Another mid-range jumper.
It's rare for an NBA player to go from the bench to the All-Star game. Success in the NBA usually takes time, a slow burn as players improve their fundamentals through practice, get accustomed to the speed of the pro game and gradually get into a rhythm with their team and coach. It's a process of nipping and tucking, a better outside shot here, a new post move there, and when it all comes together you wind up with Tracy McGrady.
That's not nearly as good of a plan when it comes to video game design, but it's the one that EA seems content with, at least in the case of their NBA Live franchise. Since 2003, the series has seen marginal changes, often little more than an added move or two and some tweaks to Dynasty mode. Last year's game barely did that, instead focusing on extraneous modes like the Slam Dunk Contest. Who needs better A.I., anyway?
We do, that's who, but we won't really find it in NBA Live 06. Aside from one notable gameplay addition, this is yet another tread down the same old path of stable, solid, and quickly staling EA basketball.
I was tempted to copy and paste my review of NBA Live 2005 into this review of NBA Live 06 because that's essentially what EA did. From soup to nuts this is the same game as last year, featuring the same array of modes and delivery as well as a largely unchanged control scheme.
I say 'largely' because of the new Superstar Freestyle system. Many of the league's better players have been equipped with special moves based on their abilities, falling into one of six types: Playmaker, Scorer, High-Flyer, Power Player, Sharpshooter, and Stopper. Steve Nash and Jason Kidd would be playmakers, while Peja would be a sharpshooter. Any player can be a stopper as well as one of the other five types, though players with particularly high ability like Kobe or Dwyane Wade have multiple Superstar labels. You can then toggle these to make Kobe either a scorer or a high-flyer, so long as it's one or the other.
To actually use these new designations, you just have to press the Left trigger and any face buttons. Scorers will then take nigh-undefendable shots, high-flyers will leap over heads, power players will throw down rim-rattling dunks, sharpshooters will nail off-balance twenty-five footers and playmakers will add some serious mustard to their passes with around the back, no-look shenanigans.
The upside is that the game can look incredibly cool. Watching Stephon Marbury shake a defender and plunk in a tear drop over Shaq's outstretched arm is terrifically satisfying and makes for some much more exciting replays. They've made the game more cinematic, that's for sure.
Unfortunately, the downside is pretty steep. Since there's no í¢â‚¬Ëœmeter' to manage or anything, you can use these to your heart's content, and many of the shots and dunks are pretty much unstoppable. Why waste time with a fall-away nineteen-footer when you can just get near the free-throw line and swish some silly double-clutch J? Unless it's miraculously blocked, the shots have an uncanny knack of falling in. In my first outing with the Warriors (who will hopefully come out and play this year), I tallied 67 points with Baron Davis by abusing the hell out of his scorer archetype. Guess that knee healed up nicely.
The Superstar moves are also unbalanced. While playmaker moves look cool, they don't necessarily work any better than regular passes, and sharpshooter shots don't seem to tickle twine more often than regular shots since the sharpshooter's basic shot ratings tend to be pretty damn high to begin with. Stoppers can steal balls with alarming ease, ripping all but the top ball-handlers fairly routinely and making a total mockery of the game's big men, who all seem to have the ball-handling prowess of Sasquatch. You'll find yourself either constantly using scorers and high-flyers or just relying on the same mechanics you used in last year's game.
Luckily, those are still good. The right-stick freestyle scheme is as useful as ever, as are the two shot buttons for layups and jumpers. The uptempo pacing and overall arcade feel keep games fast and loose, although that also might be due to the return of the hallowed ten-man motion-capture. The court is more active than other basketball games.
I wrote that same paragraph last year, which means I have to write this one again, too. Players still tend to stop to catch passes, although it's far less common than before. The fatigue effect is defaulted to "on," but it doesn't do anything unless you go into the options and crank the hell out of it. The need to manage substitutions and keep your players rested is a huge part of basketball strategy, but is buried here in favor of high-speed, above-the-rim play. That's great for casual fans, although hardcore hoopsters will feel benched.
Speaking of highwire acts, the All-Star weekend is back again, with the dull 3-Point Shootout and Rookie/Sophomore games intact alongside an untouched Dunk Contest, although now that can be played online as well. Online play in general returns unchanged for the PS2 and Xbox, with ladders, rankings and whatnot just as they were. In fact, the only mode that sees any changes is Dynasty, although these are mostly marginal.
The biggest is that you can now hire Assistant Coaches and Scouts. The former can be set to work with players to improve their stats, while the latter can be sent to check out prospective draftees or to bring back useful info about upcoming opponents. It's a nice stab at depth, but neither is very engaging. You don't actually get to work out players to help their stats improve, just letting your Assistant enact some sort of hoodoo-voodoo, and the Scout often tells you completely pointless info about other teams. Did you know that Allen Iverson is the main offensive weapon for the Sixers? Phew! I was gonna triple team Kyle Korver all night, but now I'll change my plan. Other features like the irritating PDA and the ability to intervene in simulated games return as well, but by and large, this mode still isn't as good as the one found in the 2K games.
If you're sensing a trend, just wait until you see the graphics. Three years ago this was a good-looking game; now, it looks three years old. Player models and faces are blockier than they should be, and while the framerate is steady, it just doesn't look much better than it has in the past. This same thing happened with the NBA Live games on the orginal Playstation; you get the feeling they're biding time waiting for the next-gen to arrive.
That didn't stop them from switching up the commentators. Marv Albert is back to do play by play, with color now handled by Steve Kerr. Both are adequate if repetitive, but that's nothing new in sports gaming. And I hope you like hip-hop, because that's what you get for a soundtrack...again.
It should also be noted that the PS2 version enjoys the exclusive inclusion of an emulated version of NBA Live '95. Keep that excitement in check, though, because frankly the game doesn't hold up so well.
And really, neither does NBA Live 06. It's fine, decent, entirely competent, but who wants that again? We want bite, and even though this game has Marv Albert, it barely manages to break last year's skin. It retains its spot in the starting five, but this baller's lack of innovation puts its job in jeopardy.