reviews\ Oct 28, 2002 at 7:00 pm

NBA Live 2003 - XB - Review

You know that things did not go so well for last year’s edition of NBA Live 2002 when the developers decided to scrap the whole thing and start from scratch with NBA Live 2003.  Normally, chucking the previous version into the trashcan could have disastrous results, except that anything would be better than the dismal NBA Live 2002.  After tinkering with an entirely new game in the lab, the developers at EA Canada came up with a winner: NBA Live 2003.  NBA Live 2003 was made in the same building as NHL 2003, and it shows.  NBA Live follows the mold of NHL with its combination of a technical sim and arcade shooter, and the finished product will be enjoyed by both run-and-gun streetballers and old-school five-on-fivers. 


The first thing you’ll notice about NBA Live 2003 is the pace.  The game whips by like Damon Stoudamire on a fast break.  The game has been sped up to promote easier offense, more spectacular plays, and fun for the whole family.  Rather than make the game a simple lay up drill, EA has countered its explosive offense with a juiced-up defense.  Everyone on the floor can block shots like Dikembe Mutombo, and in my franchise games, Lamar Odom was averaging about five per game (perhaps because he always got real high?).  When not swatting the ball back into the bleachers, defenders can pick pockets of would-be ball-handlers for steals.  Without these two defensive elements, games would look like NBA All-Star games, with players trying to show off and defending like a turtle on its back.  Sports games require balance more than anything else, and NBA Live 2003 is like a seesaw at equilibrium. 


The second thing you’ll notice about NBA Live 2003 is the much-hyped Freestyle control.  Much like NHL 2003’s manual deking control using the right joystick, Freestyle control allows unparalleled dribbling and defensive control.  With just a few taps of the right joystick, ballhandlers can crossover, reverse crossover, spin, and go behind the back.  It takes a bit of time to get used to, but the payoff off of lulling your defender to sleep with crossovers and fakes before driving past him is a worthy reward for those who take the time to learn.  On the defensive side, Freestyle control lets players assume an aggressive defensive stance, attempt steals with either hand, and put both hands in the air to deflect passes or contest shots.  In fact, defense can almost be played exclusively with just both joysticks.  Whether on offense or defense, Freestyle control is the best thing to happen to a basketball game in a long time.


The offense of NBA Live is incredibly solid, probably even more so than NBA 2K3’s.  NBA Live still has the best post-up and isolation game of any basketball video game, and thanks to the Freestyle controls, players can palm the ball or hold it out in the post before making one of several moves on their way to the basket.  With all the offensive options and friendly rims all over the NBA Live league, don’t be surprised when your team shoots 70% and scores twenty points per five minute quarter. 


Playing defense is often for naught.  Even with the defensive Freestyle controls, the offense-oriented NBA Live 2003 offers little in the way of effective defense.  Aside from deflecting passes or blocking shots, there is little one can do to stop a competent offense.  EA has added a “take charge” button to stop an out of control dribbler, but getting the call is much easier said than done.  Rebounding on both ends of the floor is much improved, and unlike last year, taking control of a man to crash the boards will improved your chances for rebounding. 


The franchise mode in NBA Live 2003 lets players take control of a basketball over a series of seasons.  As general manager of the team, gamers have options to trade, draft, and sign players.  Free agents will be pursued by other teams, so managers are going to need to keep them happy by offering the right contract.  After the completion of a season, several awards are given out including first-team all NBA, an all-rookie squad, and of course MVP of the league. 


The graphics in NBA Live are exceptional.  The frames per second rate on the player animations is very high and really smooths out player movements.  Gamers won’t have to look at the back of jerseys to see who they are using.  The player models are very well done and have the best looking faces of the new crop of basketball games.  EA has opted for a more exaggerated animation style.  This works very well for the many powerful dunks, but hurts NBA Live when defenders attempt NBA Jam style blocks.  The crowd is composed mostly of 2-D sprites in a loop, but the full 3-D bench players and coaches on the sidelines look very real.


EA has gotten several big name hip-hop artists to contribute to the soundtrack including Snoop Dogg, Fabolous, and Busta Rhymes.  The commentary is usually very timely, but because the game moves so fast, it can get thrown off.  The crowd could be a little more enthusiastic, but the stadium announcer is excellent.


NBA Live 2003 is rated E for everyone. 



Gameplay: 9

This is the best combination of arcade and sim styles, making this a game anyone can pick up and immediately enjoy.


Graphics: 8.8

A little exaggerated, but the animations are smooth and look good.


Sound: 7.5

An excellent soundtrack helps out some weak ambient sounds. 


Difficulty: Medium

A great game for ballers who like to throw up three’s and throw down dunks.  The generous field goal percentage make it easier for novices to pick up a controller and score.


Concept: 9.5

The Freestyle control is an excellent addition, and really makes this game worth purchasing. 


Multiplayer: 7

You’ll want to spend more time dribbling by your friends then passing to them.  There’s no online feature, which hurts the score.


Overall: 8.8


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