lot of variety and performing the same dunks in different contests won’t always invite the same comments. You’ll get to hear quite a few different enthusiastic responses to your incredible ariel wizardry.
EA also added a couple of mini Shootout and Dunk modes in the form of the Freestyle Challenges. These one-on-one battles allow you to pit two great three point shooters against each other in a single round, or two slam dunk artists against each other doing as many dunks as they can to reach a target score. These are also nice side games when you don’t have time to tend to your Dynasty or play some 5 on 5 hoops.
The Jet and EJ are also on the ball in the Shootout, keeping track of consecutive hits and misses as well as commenting on a player’s form and current streak. All in all, the All-Star Weekend mode is extremely well done and a lot of fun. I hope it won’t be leaving the list of features anytime soon.
If gameplay is the guts of NBA Live 2005, then Dynasty Mode is the heart. This year features the deepest multi-season mode of the series complete with a calendar based offseason and an interface that steps up the realism and the challenge of assuming the role of GM for an NBA Franchise.
Rather than simply interacting with other teams and free agents through the Roster Management screens, you will have to wait to hear if your offer of a trade or a free agent contract is accepted. Players are more reasonable in accepting and declining offers. If they aren’t happy with your offer, you can change the amount (now in real dollars) or length of the contract to suit their preference; these two elements are now independent of each other. You can also choose not to distribute the contract evenly over the duration it covers, so you can give that aging veteran a payday now but pay him less next year while he continues to decline.
Interaction with player agents and other teams is handled through the PDA. While you propose trades and offer contracts in Roster Management, you must check your PDA for a response. You will also hear from the team owner who may not be happy with how you are running things, your medical staff with updates on injuries, updates from the league regarding major injuries, All-Star Weekend and other news from around the NBA, your coaching staff will provide results of training sessions and your scouts will report back to you with the latest info on the college talent you are keeping an eye on. This is the kind of interaction that we’ve hoped for since the introduction of multi-season mode.
Trading is a little more difficult in NBA Live 2005. While overall ratings are still significant, the CPU is less likely to give up a star player for a couple of good ones. The salary bug from NBA Live 2004 that allowed you to make a trade in the CPU’s favour no matter what the salary situation has been fixed. Player movement is also nowhere near as erratic as previous years.
Training Camp and Training Sessions still aren’t as effective as one might have hoped, but on the other hand they don’t open the door for cheating and simply training up your players so they’re all 90+ overall. Training players will no longer see any decline, so it’s safe to focus on one area when you train.
Throughout the year you are able to scout players for the upcoming draft. This costs Dynasty Points which are again earned by completing tasks during the season. This is another long awaited feature that is most welcome. You can also take draft prospects into one-on-one matchups during the offseason in the days leading up to the draft, allowing you to get a feel for how they play.
Daily boxscores for other teams as well as your own can be viewed throughout the season from the Schedule screen, with the console versions offering the previous 3 days’ scores while the PC keeps track of scores for much longer. The PC version allows you to save boxscores to an external text file, which is nice as you can no longer save stats from the Stats Central screen during a game. Statistics are fairly realistic most of the time; the simulation engine has been improved somewhat this year. I’ve noticed fewer players averaging too many rebounds per game, though early in the season some numbers might seem a little lopsided; just like in real life.
Converting to a calendar based system for the whole season was a brilliant move. It’s good to be able to make a couple of offers to a free agent rather than watching him walk without having the option of placing a couple of different proposals on the table. One complaint that I do have is that the offseason is still a little too linear. The calendar still moves from resigning your own players to signing other players to making trades. Allowing some more flexibility would be a great improvement in future editions – this includes making transactions during the Draft.
Dynasty Mode has really blown me away this year. I’m amazed that EA was able to rebuild the entire mode from scratch and include so much. My congratulations on a truly superb effort.
No custom teams this year, but plenty of customisation with player faces in Create-a-Player. From the position and shape of a player’s nose to the colour of a player’s hair (now independent of hairstyle), we can give created players a unique look. Editing original players is also a little better – we can now edit headbands from within the game. This is especially good news for console users who do not have the luxury of DBF editing.
There’s a couple of problems with roster management this year. The overall rating isn’t shown while updating player ratings in Create/Edit-a-Player and the layout isn’t quite as straightforward as it has been in recent games. Also, the ability to have less than 12 players on the active roster has been removed. This was a great innovation and its absence is missed in roster patches and Dynasty Mode alike.
The PC version has also abandoned the traditional drag and drop method when reordering rosters and adopted the console-style method of selecting a player then clicking on another player to switch them around in the roster. It’s easy enough to manage, but it’s also very easy to reorder players on the roster when you don’t want to.
Odds and Ends
I’m starting to wonder if it’s worth having Legends in the game as several players from the 1990s are missing in addition to some key players from earlier decades (though Kareem is finally in the game). It might be time to get rid of the Decade All-Star teams and Legends Pool, or maybe start adding some of these missing guys as lookalike “Roster Players”.
While NBA Live 2005 isn’t perfect, mainly due to some small features that weren’t added this year and a couple of gameplay quirks, I still consider it to be the best of the series – hence my use of that phrase more than once in my review. All-Star Weekend is the best side game in years and Dynasty Mode is light years ahead of previous Lives. With a couple of slider tweaks the gameplay is more than satisfactory despite a couple of issues. NBA Live 2005 exceeded my expectations (which were pretty high to begin with) and is a huge step in the right direction for the series. Some fans might disagree, but I truly feel that NBA Live 2005 has settled the argument of NBA Live 2004 vs NBA Live 2000. Neither is the best game in the series. That honour now belongs to NBA Live 2005.