My initial impression of NBA Live 99 was very positive and I was quick to say this is easily the best of the series yet. Now, after having spent some more hours with the game, let’s see if that’s true or not.
Another new year, another new edition and another new interface.
While I like the actual graphics much better than in Live 98 (god, how much did I love Christian Laettner staring at me), I think navigating the menu is too time consuming. It just takes too many mouse moves and clicks to actually go where you want to. Also, the moving effect might be great to look at, but I turned it off immediately just like the line drawing in NBA Live 98 as it consumes even more time.
All in all I think the menu has a too big Console feeling and is not a perfect solution for a PC game.
What I really like is the Stat Engine, you can sort the columns again as there’s so many stats for both players and teams like never before. NBA Live 99 also has a neat stat calculator where you can for example calculate the Tendex Rating.
I also noticed that you can finally select your starting line-up before the tip-off and between each quarter.
I was wondering if and how EA Sports could top the Live 98 graphics, but I was positively surprised. With a 3D accelerator card the graphics are simply breathtaking. The players look so much like their real-life counterparts that it’s scary at times. I really like the new details such as elbow and knee pads, different socks and shoes, tattoos etc. The animations are very smooth and the emotions on the players’ faces add a lot to the realism. The arenas are superb rendered, the crowd looks better than ever before and though the bench players and coach are only cardboard cut-outs they add to the overall feeling.
I think the crowd, bench and coach graphics can definitely be improved for Live 2000, but once again I can’t imagine how the folks at EA will improve the other graphics. But then, don’t I say that every year?
Here comes one portion of a game that I always pay a lot of attention to (unlike other people like Lutz 😉 and I must admit that I was really disappointed this time. The crowd is actually worse than in Live 98, at times you tend to believe that EA sampled some 20 or so people cheering, booing and clapping. They don’t properly react to what is happening on the court and sometimes they are completely quiet. It’s just not in the game here. The Play-By-Play Announcer sounds very bored and he repeats himself too often. Why did they give up on Vern? Also, why can’t we have the Arena and Play-By-Play Announcer at the same time?
What I found positive is that the Play-By-Play Announcer now calls some nicknames here and there (e.g. Shaq, Penny) and that you can hear the players and coaches yell some ditties throughout the game. The music is as great as always, but the other sounds definitely leave room for big improvement in the future. Two words come to mind: Color commentary.
EA promised us a new technology called “Pro-Action AI” for NBA Live 99 and said the Gameplay will be better than any other edition before. Did they keep their promise? To be honest, yes and no.
Gameplay and AI are the heart and soul of a Basketball game and the NBA Live Series has had some serious flaws here in the past. NBA Live 99 has gotten more difficult and the CPU definitely plays smarter than ever before, but still it is not good enough. On the higher difficulty levels the CPU Players will now occasionally run fast-breaks on you, but when they’re behind the game will still turn into a three-point fest. The defense is smarter, but you can still easily outplay them with a baseline football pass from your PG to the PF who can go in for the easy dunk. What I find quite puzzling is that sometimes the CPU players and your Computer controlled teammates play really smart and then all of a sudden they seem to have lost their brains completely (Space Jam anyone?).
The real problem is that the All-Star level on the one hand is very realistic but on the other hand still too easy. The Superstar level should be renamed to Supercheat level because strange things are going on here. The CPU blocks and steals you at will, you throw bricks, miss the easiest lay-ups directly under the basket, short passes don’t reach the receiver but go out of bounds instead and the Los Angeles Clippers suddenly turn into the Western All-Stars. But the good thing is that it’s at least a challenge if you have the nerves to take it 😉
To sum it up, the development of the AI is a step in the right direction, but it must be improved. A neural network-based solution comes to mind here so that the CPU can actually adjust to your style of play.
But if you force yourself to play the game like in real-life (such as taking jump shots, not rushing things, no football-passes), it really comes close to playing like in real-life.
To me it was always important that not only the actual score is as close as possible to real-life but also that the right people have the right amount of shots, rebounds, blocks and steals so that in a simulated CPU vs. CPU game the box score would resemble a real NBA box score. While this is better than in the previous Live editions it is unfortunately still not as good as it could be. Live 95 had the Small Forward domination, Live 97 had the Center domination and in NBA Live 99 no position seems to dominate, but still the wrong people take too many shots. Part of the problem seems to be that the game focuses too much on the outside play. Don’t be surprised to see your opponent’s three-point specialists take a huge amount of shots of which way too many go in from impossible moves and angles. Try playing Houston and see how many baskets Sir Charles makes and then observe closely when Matt Bullard subs in (if he ever subs in that is). I was very glad to finally see a Primacy Rating, but was very disappointed after I learned it was not actually used. The shot selection still seems to be determined by the Field Goal and Three Point Ratings, and the higher the TP Rating, the more likely the player is to shoot which leads to obvious problems.
Another big problem is the rebounds, the Small Forwards and Shooting Guards make way too many boards while the big guys just stand in the paint and wait for the owners to pay them more money.
At least fouls are called frequently again, but EA has overdone this a bit. You foul some CPU guy, the whistle is blown and he still goes up for a layup and the basket is good?! But it feels good to see the T-Meter again.
The substitutions seem to be better than in previous years, the CPU reacts to foul trouble, trash time is there and you can easily sub in a Big Man lineup when you need the rebounds badly. The only problem here is that the Fatigue Bug ruins all this. Your players only tire if you use turbo a lot and jump and dunk a lot. The CPU players on the other hand don’t seem to tire at all (though they have strange turbo boosts a lot), so don’t be too disappointed if you can’t observe Matt Bullard if you play Houston.
Some other things like Illegal Defense outside the paint not being called and 20-second timeouts missing are still not implemented.
Look Mom, a General Manager Mode! Finally I can coach my favorite team through 10 (why only 10?) seasons! But hey, wait a minute, there’s no draft. And why don’t the players retire? Who waived the Salary Caps? I think that sums it up quite well. As good as the idea was, it’s just not that much fun without drafts, retirements and salary caps. Plus it seems kinda unstable as the game crashed on me several times when I had finished one season and wanted to go on to the next. Make sure to save often! The GM Mode needs much improvement in the future, but I have a feeling that the NBA had a say here regarding the draft and salary cap. Therefore I prefer to play a regular season and season play and presentation have been improved. The League Leaders are back and there are more injuries (though in a game they are still only caused by Flagrant Fouls). The CPU will trade amongst itself and will offer you trades as well. The CPU simmed games though still rely too much on last year’s stats and not on Player Ratings.
Unfortunately there will no be All-Star Weekend this season, but it would be great to not only have the All-Star game in Live 99 but also all other festivities such as the Rookie Game, the Three-Point Contest and a Slam Dunk Contest (though it no longer exists in real-life, too).
The Practice Court is a welcome addition, but it is too bad that it’s limited to one player only. Still, this gives you a great opportunity to try out different moves and practice your hoop skills which you could previously only do during a real game. I hope we’ll see the opportunity to go 1-1, 2-2 etc. in the future.
The Arcade mode has new high-flyin’ dunks and I only missed the flaming ball, but hey, we don’t want NBA Jam, we want NBA LIVE, don’t we?
The pre-game presentation is better than in previous editions and the announcer does a good job in impersonating Ray Clay, still it looks a little bit like a half-hearted attempt. But it’s the good will that counts I guess.
The three-point contest is not different from last year and I must admit that I don’t play it often at all, a Slam Dunk Contest would be a nicer feature.
I’m sure you are familiar with our Patch Petition and know how many bugs shipped with the game. Some are minor, but some are major such as the Fatigue Bug and they ruin a lot of the fun. It’s impossible to make realistic roster updates with correct Auto subs.
I don’t know why and how so many bugs were overlooked, but this is something that just must not happen and doesn’t shed the best light on EA. Let’s hope they listen to us and issue a Bug Fix Patch soon.
Is NBA Live 99 the best of the series yet or not? Yes, it is, but it also seems to be the buggiest yet. Still, none of the bugs can fully ruin the fun I have when playing the game and I’m sure the most annoying bugs will be fixed soon. The shot selection may still be not the best, but it’s definitely better than before and plain and simple put Live 99 is just fun to play.
I also liked to learn how well EA Sports has read our Wishlist and how much actually ended up in the game. Let’s hope it’ll be the same for NBA Live 2000.
Expect another look at the game when the Bug Fix Patch has been released, but already this one’s truly a winner when you’re a hardcore Basketball gamer like me. However, I think EA Sports badly needs some competition in the Basketball Game Area and simply judging from the Fact Sheet and Screenshots, Microsoft’s NBA Drive 2000 could be a contender here. But then, anyone remember Full Court Press? Ah well, let’s just see what happens!
Addendum (April 14, 1999)
The Bug Fix Patch takes care of the most annoying problem, the Fatigue Bug, and while there are still some flaws left in the game, this is the best incarnation of the NBA Live Series so far. ‘Nuff said.