Search For Posters!
  Join the SGN staff!
Help Wanted
Release Dates


About Us

The Sports

Partner Links
Auto Insurance Quote
Irvine Moving Companies
LA Moving Companies
Brand Name Shoes

NBA Live 99 (PSX) Review

Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: November 1998

Background Info

Reviewing games is not always as fun as you might think. There are some very mediocre games out there, not to mention the ones that truly stink. Having to play one of these games enough to do a complete and thorough review can be monotonous or even gut-wrenchingly difficult. But when a really good game comes along, you reap the rewards of being a reviewer. Happily NBA Live 99 falls in this category, a game which was not only fun to play for the review, but one that will be enjoyed for a while to come.

NBA Live 99 arrived during the lockout which kept the real players out of action for so long. This version is the sequel to last year's Live 98, which was a fine looking game with flaws too big to be ignored. But with Live 99, EA Sports has recaptured the realistic feel of NBA Live 97 and made a game with all the promise that Live 98 failed to deliver.

Presentation/Graphics : 95
NBA Live 99 is a damn good looking game. Graphically, everything about the game is top notch. Each and every court appears to have been created with loving care. Fans of certain teams will be more than pleased with the way their teams' court is depicted in Live 99. Light reflections and shadows add to the realism. An animated crowd is present and though it's obviously the same pattern over and over, it still adds a bit to the game's atmosphere.

What really sets Live 99 apart is its players. They are simply fantastic; realistically modeled and well animated. There is a noticeable difference in the height and weight of each individual player, something very important to the realism of any hoops game. In addition, each player actually has facial expressions that change as the situation dictates. A frustrated player who just picked up his 4th foul will walk off the court in a scowl. A player at the free throw line will be a study in concentration. Even though these expressions are only apparent when the camera is ultra close, such attention to detail is a very welcome development for the Live series.

Player animations are top notch. There are literally dozens of new animations in this game, from new dunks to new cross-over moves. This breaks the monotony that the old version of Live inevitably fell prey to. Each player moves in a realistic matter as the game is played, be it skying for a high rebound or taking the ball to the hole. The result is a game that is actually a pleasure to watch as you play.

The team uniforms are also nicely done. Even the 3rd "Sunday" jerseys are there for the teams that have them. The jerseys are detailed, and very effective in portraying the real teams of the NBA

The only caveat I have with the graphics is occasional slowdown, where the frame rate seems just a bit sluggish. However, it is only noticeable to sticklers like me, and only in rare instances. When all is said and done, Live 99 is the best-looking PSX basketball game yet.

Presentation/Audio : 92
The audio in NBA Live 99 simply sparkles. From the funked-out menu music to the on-court sounds, the sounds delivered in Live 99 will make even the most fickle gamer smile. While I have never been a big fan of menu music, there is no denying that the music in Live 99 can get you all revved up and ready to play some hoops. It's mostly a combination of hip-hop and funk, and it is well done. It's even possible to specify which songs are played.

As I said, menu music doesn't mean much to me; the real meat of game audio is, of course, the in-game sounds. Once again, EA delivers in spades. The ever-present squeaking of the sneakers is very distinct and clear. You will hear the thunderous sounds of dunks being thrown down, the clanging of shots off the rim, and the sweet swish of the net. The crowd is interactive as well, cheering appropriately for the home team and going silent (or booing) when the visitors outplay the hosts. They will be nice and quiet when the home team is shooting freethrows, and raucous when the visitors go to the charity stripe. Overall, the crowd sounds are pretty clear and add immeasurably the immersion factor of the game.

Another welcome feature is the sound of players barking out to teammates, whether it be to set a pick or calling for the ball. This is yet another way EA Sports makes you feel you are at an actual NBA game.

The play-by-play this year is handled by Don Poier, and frankly he doesn't do much for me. He lacks personality and excitement and is nowhere near as good as Live 98's Vern Lundquist. He does manage to keep up with the action most of the time, and that's a good thing.

There is also an option to turn off play-by-play and just go with the arena announcer. He will report just the basics, like who just scored and who just picked up a foul. He is done fairly well, sounding pretty much like your standard arena announcer. When he announces the home team to the fans, you will swear this is the guy you hear whenever you catch a game.

Interface/Options : 95
In my mind, EA Sports is the king of the interface. Only on rare occasions have they failed to delight me with a combination of innovation and user friendliness. Happily, Live 99 does not disappoint.

The menus are very workable once you get the hang of them. The depth of options is impressive, such as the ability to view an amazing number of stats for each player and reordering the roster of each team as you see fit.

You can customize Live 99 until you are blue in the face, which is just the way I like my sports games.

You can increase or decrease the rate at which offensive and defensive fouls are called, you can toggle virtually every rule of the NBA on or off, as well as fatigue and injuries. You can play the game as a simulation, or set it up for arcade plays for those who need the constant gratification of spectacular dunks. And if you get lost among all these options, the usual EA Sports "Help Button" will bail you out.

The game can be played in many different modes. Exhibition, season, playoffs, practice and a 3-point shootout are all included. The season can be as short or long as you like. The length of quarters can also be adjusted to your liking, though playing short quarters can be problematic (more on that a bit later).

During season mode, the sheer number of stats available is almost mind-boggling. Almost every stat you could want is included, including points per game, something that was mysteriously (and unforgivably) missing in EA Sports' just-released March Madness 99.

Season mode also allows you the option of conducting a fantasy draft prior to the beginning of the season, and even having trades take place throughout the league as the season progresses. You can offer trades to other teams and will occasionally be offered one by a computer-controlled team. If you want to keep your rosters accurate, you can save them in the main menu and still make moves during season mode, as the rosters in the main menu will remain unchanged.

The player control is much improved over past versions. Gone is the "cross-over and instantly go out of bounds" move of the prior incarnations. You actually have control over the player as he handles the ball during tricky moves. What a novel idea! The game does seem to model inertia, so there may be some who feel the players are a bit slippery on the court, especially if you are used to the pin-point precision moves of the players in Sony's NBA Shootout series. However, there is an option to turn player momentum off if this bothers you. There are simply a staggering number of things you can do both with and without the ball, such as the turbo boost, set picks, post up or do a nifty spin move. The controller uses the same button assignments as in the past, so picking up the game and diving right in is possible for NBA Live vets. Icon passing and player switching are implemented, taking the guesswork out of both tasks.

Another neat feature is the ability to "lock" on one player while playing. Say you want to run the point for the Spurs, feeding balls inside to Robinson and Duncan. Simply activate the player lock feature, choose the point guard and go for it! You can even call for passes or for your computer teammates to shoot the ball.

As usual, EA Sports has come up with a real winner of an interface. Getting the knack of navigating menus and controlling the players on the court is a piece of cake.

Gameplay : 85
Well, it always comes down to game play doesn't it? So far Live 99 appears as to be as good as it gets, but if the game play is sub-par, all the graphics, audio and options in the world can't make it a truly good game. Well, you can breathe easy; while Live 99 has its quirks, the game play for the most part it pretty darned impressive.

Playing the game feels pretty realistic. You can execute perfect give-and-goes or throw down dunks that shatter the rim as well as your speakers, and it just feels right. Timing your leap and going up for a rebound is particularly satisfying, as you can actually feel yourself straining to reach the ball. Shot percentages are also down from the past versions, which may frustrate some gamers, though I wouldn't have it any other way.

Playing defense is a little less rewarding. Positioning yourself is fun and necessary, but going for the steal still doesn't come off to well. You can keep pressing the steal button and one of three things will happen; you will fail with your player looking like a spazz as he reaches for the ball repeatedly (most frequently), you will get whistled for the foul (less frequently) or you will actually get the steal (least frequently). Really, you are better off matching up on defense and going for steals by anticipating where a pass is going to go. Trying to strip the ball from players is just an exercise in frustration.

There were two major complaints about NBA Live 98. First, it was just too damn easy to drive the lane and score. The AI was pretty pathetic, even on the hardest setting. If you were a good player and played enough, you could not only win every game but dominate as well. And where is the fun in that? Well, EA must have taken that complaint to heart because Live 99's AI is far superior to its predecessor. No more slashing to the hoop and scoring at will. You will actually be stymied and probably stripped of the ball if you try this too often. If you want to score you'd better be prepared to move the ball around and look for the opening. To help you do that, there are all sorts of plays you can call on the fly. Strategy will actually come into play in the tighter games. Plays can also be called on defense, so if you want to go full-out press it is as easy as the touch of a button.

The computer-controlled player AI seems better than Live 98 as well. Your teammates play a bit better defensively and move well away from the ball. The CPU opponent AI also seems improved. They will (usually) take advantage of open lanes to the basket and seem to sense mismatches, such as your small forward trying to cover the center near the post. The computer also seems very cunning in going with the hot hand. In one game against the Jazz, Hornacek could not miss. Rather than continually pound the ball inside play after play, they often pushed the ball toward the hoop and then dished it back out to Hornacek for the outside shot. Pretty damned nifty! And once Hornacek cooled down, they went back to Malone as their main man.

The second major complaint about Live 98 was the now infamous foul bug. When playing Live 98, the CPU would rarely (if ever) foul you during the course of the game. This was the last straw for most gamers who prefer an accurate simulation of the sport. Thankfully, EA has fixed this and fouls do occur. Adjusting their frequency in the options menu has the desired effect, which after last year's disaster is good news indeed.

Unfortunately, while fixing the foul bug, EA Sports let another oddity creep in. That's right folks, welcome to the NBA Live 99 fatigue bug! Yes, players do fatigue properly during the course of a game; a 48 minute game that is. In past versions of EA Sports basketball games, you could play in shorter period lengths and still have the effects of fatigue make you (and the CPU) substitute accordingly. EA Sports apparently used a simple formula that made players fatigue faster the lower the period length was. You could play 5 minute quarters, and around the 2 minute mark you had better start subbing. This made you utilize almost all the players on your bench, a must for any hoops game that bills itself as a simulation. It seems as if this formula was simply left out of NBA Live 99. You can play 5 minute quarters, but since most real players do not fatigue in 5 minutes of play, there is no need to sub. Apparently EA's tried-and-true formula has simply been left out. You still can, of course, but don't expect the CPU to even touch its bench. This is a major stumbling block towards the game's aspirations to be a sim. There is a workaround to this problem, which requires you to edit your opposing team's roster before each and every game. Lowering the opposing player's fatigue ratings can get the desired results. Even so, this is quite a bit of work and I get the feeling most gamers will just grin and bear it and play without subs. That's a real shame.

Another byproduct of playing shorter quarters is unrealistic stats in simmed games. Playing 8 minute quarters can give you stats and scores that pretty much mirror real NBA games. However, when you sim games for the other teams in the league, they will also be based on 8 minute quarters. The result is much lower scores and stats for the simmed games. Hence, you will find yourself leading the league in most offensive categories. This also detracts from the simulation value of Live 99.

While not a game play issue, it does bear mentioning that the comically long lockout of the players during the offseason was also bad news for gamers. Since the rookies could not be offered contracts, none of them are in NBA Live 99. That is hardly EA's fault, but one of the main reasons for buying sports games year after year is to get the updated rosters. No such luck here, unless you have a Dex Drive, a utility that allows you to download PSX memory card files off the net and put them onto your memory card. EA Sports promised to deliver updated rosters for downloading once the lockout was over and all the roster moves had been made.

Well, now that it is over, the rookies are in camp and a flurry of free agent signings and trades have made the rosters included in Live 99 virtually obsolete. If EA carries through on its earlier promise, a lot of sports gamers will be very happy, as long as they have a Dex Drive.

Difficulty : 85
EA Sports has handled the levels of difficulty in Live 99 pretty well. There are four settings and rather than each one just making the computer more like a superhuman opponent, your own game is affected as well. Shot percentages go down as the difficulty level goes up. You really must time the release of your shot much better on the higher levels. You also must be more wary of the defense, which becomes increasingly menacing as the difficulty level rises. You will be stripped of the ball far easier and you will have to position yourself just perfectly to go up and get that rebound. Thankfully EA includes an option to keep the games close. By simply toggling this option on, most games will remain tight up until the waning seconds. Of course this is good news if you are behind and bad news if you are ahead. While there is nothing revolutionary here, the difficulty settings are well implemented without seeming too cheesy, as is the case with too many sports games.

Overall : 90
With NBA Live 99, EA Sports has come up with a very solid game of basketball. In some areas it is simply outstanding and in others it is very solid. While I have my usual few complaints (the fatigue problem in particular), there is nothing in the game that I would call below average or bad. These days that is saying a helluva lot, and NBA Live 99 deserves lofty praise.

By: Jim S. 1/26/99

© 1998-2006 Sports Gaming Network. Entire legal statement. Feedback

Other Links:
[Free Credit Report  |   Car Insurance Quotes  |   Designer Shoes  |   Outdoor Equipment

MVP Baseball 2003
Street Hoops
Mad Catz Xbox Hardware

Inside Pitch 2003
MLB Slugfest 20-04
Tennis Masters Series