Passing its prime.
Few developers have dominated an entire genre like EA Sports has dominated simulation
basketball. With roots dating back to 1990’s Genesis release of Lakers vs.
Celtics, the NBA Live series has simply ruled the market for a decade.
The only recent challenge has come from 989 Sports’ Shootout games, but
after a promising start, that series was promptly boxed out, elbowed in the face
and sent sprawling to the floor.
So when you think about PS2 basketball, you’ll likely immediately focus on
NBA Live 2001. Comparatively this is a good thing, since 989’s Shootout
2001 is about as fun as inflating a basketball using your nostrils. But
aside from a few tweaks, the latest installment in the Live series plays
it a little too safe.
This is essentially a port of the PSX version, which itself was mainly just
an upgrade of NBA Live 2000,
which in turn was just an upgrade of NBA
Live 1999, etc, etc, etc. Frankly, the series has made very few changes
since NBA Live 98, which is both a good
and bad thing.
The basics are all here and accounted for. Every player and team in the league
is present with the current rosters. You can play an Exhibition game, romp through
a full Season, jump straight to the Playoffs or practice moves in One-on-One.
Same old meat and potatoes.
Sadly, that includes the graphics. While NBA Live 2001 for the PS2 is
hardly shabby-looking, it certainly isn’t the galactic leap many of us wished
it would be. The courts and crowd looks good, but the players don’t look nearly
enough like their real-life counterparts and the motion-captured movements are
often too jerky. It really looks more like a souped-up version of the PSX game
rather than the fancy PS2 smorgasbord we saw in Madden
There’s a very silly intro sequence at the start of every game that’s meant
to mimic the player introductions found in the real world. But rather than make
these team specific, you just get the starting five hopping around slapping
hands, looking distinctly unathletic. Uh, yay team?
The Live series has always been known for its emphasis on realistic
gameplay, and here it doesn’t let down. The game feels genuinely good and players
tend to play the “right” way (meaning it’s hard to score a million points with
a scrub). As always, scores are often inflated if you play the full 12 minute
quarters, but that’s nothing new. The game is fun and fast-paced and occasionally
looks a helluva lot like the real thing.
The control is generally decent. Players will find plenty of moves to practice,
from up-and-under post moves to stutter steps and spins. Unfortunately, someone
forgot to add the option to disable that aggravating ‘player momentum’ that
has plagued the NBA Live games for years. There’s nothing worse than
passing to a guy who’s walking towards the sidelines only to have him do the
electric slide out of bounds right when he catches the pass.
There are four difficulty settings, but the computer doesn’t so much play better as make more shots. The defense is usually just a guy standing in front of you who never succumbs to your jukes and spins, often leading to the offensive charge. This gets aggravating at times, but admittedly helps keep the AI feeling aggressive.
One-on-One mode has improved due to the graphical increase – you can actually
tell the legends apart from one another. However, it still boils down to jump
shots and rebounds. You can indeed play as Michael Jordan as well as a slew
of past superstars, though the differences are minimal since no one has any
signature moves. I really wish they just switched to an NBA Jam engine
for this part already.
As usual, the announcers offer little to help or hinder the experience. At
times the play-by-play is seamless and really works well, but the color commentary
is repetitive and dumb. In a strange twist, the music kicks ass. In addition
to the catchy Montell Jordan theme, a few tracks have funkster Bootsie Collins
laying down heavy grooves. I actually didn’t mind pausing the game.
Loading the game, however, is painful. Anyone out there expecting little
to no load times simply because this is the PS2 should prepare to sit on their
ass watching their expectations shatter. The load times aren’t a smidgen better
than PSX games.
In the end, NBA Live 2001 is a solid if unspectacular start for EA
Sports’ next-gen hoops. Fans of the series will be genuinely pleased. But compared
to what Visual Concepts is doing with the NBA
2K games, Live has a long way to go before it makes it to the Finals.