To mark the 25th Anniversary of NBA Live, we’re taking a look back at every game in the series with retrospectives and other fun content! This also includes re-running some features from our 20th Anniversary celebrations, with a few revisions. Whether you’re a long-time basketball gamer who grew up with NBA Live and are keen on taking a trip down memory lane, or you’re new to the series and want to learn about its history, we hope that you enjoy celebrating the 25th Anniversary of NBA Live here at the NLSC! Today, it’s a retrospective of NBA Live 2005.
In my NBA Live 2004 retrospective, I summed up that game by calling it a tough act to follow. That’s what makes NBA Live 2005 so impressive, as it met the standard of its predecessor and raised the bar even higher. Many would call it the best game in the NBA Live series, or at the very least, rank it somewhere in the top five, if not the top three. It’s a reputation that’s well-earned, as it improved upon NBA Live 2004 in just about every way possible, and still holds up extremely well over a decade later. It had a few issues of course, but it was still a great release, and remains a personal favourite of mine. Let’s take a look back at another milestone game in the NBA Live series.
From the moment you fire up NBA Live 2005, the game pumps you up to play. The intro video spotlights the new All-Star Weekend mode, and concludes with Andrew Anthony – who voices EA Sports’ iconic tag line of “It’s in the game” – stating the game’s title. Being the first game since NBA Live 95 where the year rhymes with Live, NBA Live 2005 is just really pleasing to the ear. The gameplay itself also makes a good first impression, though the default tuning is still slightly too fast for a sim game. As with NBA Live 2004, a few slider tweaks can yield some great results that are more far appealing to hardcore simheads than the settings out of the box.
Further improvements to the game’s tech allow NBA Live 2005 to play a respectably realistic style of virtual basketball, especially after slider adjustments. There are a few issues with balance however, and sliders don’t fix everything. Too many blocks occur on the perimeter, even with the sliders set to zero. The CPU tends to outmuscle you regardless of the players involved, and the comeback logic can be rather brutal on the harder difficulty settings. It’s not uncommon to miss wide open shots and even dunks as the CPU cheeses its way to a comeback. The AI is smarter than before, but it will still resort to cheap tricks in order to catch up or pull ahead in crunch time.
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. Your teammates tend to stop in their tracks rather than catch passes in stride, and don’t cut to the basket often enough in transition. As such, running a fast break and playing an up-tempo offense is far more difficult than it should be. Quirks like this prevent me from giving NBA Live 2005 the nod as the best sim game of its era.
However, there are many positive aspects 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 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 clearly intended to make the game as realistic as possible, which makes the default slider settings somewhat puzzling. Presumably the developers didn’t want to alienate more casual hoops gamers, but once again, with the right slider tweaks, NBA Live 2005 is capable of producing a great sim experience.
To that end, 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 for easy points on dunks and layups. It is possible to free yourself up for good looks on the perimeter using the pick and roll however, and mid-range jumpers can be a viable weapon in the hands of competent shooters. The game also retains solid mechanics such as the T-Meter on the backboard, and separate dunk and layup buttons. Legacy issues from older games such as flat-footed rebounds, too many offensive boards, and difficulty triggering dunks and layups, are nowhere to be found.
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 manually 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 and thus not always precisely performed in previous games, it was now possible to choose whether to try and grab the board, tip the ball in, or attempt a put-back dunk. Tip-ins weren’t as effective as they should’ve been though, and it was also possible to commit offensive interference, but the deeper controls were a welcome improvement.
After the graphics suffered a slight downgrade in NBA Live 2004, NBA Live 2005 saw a noticeable jump in visual quality. Player faces were a lot better, 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 has always drawn a mixed reaction, due to the colours being somewhat drab and the players having a glow around them. I wouldn’t say that it ruins the game, but it’s not one of the best lighting effects that the series has utilised. Fortunately, we found out how to modify the lighting files on PC, and created better results through trial and error, and using values from later games.
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 effect on dunks replaced by a far 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 and transitions to cutscenes, sound effects, and commentary, NBA Live 2005 has some great production values. The only thing it’s missing is NBA on TNT branding.
The big addition in NBA Live 2005 was, of course, the All-Star Weekend mode. Available as both a standalone mode for exhibition play, and part of the schedule in Season and Dynasty, 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 while Marv Albert and Mike Fratello covered the Rookie Challenge and All-Star Game, All-Star Weekend was a great representation of the NBA’s midseason classic. It added replay value and gave 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 as well, 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; ideally the ones that guaranteed a perfect score of 50. The Slam Dunk School, with its tutorials and free practice mode, were helpful here. There was also 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 many unique 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, or the rest of the All-Star Weekend events, since NBA Live 09. It’d be a great hook in future games.
The All-Star Game and Rookie Challenge are more straightforward, replicating their respective events with five-on-five gameplay and all the appropriate presentation. They added an extra wrinkle to the controls however, 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 precisely time your lob and press of the Dunk/Layup button, but it was very satisfying when you made it happen. It would’ve been nice to have that move in regular gameplay as well, but it did make the All-Star Weekend games special.
All-Star Weekend also included the Freestyle Challenge, which was basically a single round of either the Slam Dunk Contest or the 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 classic Dunk Contest showdown with Dominique Wilkins in 1988 right out of the box. Of course, modding soon took care of that in the PC version, putting His Airness back in the game.
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 the team they played for. Apart from that, we could still make a variety of modifications to the game, and installing mods was much easier now that CustomArt was enabled by default and no longer required editing a configuration file. Additionally, most modified files could simply be placed directly in the new sgsm folder, or in the existing subfolders for courts and jerseys, simplifying the process.
Create-a-Player had been disappointingly limited in NBA Live 2004, but this was rectified in NBA Live 2005. The game introduced a much deeper player creation suite including 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 for all 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, but generally unchanged.
A notable 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 most 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 explore. Unfortunately, the award histories that had previously been in NBA Live 2004 were removed, with only your personal accomplishments being tracked.
Perhaps the most important enhancement to Dynasty mode was the addition of Sim Intervention. Just like its modern equivalents, Sim Intervention allowed us to jump into any game on the calendar that we were simulating, and play out the rest of the contest. Simulation happened quarter-by-quarter rather than play-by-play, but it was still a revolutionary feature that was ahead of its time, and a useful way to get through a season without leaving simulated games solely at the mercy of the sim engine. With the addition of All-Star Weekend and a couple of new features in Dynasty, NBA Live 2005 provided a robust selection of game modes that kept us hooked for a long time.
It’s often said that the NBA Live series lost its way around the turn of the millennium, and that by NBA Live 2005, the NBA 2K series had far surpassed it; at least in terms of quality (NBA Live continued to sell more copies up until the 2009 games). That’s revisionist history and personal preference, however. While 2K was also doing some great things around that time, NBA Live was more than holding its own during the PlayStation 2 and Xbox era, with the added benefit of a modder-friendly PC version. Along with NBA Live 2004 and NBA Live 06, NBA Live 2005 is part of a brief second Golden Era for the series, and rightfully considered a classic basketball game.
On the whole, NBA Live 2005 was another very well-rounded release, with several enhancements, an exciting new game mode, and pleasingly deep features. There were some gameplay problems, and the default settings definitely aren’t as realistic as the game is capable of being, but fine-tuning the sliders results in a great sim experience for a title that came out in 2004. 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, as well as the first big step in making star players stand out from the rest of the NBA, were right around the corner.