The video introduction is impressive, it shows some outstanding video editing skills and use of technology. Unfortunately, the individual moves and slams fly by so fast that you really can’t enjoy them. The images are split second montages thrown together. It would be much more pleasing to see fewer highlights with more of the play being developed.
I don’t like reading manuals too much upon first opening the box, so an intuitive user interface will define my initial impressions. Navigation through the setup and options screens follows much of the same logic as in earlier releases. Users familiar with setting-up previous NBA Live editions will have no problem.
I was skeptical about the new features that depict player emotion and pre-game festivities. I felt that such non-essential antics were unnecessary. However, I must admit this is fairly impressive. I found myself smiling and getting into the emotion. Thecybermolded faces seem to come to life. Players clap their hands, and waive their fingers after impressive moves. In the player creation screens, players stretch, tie their shoes, and perform jumping-jack warm-ups. As a Pacer fan, I was pleased to see that Larry Bird is always (or at least among the games I saw) the home team coach. Larry always wore that green suit to Pacer games, which is puzzling since the Pacers colors are Navy and Gold. EA has added a practice court where you can practice various shots, dribbles, and dunks. I really liked this. You even have to chase your own ball after you shoot. In older versions of NBA Live you could only learn from in-game trial and error, and you couldn’t get good feedback on (a) whether your move was performed correctly or (b) the opponent defense was that good.
The actual quality of graphics is comparable to previous releases. It seemed that player body parts were more smoothly shaded than before (seemed less boxy). Of course, there is more animation now and the player moves are much better. The biggest difference I noticed is the dribbling. In-bounds passes and bringing the ball up court seem much more natural now. In-fact, it almost seems that players are palmingthe ball as they dribble, which is actually very realistic in the NBA. 🙂
I have a P-233 (32 Mg ram) with no 3D video enhancements. I played with high detail (with no floor reflections or crowd animation) and I thought it was every bit as smooth as in previous releases. At first I panicked because the player motions seemed to freeze or seem jerky at certain critical moments in a play (shooting, rebounding, shot blocking). My hard drive was caching data at the time, and once that stopped, everything was fine. There are plenty of graphics display options to suit most computer speeds and those who do have Voodoo-based graphics accelerators are in for a real treat.
The player artificial intelligence is much improved over NBA Live 98. It didn’t seem to me that certain players were more dominant (unless they are supposed to be) or that defenses made stupid mistakes. The usual levels of difficulty are still there but somehow this is an area that will never please everyone. The human brain is an incredibly adaptive neural network that ingeniously trains itself to uncover the underlying player decision rules. If you play any game enough, eventually you will proclaim it easy. Still, there has to be a reason to look forward to future updates. 🙂
I still didn’t think that the game had enough fouls (especially non-shooting fouls), but I will be able to adjust that to my liking in the options screens. However, players don’t seem to fatigue easily and this leads to unrealistic substitution patterns. The first game of the season saw my entire starting unit playing 45 to 48 minutes. Reggie Miller had 73 points in a losing effort to Miami. Now, the reason that Miller scored so many points is NOT due to flawed AI. He was fresh and energized for the whole game and played 48 minutes. Thankfully, this can be corrected by tweaking roster values using the NBA Toolkit (shameless self promotion).