NBA Live 09ESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts
4 MB to Save Game
Online Multiplayer: 2
Online Co-op: 2-10
With only days to go before the start of the NBA season, EA Sports delivers b-ball gamers their annual NBA fix with NBA Live 09. This year EA Canada set out to make a significantly improved basketball game as NBA Live 08 did not exactly set the world on fire. 08 made some significant leaps over the abysmal NBA Live 07; however the franchise has not produced a slam dunk basketball game in quite some time. This year EA promised an improved game with new features, improved animations and more depth than any other NBA game on the market. Needless to say, I was skeptical yet curious to see if the new additions would bring the series back to prominence. You just know the pressure was on for the development team to finally deliver a next-generation basketball game which would make fans, the media and EA jump for joy. Did they succeed? You will just have to continue reading to find out.
As far as the visuals are concerned, NBA Live 09 has made some adjustments since last years version of the franchise giving gamers a cleaner and more realistic looking game. The player facial profiles and overall animations are slick and the arena’s, including the basketball court, look shinier than ever. The presentation is once again top-notch and it leaves you wanting more. Not to mention, the bright colours featured throughout the game look great in full 1080p HD. There is some occasional slow-down and other graphical hiccups but at the end of the day NBA Live 09 is a great looking game.
One of the noticeable improvements over last year’s instalment is the player models. Players appear much more realistic this year and you can tell much more time was spent individualizing the player’s facial features giving each player a lot of detail. From the haircuts to the way they wear their wristbands, the detail is impressive and they look incredibly similar to their real-life counterparts. All your favourite NBA stars from Steve Nash to Tony Parker are easily recognizable and look great in high definition. For the most part the players moved smoothly, however there were some exceptions. For instance, some of the replays really slowed down and some of the slam dunk and lay-up animations did not look as smooth as they could. I also noticed some occasional clipping. These are not major issues but rather small glitches. I did notice that the players appear to have more movement animations this year and it pays off. The majority of the new animations seem to be on defence. The way the players shuffle backwards, stumble and get beat one-on-one lends to a game which looks very real.
When I gave NBA Live 09 a spin the first thing I did, which is generally what I do with all sports games, is jump into an exhibition game with my favourite team, in this case the Phoenix Suns. Right away I noticed was how good the basketball courts looked. The colours pop out at you and they look simply stunning. From the team logos at center court to glossy finish of the paint on the floor, everything looks impressive. Even the fans look improved this year as they don’t look like generic paper board cut-outs. Granted thy could be improved but at the very least they are much better looking this time around.
Last years NBA Live 08 was solid in the sound department and not much has changed this year. It has been a little while since I played 08 however I just did not notice many significant changes. But hey, why mess with a good thing? NBA Live 09 audio is strong and sounds great in 5.1 surround sound. From the soundtrack to the commentating, NBA Live 09 does a wonderful job at creating an NBA atmosphere.
Marv Albert is back doing the commentary and you really cannot pick a better play-by-play guy for an NBA game. There is a reason why he is commonly referred to as "the voice of basketball" as his voice is irreplaceable. For the most part Marv does a solid job calling the games as his voice is crystal clear and he comments on the game accurately and in a timely manner. On the downside, the repetitiveness is an issue at times (as it is with pretty much all major sports tittles) and after a few games it does become somewhat noticeable. It should also be mentioned that the PA announcer is also very clear and it is cool to hear your favourite players name over the PA.
The sounds of the game are varied and effective. Everything from the crowd cheers, the ball bouncing, sneakers squeaking to the player chatter; all of it is very good and adds to the overall atmosphere of the game. Other in-game sound effects are all bang-on as the sounds of the game are accurately portrayed in the game with perfection. The soundtrack for NBA Live 09 is decent featuring many hop-hop tunes which seemingly goes hand-in-hand with an NBA game. Many of the artists are not recognizable but the tunes do sound good.
When it comes to basketball games I am a bit of a novice. There aren't many advanced moves or designed plays I pull off during the game. For the most part, I just focus on solid passing and shooting. If you are a rookie to playing basketball games you will likely be impressed with NBA Live 09, however if you are veteran hoopster who has already had a taste of 2K's 2009 instalment you might be somewhat disappointed. Overall, I find NBA Live 09 an improvement over last years version, however some of the new features seemed tacked on and some issues from last year continue to haunt the series.
This years’ biggest new feature is NBA Live 09 Dynamic DNA system. Provided by Synergy Sports Technology, Dynamic DNA takes how a real-life player is playing in the NBA and translates his performance into NBA Live 09. More specifically, it evaluates individual Player DNA that breaks down how a player scores and Team DNA that rates how the players on the floor play as a unit and tendencies that refer to the percentage a player drives left, right or shoots from each spot on the floor. This information will be available daily by making sure you are connected to EA’s servers and download the updated league data. The daily updates are aptly titled NBA Live 365. The idea being that if Lebron James is going through a cold spell during the season, that cold streak will be reflected in the game. If he is having trouble shooting 3-pointers that too will be reflected in the game. The concept sounds great, however considering the NBA season hasn’t started I can only surmise how well this will work before the season gets underway. Nevertheless, it is cool concept and just adds more realism to the game.
Another new feature added this year is the Live Rewind feature. Here you can replay previous games with the updated statistical data that recreates identical conditions including injuries, hot/cold streaks, tendencies and player DNA. How many times have you wished that you could just go back and replay that quarter where your team fell apart the night before. In Live Rewind you can relive those moments, but once again the true test will come when the season starts.
Veterans of the franchise will find new strategies and plays at their disposal this year. For instance, NBA Live 09 features the Pick-and-Roll Control. This is a new two-man game mechanic which lets you control both the ball handler and the screener. As you set screens and run two man plays on court instructions pop-up guiding you through each play. Overall it works well when put into motion and fans of the franchise should really enjoy this addition. Another new gameplay mechanic is the Quickstrike AnkleBreakers. Simply by activating the turbo button and using the right stick to make your move, you can pull off some slick ball handling moves to fake out your defender and ultimately create a scoring opportunity. The mechanic works well however it could have used a few more weeks in the shop as some aspects did not seem as realistic as they could. Mysteriously, the defensive players are able to catch up even after blowing past them. Additionally, the Lockdown Control mechanic is a new risk reward system to lock in your check on defense. This one was a little hit and miss as it was not as responsive as I would have liked. Nevertheless, when it did work it worked like a charm.
For many b-ball gamers the majority of time will likely be spent in the season mode. Once again, NBA Live calls it the dynasty mode. Picking your favorite team and pounding away at a full season is always enjoyable for those hardcore fans and was certainly enjoyable for me as well. The Dynasty mode offers up lots of depth as well as all the stat tracking your heart can desire. You can also pick the overall direction your team is headed before you launch your season. For instance, if you think your Lakers are in a rebuilding year then you can select ‘rebuilding the franchise’. You are then given specific goals based on your team direction for the given year. It is a slick little addition indeed and just goes to show you how far sports games have come. The traditional 5-on-5 game itself plays pretty good and seemingly all my games were very close when it came to the final score. Granted I did notice some blatant rule violations which were not called and I also noticed some aspects of the gameplay which seemed out of place, but for the most part the game plays fairly well and was an enjoyment.
NBA Live 09 also features a Be a Pro mode which is very similar to NHL 09’s Be a Pro mode. The only difference here, NHL 09 Be a Pro mode is spectacular and NBA Live 09 mode needs some work as it just does not feel complete and almost appears tacked on as if it was an afterthought. Be a Pro puts you into the shoes of a specific player on the court and you play as the player and are evaluated on an ongoing basis during each game. In NHL 09’s Be a Pro you start in the minors and you need to play well in order to make your way all the way up to an NHL team’s first line. This is not the case in NBA Live 09 as instead of a season you only have one game. It just makes no sense and I really can’t see gamers falling in love with this feature as they have in NHL 09.
Once again, the multiplayer component of the game is solid, however I did experience some slow-down. Admittedly I did not spend as much time online as I could have however the time I did spend was an enjoyable and humbling experience. Needless to say, there are a lot of good b-ball gamers online. A new feature this year is the 5-on-5 Online Play. Similar to NHL 09 online team play, up to 5 players on each team can play as each starting position. Club play allows your set team to play against other teams in a league type game as you gain rankings and move up divisions for each win. The online team play is lots of fun, however many teams have already been able to find the exploits and abuse them. Consequently teams not willing to ‘sell out’ and use exploits to win, will end up on the losing end far too often.
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