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NBA Live 2006 Review

Developer: EA Canada Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: September 26, 2005 Also On: GCN, PC, PS2 and Xbox

Since Sega Sports’ NBA 2K series in the 2000 season, I’ve always viewed the NBA Live series as an excuse for EA Sports to make basketball games because they’ve never managed to catch up to Sega’s game. Unfortunately, even after a few deep Dynasty Mode changes and some gameplay tweaks, NBA Live 2006 isn’t quite the top-notch basketball title that EA’s Madden franchise always is with football.

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NBA Live 2006 isn’t much different than last year’s edition, but a few interesting changes have to be mentioned. EA Sports put a huge emphasis on individuals and their skills in several different ways. First of all, the Dynasty Mode has been expanded similarly to Sega’s NBA 2K series in that you can now hire a staff to help train your team and scout new players. Hiring better coaches and balancing your team’s budget will have a big effect on the on-court gameplay as well as simulated games. While all of this hiring and training is done through text-based menus, if one devotes a lot of time to the process, the experience changes significantly.

On the hardwood, the gameplay is as quick and arcade-like as ever. It’s always been one of my gripes with this series, and Live 06 doesn’t change much. The second big addition comes in the form of Freestyle Superstars. Each team contains a few of these high-profile players who have different abilities than everyone else. Some are “Blockers” who have powerful blocking swipes, while others are “Scorers” who can cut and drive to the basket with ease. Some of these different moves are pretty cool, like some of the Scorer moves. On the other hand, some of them are worthless, such as the “Playmaker” abilities that allow you to throw crazy passes that usually end up as turnovers.

None of it really matters anyway, as the moves really just make the game seem easier and less realistic than ever, and I’m not really a fan of that. This isn’t to say that the game isn’t fun to play; it just isn’t realistic enough to impress a sim fan such as myself. It almost seems like EA Sports ran out of Simulation fuel with the Dynasty Mode’s text-based stuff before getting to the gameplay.

Another thing I’ve always had a huge problem with EA Sports’ basketball titles is how they feel while playing. NBA Live and NCAA March Madness titles have a certain slippery feel to them that I honestly can’t stand. It’s almost as if they worked on an ice skating video game and stripped away the ice and dark stadiums for lit-up arenas and basketballs. Like I said before, playing the game is made all too easy with the “improved” transition game and the Freestyle Superstar moves. Until harder difficulties are played, the game is a cakewalk. Blowouts aren’t just frequent, they’re constant.

Visually, NBA Live’s aged engine fails to impress. The character models are alright but the animation is pretty choppy, especially with the Superstar moves. There is no such thing as momentum in NBA Live, so if you’re running one direction and catch a rebound away from the basket, pressing the lay-up button will result in your character zipping around to the basket and taking the shot. It makes things look pretty clunky and especially unrealistic; it’s something that EA Sports really needs to take a note of. The animations would look fine if they were realistic and smooth.

Last of all, the announcers are alright, but some of their comments are generic and repetitive. If I took a lead near the end of the game, the announcers would constantly comment on how much the other team needed to take a timeout or how they needed to work on their defense under the basket. It wouldn’t be a problem if there was a little variation in their dialogue but that’s all you really hear. “The Bulls really need to take a timeout,” they’ll say, or, “The Bulls have to do better defensively under the basket.”

In conclusion, NBA Live 2006 isn’t a bad basketball game, although there are a lot of things that fail to impress and could have been much better if they were given more time. EA Sports needs to work on slowing down the gameplay and improving dramatically on the graphics engine before the 2007 season rolls around next fall. I’m not sure which I’d recommend this season between Live 06 and Sega’s NBA 2K6, as I haven’t played 2K6, but pass on buying Live 06; try a rental.

Graphics: 6.5
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 8.5
Final: 7.2
Written by Cliff Review Guide