Boxed out and no rebound in sight.
EA knows how to spread the wealth. By porting over just about all of their games to every platform, the company is a consumer's dream. You'll never find yourself screwed out of owning an EA game because you have the wrong system.
But this dream can quickly become a nightmare for a game reviewer like yours truly, because it means we have to play the same game over and over again in order to point out the subtle differences. In the case of NBA Live 2002, even the subtleties are subtle. Aside from some graphical tweaks, this is pretty much a carbon copy of the PS2 version.
And once again, we're presented with a game that isn't intrinsically broken so much as obviously outdated and outclassed. The feel of NBA Live 2002 is nearly identical to past iterations. While last year's effort was somewhat excused due to it being a first-generation game, this year's isn't so lucky.
The basics are all here and intact. You can play Exhibition games, try a full Season, Practice your skills or compete 1-on-1 Larry Bird Vs. Dr. J style. All the teams and players are here, including a certain geezer named Michael whose sneakers most of you are wearing.
NBA Live 2002 lets you create-a-player, but they forgot to put some sort of cap on just how good that player can be from the get-go. You can crank his abilities to high heaven, leading to a 7-foot point guard with 30-foot range and tighter handles than Iverson. It sort of takes the edge out of cultivating a created player through the season.
The only real new addition is the Franchise mode, which lets you guide a team through multiple seasons. With some GM elements like dealing with salary caps and extensive trades, it's a solid addition.
What's the problem here, folks? I mean, Madden 2002 has Madden Cards, kick ass tutorials, all manner of team specific depth and leaves its PSX brother in the dust, which it should. NBA Live 2002 gets no such extras, and they even took one out by getting rid of the 3-point contest. Guess hoop fans aren't quite as important to please.
This is made painfully clear by the inconsistent gameplay. Little has been done to reflect the new rule changes - there isn't a zone defense to be seen. Players still sort of glide around the court, and they took out the option to disable player momentum. The result is like NBA On Ice.
This control is mixed. Throwing alley-oops is made simpler by relying on the press of the little white button on the Xbox controller, and the icon-passing comes in handy for pinpointing fast breaks. But the juke moves never seem to do a thing. I hoped someone would have peeked over the cubicle to study the moves in NBA Street, but no such luck.
Perhaps the most aggravating flaw is the lack of any defensive rebounding, though the game box purports otherwise. Nabbing a board feels totally random and you're much better off just letting the CPU do the work for you while you take charge of a guard 20 feet away from the ball.
Apparently, the success of NBA Street gave the minds behind NBA Live a few ideas about the value of dunking, because it dominates the game. Don't get me wrong - the plethora of dunks is very cool and can get the adrenaline pumping. But it's really out of hand. The lane is rarely congested and far too easy to penetrate, which shouldn't be the case since the zone defense leads to clogged lanes. Wait, that's right, I just mentioned they didn't pay any attention to the rule changes, so I guess it makes sense. *Sigh*
The graphics are noticeably smoother than the PS2 version. The players are cleanly defined and the court looks great with nice reflections. The game engine, though, is obviously dated and looks like it would be at home on a 32-bit machine. It's just not the kind of step up you'd hope for and doesn't come close to the glory of the NBA 2K series.
At times, though, things look right and you'll pull off some broadcast-worthy plays. When the animations manage to flow together, you can wind up with some cool little snippets - Kobe coming off a pick, stutter stepping, hitting the baseline and busting out a reverse layup underneath Karl Malone's outstretched arms. The game has its moments...just not enough of them.
The sound is a step backwards, with tame menu music and cheesy in-game b-ball tunes. The two announcers should both be shot. "DID YOU SEE HOW HIGH HE JUMPED?" NASTY, JUST NASTY." Read that again, because you'll be hearing it over and over again. These guys are so totally mystified by the most banal moves, shots and dunks that you'd think they were in a coma for the past 20 years and just woke up.
So in the end, the Xbox version of NBA Live 2002 turns out to be little more than another minor upgrade to a game that has barely changed in about 4 years. The marginal graphical changes don't really make for a better overall game than its disappointing PS2 counterpart. I'd rent and wait until a better baller comes along before buying.