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NBA Live 2000 (PSX) Review

Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: November 1999

Background Info

PSX Screeens(4)
EA Sports has long been the king of sports gaming on the Playstation. With such venerable franchises as Madden Football, FIFA Soccer and NHL Hockey, EA has, in most gamers' opinion, reigned supreme over Sony's own 989 Studios. One of EA's most recognizable sports game franchises is its NBA Live series. Past incarnations have been maddeningly close to perfection, with only to have a fatal flaw or two knock them back down a notch. Can NBA Live 2000 (Live2K) be the one that finally gets it all right?

Presentation/Graphics : 93
The Live series has always pushed the boundaries of the PSX's graphical ability, and Live2K is no different. The same crisp images from Live 99 are present, with a significant amount of enhancements to boot. The player animations are, for the most part, superb. Players get down the court realistically, sometimes backpedaling as they go. The shooting, jumping and passing animations are very well done, giving a superb sense of realism. As usual, the dunking animations are top notch, with a wide variety at your disposal. Kevin Garnett was used to motion capture the animations, and the results are excellent. So far, so good.

It gets better. A lot of work went into Live 2K to enhance the look of the game, and to give it the feel of watching a real basketball game. All sorts of little animations are present, from players checking their sneakers, to congratulating each other after successful free throws. EA's fanatical attention to detail submerses the gamer even further into the game, making Live 2K a true basketball experience. Watch players admonish the referee after a foul call, or touch knuckles in celebration, and you realize EA went all out to make this game work visually.

There's more. Perhaps the most noticeable graphical enhancement is in the facial expressions of the players. For starters, the players look, for the most part, an awful lot like their real life counterparts. Check out Scottie Pippen or Charles Barkley, and you will see what I mean. The star players have definitely been created with a great deal of care. Add to this a number of facial expressions, and you have some very impressive player visuals. Players smile, scowl and celebrate realistically. Very well done!

The uniforms look very nice, accurately modeling the real deal. As usual, the courts themselves are first class, uncanny in their resemblance to the real NBA courts. My only carp with the game's visuals is the crowd, which is not very well defined and simply not up to the other standards set by the game.

Presentation/Audio : 86
All of the usual in game sounds are present and are done nicely. Sneakers squeak, bodies thump and there is the requisite thunderous sound of dunks being slammed down. You can hear a bit of player banter as well. The crowd noises are done fairly well, as they respond to what is actually happening on the court. If the home team is doing well, the crowd will get louder, while a sub-par performance will bring an almost deafening silence. This is nothing new in sports games, but EA always does it well, and Live2K is no exception.

Play-by-play is now virtually a requirement in sports games. EA has the tandem of Don Poier, voice of the Vancouver Grizzlies, and former player Reggie Theus handle the play by play and color commentary, respectively. They do a good job of keeping up with the action, which not all sports game can claim; nothing is more irritating than an announcer being 5 seconds behind the actual game play. Of the two, Poier definitely comes off better. He manages to sound enthused and his descriptions are crisp and concise. Poier's delivery adds even more believability to Live2K's game play package. Theus doesn't come off quite as well, mainly because he is strangely silent for extended periods. When he does speak up, he really has nothing of value to say, just a vanilla comment about whatever player Poier has been describing.

The music in the game is uniformly excellent. EA has gotten some big names to climb on board, including George Clinton, Naughty By Nature and Run DMC. The styles are (obviously) either funk or hip hop, which work well in Live2K, as they have in past Live games.

Interface/Options : 97
Folks, this is how you make a sports game. NBA Live 2000 is simply brimming with features and options, enough to keep virtually anyone happy. Flexibility is the key, and Live2K has it in spades.

The standard play modes are all available: exhibition, tournament and season. Season mode can be played for up to 10 consecutive seasons, during which your players will age and can go on either hot or cold streaks. Unfortunately, there is no rookie draft each season, so you cannot infuse the league with new and exciting players. This limits the season modes appeal, at least when compared with Madden Football's franchise mode, and NCAA Football's dynasty mode. But other than that complaint, this game sweats the details and then some.

Everything the gamer could ask for is here. A practice mode is available on an outdoor court, as is a one-on-one game that features none other than His Airness, Michael Jordan. If you beat Jordan, he becomes available as a free agent and can be used in the game. The same can be said for countless other legends of the past, as EA has included a team of all stars for each decade since the 1950's. Want to play with Wilt Chamberlain? How about Pistol Pete Maravich? Feel like taking Dr. J and his amazing afro on? Not a problem! Even the uniforms represent the eras correctly; check out how short Larry Bird's shorts are! This is a very welcome addition to the Live series and gives it a much needed shot in the arm. As you achieve certain game play milestones, you unlock these legends into the free agent pool, and they are available for any team to pick up. Too sweet!

Game play itself can be tweaked every which way. You can play an exaggerated, fast paced game in arcade mode, or go for the all out NBA experience in simulation mode. If you want to combine the two, or turn off certain rules you don't like (illegal defense, perhaps) you can customize the game to your liking. The possibilities are nearly endless.

The length of the quarters can be adjusted in one-minute increments, allowing you to tailor the game's length to your liking. This should be in every single sports game, but it is often left out; Sega's new NBA2K does not offer this, and it's a damn shame. Thanks to EA for letting the gamer adjust virtually everything he could want.

A 3-point shootout mode is once again available. Up to 8 players can compete to see who is the long distance champion.

The menus are decent enough, though not as initially user-friendly as I would like. They are set up a bit differently than the normal EA Sports title, so getting the hang of them may take a little while. Once you do get used to them, they are just fine. Load times are a bit longish, but not any worse than past version of Live.

EA Sports takes full advantage of the PSX controller. Every button is put to use, and using the d-pad in conjunction with the buttons lets you pull off advanced moves, such as stutter steps and fake moves. Crossovers and spin moves are readily available, as is a back down move that lets you back in towards the bucket. Even the select button is used; pressing it will call for a pick. Each and every button press and d-pad movement is very responsive. Control in this game is dead-on.

As is the norm nowadays, you can pass to your teammates via either the D-pad or the icons on the controller. While Sony invented Icon passing with their sports series, EA calls it DirectPass. It works like a charm. The game can also be played in player lock mode, where rather than switching players all the time, you are the same player the entire game. You can call for passes from the CPU or even have your CPU teammates shoot. I played as Glen Rice and sat on the perimeter all day, raining three pointers down on the lowly Clippers. This mode adds a sort of role-playing mode to Live2K. Very nice.

You can create up to 4 custom teams and staff them as you see fit. In addition, a very nice create-a-player feature is included, letting you determine everything from skills, physical appearance and demeanor! A draft feature is also available, allowing you to dump all the players into a pool and draft for each team.

In case you couldn't tell, I am completely enamored by the options available in NBA Live 2000. If only every other sports game out there was created with such care, and allowed complete user flexibility. If it were not for the lack of a real franchise mode, Live2K would get a perfect score here.

Gameplay : 92
So how does Live2K play anyway? I mean, all the options in the world can't save crappy game play. Well, don't worry; Live2K plays very well for the most part. It does what the past Live's have done, without the one fatal flaw that those games always included. For the uninitiated, let me rehash the past for a second.

Live 98 had a foul bug; computer players rarely, if ever, fouled you. You hardly ever got to go to the foul line to shoot a pair of free throws. As if that were not bad enough, you could virtually walk down the lane and dunk at will. So much for Live 98 being a simulation. In Live 99, those problems were fixed (well, mostly; it was still too easy to score), but another nasty bug reared its ugly head. Players would not fatigue properly in games that were played with short quarter lengths. If you played 5 minute quarters, neither your players, nor the CPU's, got fatigued. There was no need to sub, so your bench was basically a non-factor. This killed Live 99's sim value. Live 2K has addressed all of these, and succeeded very well for the most part.

Fouls happen with realistic frequency (and that frequency can be adjusted further by the gamer in the options menu). You will be going to the free throw line plenty of times. In a close game, if you are leading, expect to get fouled. EA got it right.

Fatigue is modeled much better than in Live 99. Players now will get tired in shorter games, and will need to be subbed. The CPU will sub appropriately as well. This is a huge relief to those who suffered through Live 99.

Finally, the CPU defense has been tightened up. It is much harder to penetrate now if you simply try to drive the lane. Defenders will square up and take a charge, will swat the ball out of your hands for a steal, or send the ball into orbit with a monster block. You will need to use a lot of savvy to get the ball under hoop consistently. Luckily, you can call offensive and defensive plays on the fly, moving your players around and positioning them properly for a pick, a low post move, etc.

Other than those three much-needed enhancements, veteran Live players will find themselves right at home; the game plays very similarly to past Live installments. The AI has been beefed up on the offensive end as well. On the higher levels of difficulty, the CPU will hit the open man more often, post up better and will rarely pass up an open shot. As usual, EA has done a stellar job of creating the feel of an NBA game. Players will hit cold streaks, or can get so hot that they simply cannot miss. The scoring is more widely distributed than in past versions. No longer will one player consistently lead the team in scoring each and every game. Some of the lesser known players will step up and take control on occasion.

Given the improved defensive play of the CPU, shooting percentages are down a bit, towards more realistic levels. They are still a bit on the high side, but I honestly don't know what more can be done to lower them further, unless you want to be pulling your hair out over randomly missed easy buckets. EA has hit a nice balance here, as far as I am concerned.

Replay Value : 94
NBA Live 2000 offers 4 modes of difficulty, so everyone should be able to find a challenge for quite a while. The challenge of each level increases at a reasonable margin. Even seasoned Live veterans should be able to get challenging (and more realistic) game of hoops from Live2K. Throw in the 3-point shootout, and of course the one-on-one playground game, and you have some serious replay value. If only there were a franchise mode...(sigh). Oh well, I guess EA needs to be able to add something new to the mix next year.

Overall : 93
NBA Live 2000 does virtually everything right, or at least exceptionally well. There are no game play killing bugs to be found, and there are so many things to do within the game itself that it is hard to really criticize the game in a serious way. So hoops fans can rejoice; EA has finally delivered on all of the promise they have shown the past few years. This is a first-rate sports game.

By: Jim S. 11/30/99

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