To mark the 20th Anniversary of NBA Live, we’re posting content for every game in the series, including retrospectives, patches, countdowns, and more. Whether you’re a long-time basketball gamer who grew up with the NBA Live series and would like to take a drip down memory lane, or you’ve only recently started playing basketball games and would like to learn a little about what they used to be like, we hope that you enjoy the 20th Anniversary of NBA Live content here on the NLSC!
NBA Live 2005 is considered by many long-time basketball gamers to be the best game in the NBA Live series, or at the very least, somewhere in the top five. Personally, I’d fall into the latter category. It was a great game in its time and definitely a high point in the series, but it has a few issues that are glossed over a little. It’s still capable of providing a fun sim-oriented experience however, and is obviously significant as the first game in the series to feature All-Star Weekend mode. Let’s take a look back at the second game in a trilogy of strong releases for NBA Live.
Now that we’re getting to the games that have gameplay sliders, I’m making sure that I spend a bit of time playing them on the default settings, in order to give a more accurate retrospective of the experience out of the box. In that regard, I have to admit that NBA Live 2005 is a game that surprised me. Like its immediate predecessor, NBA Live 2005’s default simulation sliders are not really optimised for realistic gameplay. I didn’t remember having to make so many slider tweaks to fine tune NBA Live 2005’s gameplay, but by default, it’s definitely too fast paced, and on Superstar difficulty, very unbalanced.
Of course, the tech is there for NBA Live 2005 to play a more realistic style, and after making a few adjustments, I soon discovered the gameplay experience that I remembered. That’s not to say that there aren’t any issues. Even with the sliders set to zero, there are a few too many blocks, especially on the perimeter. The CPU tends to outmuscle you, regardless of the players involved, and the comeback logic is pretty brutal on the harder difficulty settings. Don’t be surprised if you miss wide open dunks with LeBron James – despite a Dunking rating of 98 – if the AI needs to catch up.
Speaking of the AI catching up, that’s probably the biggest issue with NBA Live 2005’s gameplay, even after you’ve tuned the sliders to your liking. CPU players feel a few steps quicker, and can easily outrun yon to pull away on the fast break, or catch up with you to block or alter what should have been an easy dunk or layup in the open floor. Combined with your teammate’s tendency to stop in their tracks rather than catch passes in stride and properly run the floor, it makes running a fast break and playing an up-tempo offense far more difficult than it should be. Reaction times are too slow on the user side, and it’s tough to make quick moves.
Flaws like this are what prevent NBA Live 2005 from being my pick for the best sim game of its era, or the best game in the NBA Live series. However, there are a lot of good elements to the gameplay as well. There’s a wider variety of dunks and layups, and moves generally look a lot better than they did in NBA Live 2004. Dribbling moves are also a bit more refined, and it’s possible to goad defenders into biting on pump fakes and lean into them to draw shooting fouls. There are definitely improvements that are intended to make the game resemble the real NBA more closely, making the default slider settings even more puzzling.
Following on from the expansion of shooting controls in NBA Live 2004, NBA Live 2005 brought us Freestyle Air. Dunk and layup attempts could now be adjusted mid-air with the second press of the Dunk/Layup button, and we also had greater control on the offensive glass. Whereas put-backs and tip-ins were automated in previous NBA Live games, it was now possible to choose whether to try and grab the board, tip the ball in, or follow up with a put-back dunk. Tip-ins weren’t as effective as they should’ve been, and it was also possible to commit offensive interference, but it was still an improvement on the controls in previous titles.
Realistic sim tactics are reasonably effective in NBA Live 2005, though on the higher difficulty levels, you’ll probably still find yourself dumping the ball inside a lot. It is possible to free yourself up for good looks on the perimeter using the pick and roll however, and mid-range jumpshots can be a viable weapon in the hands of competent shooters. As I said, the game definitely needs some slider tweaks to play with the level of realism that many of us desired, but with the appropriate adjustments, the experience is more than satisfactory. It has its issues, but NBA Live 2005 is capable of playing a good game of basketball.
NBA Live 2005 was definitely an upgrade in terms of graphics. Player faces were a lot better than NBA Live 2004, there was a wider variety of body models, and textures in general were sharper and more detailed. The game infamously has a lighting effect that definitely drew a mixed reaction at the time, as players kind of have a glow around them. I don’t really mind it, though it should be noted that once we found out how to modify the lighting file in the PC version, it’s something that patchers set about changing to better replicate an NBA broadcast.
Speaking of replicating an NBA broadcast, Marv Albert and Mike Fratello return as the commentary team, once again doing an excellent job in the booth. NBA Live 2005 also features some much better sound effects, with the crashing/metal gate slamming effect on dunks replaced by a much more realistic rim sound. NBA Live 2005’s sound effects were so well-regarded that gamers often ended up putting them into later games (or indeed back into NBA Live 2004), once it was discovered that the file could be directly swapped without any issues. From overlays to transitions, cutscenes to sound effects and commentary, NBA Live 2005 has some good production values.
The big addition in NBA Live 2005 was, of course, All-Star Weekend mode. Available as both a standalone mode for exhibition play, and an event in Season and Dynasty Mode, I think it’s fair to say that the All-Star Weekend was everything we always wanted it to be. Bolstered by special presentation, and the addition of Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith commentating on the All-Star Saturday events, All-Star Weekend was a great representation of the NBA’s midseason classic, adding replay value and giving us something to look forward to as we played through a long season.
We’d already seen the Three-Point Shootout in NBA Live 98, NBA Live 99, and NBA Live 2000, but it was better than ever in NBA Live 2005. The controls and gameplay of the shootout are basically unchanged – there’s not a lot you can do there, after all – but new camera angles were added along with different rule settings, and a variety of signature jumpshots. It’s a shame that those animations weren’t used during five-on-five gameplay, but it was still cool to see the likes of Reggie Miller, Peja Stojakovic, and Ray Allen using their real shooting forms in the Three-Point Shootout, where you could really appreciate them in the close-up camera angles.
I don’t think any basketball video game has implemented a Slam Dunk Contest as well as NBA Live did from NBA Live 2005 through NBA Live 09. The controls were intuitive, though the really complex dunks were more difficult to master, making for a reasonable learning curve. A dunk attempt began by using one of the face buttons to perform a gather – one foot, two feet, 180 off one, 180 off two – and then pressing one of the buttons to perform different tricks. The shoulder buttons were modifiers to help perform advanced tricks, rotating the left stick during a gather could extend a 180 to a 360, and moving the right stick in different directions tossed a variety of lobs.
There are different rules settings, including the number of replacement dunks, though you can’t change or remove the time limit of 24 seconds on attempts. The key to victory was to master a variety of advanced dunks, especially the ones that guaranteed a perfect score of 50. The Slam Dunk School, with its tutorials and free practice, certainly helped there. There was an array of basic dunks (at least by dunk contest standards) that would all score in the 30s, which you should only use if you don’t need a high score to advance, and want to save your best dunks. This was a sound strategy, as you’d be penalised for repeating or copying dunks without adding a new twist.
Several dunks pushed the boundaries of realism, such as going between the legs twice, armpit hangs from the free throw line, and dunks involving lobs off the big screens and baseline camera. I think it was an acceptable break from reality though, and between all the different gathers, tricks, modifiers, and lobs, there were a lot of different combinations that you could perform. Once again, I feel that NBA Live came up with the best approach to the Slam Dunk Contest that we’ve seen in basketball video games, and it’s a real shame that we haven’t seen the mode since NBA Live 09.
The All-Star Game and Rookie Challenge are more straightforward, replicating their respective events with five-on-five gameplay and all the appropriate presentation. However, they added an extra wrinkle to the controls, as pressing the right stick button would perform an alley-oop off the glass, which had become a very popular highlight play for players to attempt during the All-Star Game. It wasn’t always easy to pull off, as you had to time the lob and the press of the Dunk/Layup button correctly, but it was very satisfying when you made it happen.
All-Star Weekend also included the Freestyle Challenge, which was basically a single round of the Slam Dunk Contest and Three-Point Shootout in a split screen showdown. It wasn’t nearly as popular as the main modes, but they’re fun mini-games that added a little extra content. All in all, All-Star Weekend was a fantastic addition in NBA Live 2005. It’s just a shame that EA Sports’ deal with Michael Jordan had expired, preventing gamers from immediately re-creating his Dunk Contest showdown with Dominique Wilkins right out of the box. Of course, modding soon took care of that in the PC version.
On the subject of modding, although the folder structure for custom art files changed slightly, very little functionality was lost. From memory, the only thing that was no longer possible was assigning a specific NBA jersey to a player, so that they’d always wear it regardless of which team they played for. Apart from that, we could still make a variety of modifications to the game, and installing patches was a lot easier as CustomArt was enabled by default. Additionally, most modified files could simply be placed directly in the sgsm folder, or in the existing subfolders for courts and jerseys.
After a disappointing Create-a-Player mode in NBA Live 2004, NBA Live 2005 introduced a much deeper player creation suite. It included morphing tools to sculpt the shape of player heads and facial features, a wider variety of hairstyles and beards, and the ability to change hair colour independently of those styles. Created player faces weren’t quite cyberface quality, but they blended in with real faces a lot better than they had in NBA Live 2004. Other roster management functions such as the ability to edit existing players, make trades and signings, and add players from the Legends Pool, were all still available.
The big addition to Dynasty Mode in NBA Live 2005 was the PDA, which was the hub for trade offers, injury notifications, and other communication. It was a good idea in theory, but the execution could have been better. The PDA approach meant that trades couldn’t be negotiated in real time; you sent an offer to another team, and then had to advance a day or two to hear back from them. You could also miss trade offers if you didn’t check the PDA, and a lot of the messages from the team owner came across as petty whining and nagging. It was now possible to scout rookies during the season however, and it was cool to get updates from your scouts via the PDA.
Fortunately, the training camp/session bug from NBA Live 2004 was fixed, but NBA Live 2005 still used the Dynasty Points system to purchase training sessions and other player boosts. It was functional, but it was very much a “video game approach”, rather than a realistic portrayal of player development and team management. NBA Store points could also still be earned by completing Task List items, and the Store itself, along with the Hall of Fame, were revamped into full showcase rooms that users could browse. Unfortunately, the previous award histories that had been in NBA Live 2004 were no longer present, with only your personal accomplishments being tracked.
On the whole, NBA Live 2005 was another very well-rounded release, with several enhancements, an exciting new game mode, and reasonably deep features. There were some gameplay problems, and the default settings definitely aren’t as sim as the game is capable of being, but some tuning of the sliders does result in a much better sim experience. It ranks up there as one of my personal favourites and one of the best games in the series, but there was still room for improvement. As it happened, some fixes for a few of the game’s problems, and the next step in making star players stand out from the rest of the NBA, were right around the corner.
Stay tuned for more 20th Anniversary of NBA Live content!