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Q4 2002



- Incredible player and court graphics
- Fast-placed gameplay just like NBA
- Challenging AI



- Awful crowd graphics
- Too easy to “cheat” by boosting custom created hoopsters and NBA player ratings
- Only “1 on 1” street-ball type mode



Review: NBA Live 2003 (Gamecube)

Review: NBA Live 2003 (PC)

Review: NBA Jam (XB)



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NBA Live 2003

Score: 8.3 / 10


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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




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exception with NBA Live 2003.

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 freestyling moves.

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.


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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.

- Lee Cieniawa

(November 30, 2002)


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