Unlike EA’s legendary Madden series the NBA Live franchise has had a hard transition to the next generation of consoles. It seems that every year the improvements that are made are simply not enough to keep up with the competition, but all of that is about to change. With the introduction of Dynamic DNA EA Sports has innovated the way sports games are played. Downloading new rosters is great, but anyone who plays Madden on a regular basis will tell you that each year players change mid-season and their stats simply do not reflect it. With the introduction of Dynamic DNA gamers can now download player’s tendencies every time they power up their game keeping things current and fresh as long as they have an internet connection.
Of course such a bold new feature is only as good as its implementation and I am happy to say that with NBA Live 09 everything feels solid right out of the gate. The biggest realization that this works is when you tap the trigger to call a play when the ball is in a specific player’s hands, not only will the call be relevant to the player, but it will also outline the play to show you the proper way to execute it. This level of depth is incredibly addictive, especially to fans of the sport. Everything on the court quickly becomes a game of chess and the game does a fantastic job of showing players of all skill levels the best process for improving their game.
Another large addition to the game this year is the pick and roll system. Basically this gives you control over two players on the court at once depending on how you let it play out. This is a simple as holding down the left trigger button to call for a pick. Depending on how long you hold the button will determine what action will result. There is a small meter above the player’s head that will determine if they roll and head for the basket, pull back and take the shot or simply toss the ball into the air for a sweet alley-oop. This mechanic works surprisingly well and is greatly implemented within the course of regular play. It will take you some time to adjust to some of the more complex motions, but the end result makes the game much more enjoyable to play.
One thing that hasn’t changed from last year’s game is the control scheme, and for good reason. Over the years on the new consoles EA Canada has crafted one of the more precise and intuitive control schemes found in any sports game. The left stick moves your player, but with weight and momentum in mind so it feels more life-like and less like a video game. The right stick is used for crossover dribbles and various juke moves that can get you out of tight situations on the fly. The left trigger is used for the aforementioned pick and roll system on offense while on defense it lines you up with a specific player for a more realistic approach to defense.
All of the on-court action feels great and you will be performing fancy dunks and leaving defenders in your dust before long. If you do have issues with some of the more advanced moves you may want to try your hand in the NBA Live Academy that will teach you the fundamentals of all the basics. Here you can hone your skills in fast breaks, pick and rolls and of course the art of shooting, but more importantly this mode is fun which makes learning the ins and outs of the game much less frustrating for players not wanting to sit through mind-numbing tutorials.
Surprisingly one of the most coveted features found in other brands of EA Sports roster is criminally omitted from this version. The “Be A Pro” mode is sorely lacking and instead replaced with an option to assume the role of a single NBA star for one game. This takes away from the whole point of this mode which is working your way up through the ranks and improving your game. Instead you find yourself working to be a ball hog in a mode that simply removes your ability to switch characters on the court.
As far as game modes are concerned the usual suspects make a return with a few new options and tweaks that come with continuing to improve a series. Dynasty mode returns and continues to be one of the better designed versions among all EA Sports titles. Dynasty mode this year focuses more on the backend options and interface details than everything else and for good reason. There really wasn’t much wrong with the structure and the only improvements needed were in the details and behind the scenes action. In addition to Dynasty you also have the option to compete in the FIBA World Championships or simply take part in the All-Star Weekend festivities with the quintessential slam dunk and three point contests. Needless to say there is plenty to see and do in the world of NBA Live 09.
If online is more your thing NBA Live 09 brings back the popular ten player online mode where you can square off in a five-on-five match with your buddies. New to this season though are clubs. Clubs are essentially what their name states and can hold up to fifty members with five competing at any one time. No matter who plays the game your club will earn points that will help advances your position on the leaderboards. You can also post updates and keep track of all your accomplishments at a community site. Needless to say the online portion of NBA Live 09 is one of the more robust available and when you combine it with Dynamic DNA and NBA Live 365 you have a game that will remain pertinent for quite some time.
On the visual side of things Live 09 actually manages to improve on its already impressive engine. Player models sport a wide array of animations and the realistic movement is unparalleled by any other game. The drawbacks come from the slowdown that can occur sporadically as well as the amplified cloth physics on players’ clothing. Their shorts flap even when they are standing still like flags in a wind storm. Marv Albert returns to reprise his commentating role and for the most part is satisfactory. Granted you are not going to be blown away as the commentary remains similar to last year’s but it remains solid. The rest of the sound effects are pretty standard fare with crowds reacting to big plays, music suited for each arena and of course the squeaking shoes…it’s gotta be the shoes!
While some games simply rest on their laurels NBA Live 09 has decided to up the ante this year and really bring their A-game to the table. The inclusion of Dynamic DNA and NBA Live 365 are two of the most important innovations in sports gaming this year. Combined with all of the other enhancements EA Canada has provided and you are looking at the most feature-rich basketball title to come along in some time. If you have been weary of the franchise lately because of its shortcomings when compared to the competition this year’s effort could be enough to bring you back into the fold. EA Sports is finally returning to its glory days and NBA Live 09 is hopefully a sign of the great things to come.