The NBA Live series is the virtual baller that has been around longer than any other series. Dating back to fantastic titles like NBA Live '95, it has been fun, fast, and entertaining. In recent years, however, the clear king of the virtual court has been 2K Sports’ NBA 2K series. NBA Live looks to steal back that crown this year with some slick new features, controls, and gameplay. There are some great additions to this game, but the actual gameplay does not do enough to set this game apart as the standard for basketball games this year. The control scheme is slightly awkward, the AI is sketchy, and the pace of the game is seemly not optimal. Don't get me wrong, Live 09 is certainly an improvement and a step in the right direction, but it's just not quite there yet.
NBA Live 09 does some great things, and these positives should not be overlooked. The biggest addition this year, and the most advertised, is the online updating component. Rosters will be updated in real-time according to the real NBA season. If a player gets traded or injured, your rosters will reflect that change. Basically, you'll always have accurate rosters and stats. Also to this effect is the new DNA system. This will update your tendencies, stats, and attributes in-game as you play. So, if you've got a habit of shooting three's from the corner a la Bruce Bowen, your attributes will be updated accordingly. This makes for a nice balance of your info being updated from real-life and from your gameplay. This information can also be used to scout other teams and set up your game plan. Beginning players will probably be a bit lost, but for pros, this will be a very appealing feature.
As far as graphics go, Live 09 takes the cake this year. The animations, moves, replays, environments, and players are probably the best I've seen. The game looks great as you are playing, and the menus and interfaces in between are slick and seamless. The ESPN integration is the icing on the cake, as long as you're online. You'll get ticking scores and other updates from the real NBA world as you play the game. The presentation is excellent, and you'll appreciate the ease of use and classy appearance. The audio is very solid as well, with the return of Marv Albert and Steve Kerr. One of my buddies walked by the TV and asked me who was playing, thinking it was a real game.
To contrast the excellent presentation, the gameplay struggles to excel in the same way. This is really a shame, considering the great aspects that are present in the game. My biggest complaint is the AI. If you don't specifically tell each player what you want them to do by switching your control onto them, they seemingly won't do a thing. They won't try to rebound, they won't cut, and they won't play very good defense. You'll pretty much have to call a play every time down the court if you want any semblance of team movement.
If you're able to call plays with ease every time down the court, you'll most likely enjoy NBA Live 09 a lot more. There are plenty of ways for you to do this. You can jump right into a game, or start up a franchise in the Dynasty mode that is great, but relatively similar to previous versions. Then you've got your NBA Live standard All-Star Weekend mode, training camp mode (which will serve as your tutorial), and online mode. One new mode is the “Be a Pro” mode, in which you'll create your own player and take him through his NBA journey. This mode seems a bit tacked-on, and probably won't warrant much of your time. The online mode is solid enough, with the gameplay being sufficiently smooth. You'll have single games, rankings, and tournaments.
The controls are very similar to what you've seen in past NBA Live games, with a few changes. The defensive lockdown defender feature has been tweaked a bit, for the better, and it feels more realistic. The biggest addition this year is the pick-n-roll control. It actually works pretty well, but on offense you'll find yourself picking and rolling your way through every game, and it will get old. There simply isn't enough variety in ways to score. There isn't one individual reason I can put my finger on, but the controls just don't seem as tight as they could have been. They are slightly cumbersome, and it makes getting through each game more of a job than entertainment.
NBA Live 09 is not a bad game. In fact, it's a relatively good game, if a bit incomplete. NBA Live fans will be happy to hear that the series is moving in the right direction. In the next few years, it will be interesting to see how EA Sports ups the ante with the controls and gameplay to make this game the complete package that it could be a should be.
NBA Live 09 is like a big, juicy burger that looks to be cooked just right, but the core middle part is not completely cooked. It looks great and moves great, but the gameplay and controls are just a step behind. NBA Live 09 is not far away from being a fantastic basketball game, but it needs a bit of refining to get there. I can recommend this game only to those devoted to EA's Live series.