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Score: 8.3 / 10
The start of the NBA season means its time
for another rendition of the long-running Electronics Arts videogame
franchise, NBA Live, so lace ‘em up. It stacks up fairly evenly to the
king of videogame hoops, Sega’s NBA 2K3, even though a few issues hold
it back from actually topping Sega Sports’ remarkably great title.
Still, 2003’s version of NBA Live is the best yet, particularly on the
Xbox, although it remarkably doesn’t have online capabilities for Xbox
Live play while its main competition (NBA 2K3) provides the Xbox gamer a
chance to hoop it up online.
It’s an EA Sports game, so you know that they take their slogan “if it’s
in the game, it’s in the game” seriously. The amount of true-to-form
gameplay elements included in each respective title has always been one
of EA’s biggest strengths, and that’s no
New this year is the ability to take a charge on defense. You can call
plays on the fly, although that doesn’t always work in practice as well
as it should. Another great feature is the freestyle control that
utilizes the right thumbstick of the Xbox controller in conjunction with
the left thumbstick and the controller buttons. With the right
combination of movement on the thumbsticks and depending on the ability
of the player, there are some sweet offensive and defensive moves that
can be done.
Again, it depends on the player. If you want to do an ankle-breaking
crossover move, you’ll never be able to accomplish it with the likes of
a slowpoke such as the Celtics’ Vin Baker. But if you’re controlling the
76ers’ fleet-of-foot Allen Iverson, then crossover your opponent until
they’re out of ankle braces. There are plenty of moves to do, from post
moves in the paint to steals. It just takes some experimentation with
each player to see what he brings to the court courtesy of the game’s
Freestyle control is a nice complement to the game’s basic control
scheme, which is responsive already. The only complaint here is trying
to pass the ball, which can get frustrating if you don’t use NBA Live
2003’s direct passing. Without it, passing in traffic can be an
adventure in turnover land.
Visuals in the game are generally excellent. They are incredible when it
comes to the players (and their animations) and the NBA arenas they play
in, much better than what appeared in NBA Live 2002. Players look like
they do in real life, and the arenas are painstakingly detailed. With
the power of the Xbox’s graphical abilities, you’re in for some real
eye-candy. But please don’t look directly at your television when there
is a shot of the crowd. NBA Live 2003’s graphic representation of the
arena audience is so incredibly 2D-flat-and-phony awful you just might
suffer serious eye damage.
Another weak point is the quick cut-scene camera shots of a team coach
after a foul or when a ball goes out of bounds. I know the intention is
to make it seem as realistic as if you’re watching a game on television,
but because of its poor quality it has the exact opposite effect, and
besides that it’s just downright annoying to have the game interrupted
to see a nowhere-near convincingly rendered glimpse of a coach ranting
on the sideline. I didn’t mind the shots of the bench players reacting
as much, because they are done much better. The coach’s sideline
reaction visuals are just bad.
As with all EA Sports titles, NBA Live 2003 is packed with a multitude
of modes and features that should satisfy even the most hardcore of
basketball fans. Only one mode, “1 on 1”, was disappointing to me. It
allows you to select two NBA players to square off against one another
in the gym for, as the name implies, a little one on one. No refs, no
crowds, no other teammates to dish off the ball to. And there is a huge
selection of players to choose from. NBA legends from the 50’s, 60’s,
70’s, 80’s, and 90’s are available.
My complaint is that this is the only form of “street” ball you can play
unlike NBA 2K3, which lets you go up to 5 on 5 in a “street” style game
on actual street courts. Still the modes you expect, from season to
franchise, are enough to make up for the exclusion of a better “street”
mode. The NBA rosters for the current season are relatively well updated
in NBA Live 2003, except for the exclusion of this year’s top draft
pick, the gargantuan Chinese center, Yao Ming of the Rockets.
If you want, you can also create your own players. But this
customization feature is too tempting in its opportunity to “cheat” that
I wish EA followed the suit of Microsoft’s NBA Inside Drive 2003. In NBA
Live 2003, you can boost every attribute of the created player (this
also can be done for the NBA players on the rosters, so in theory even a
twelfth man can be juiced up with mad hops and skills). In Microsoft’s
hoop game, created players are assigned a random set of attribute
ratings that can eventually be increased over time by earning points
that can be added to individual skill levels such as shooting and
rebounding ability. Falling into the temptation of boosting your team’s
players in NBA Live 2003 can create a dynasty-in-the-making that not
even the Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers could ever hope to beat.
One area that you won’t have to worry about is the game’s artificial
intelligence challenge level. Unless you start out with the Lakers or
Kings, expect to suffer some early defeats at the hands of the CPU. The
game is a tough and tenacious rebounder and also gets a few more blocked
shots than should really be possible, so it takes some skills to play
effectively winning basketball against the CPU (or a custom-boosted up
roster). But I’m sure having a game that presents a challenge is more
welcome by players than having the CPU stand idly by while you score on
dunk after dunk. And you won’t have plodding gameplay to bore you. NBA
Live 2003 is as fast-paced as you want it right from the first tip-off.
A final facet of the game, the camera, also has flexible customization.
Thankfully the camera can be adjusted because the default setting makes
it especially hard to keep a close tab on the on-court action. You just
need to find a camera angle suited to your gameplay tastes to enjoy your
personal NBA balling.
EA’s Madden and NHL titles have always been better than or at least no
worse than its direct competition. The NBA Live series was always a tad
behind the competition. Finally NBA Live 2003 pulls EA’s franchise
nearer to being the complete hoops game that its competitor NBA 2K3
already is. In fact, with the solid on-court graphical presentation,
fast-paced gameplay and variety of game modes, many may actually see it
on even par with NBA 2K3. Regardless of how it stacks up Sega’s hoop
game, NBA Live 2003 is a good basketball videogame that merits serious
consideration for you to slam-dunk your money down.