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NBA Live 2002 (Xbox) Review

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The first basketball game for Microsoft's Xbox. More like a port of the PS2 version. To start off, if you own the Playstation 2 version of NBA Live 2002, you should expect pretty much the same thing from the Xbox version.

Graphically, as with all EA Sports games, NBA Live 2002 won't disappoint you at all. But, if you are like me, more interested in gameplay, this game doesn't give you much. Read on to find out why.

Presentation/Graphics : 90
The graphic quality in NBA Live 2002 is definitely top-notch. Crisp and smooth graphics provide for excellent visuals. The NBA players are pretty detailed as you can see tattoos and facial expressions. Players on the bench even cheer on their teammates. We just need dancing cheerleaders during timeouts now. The best part of the game in terms of graphics is the good frame rates. I never experienced any pauses in the game.

There are some really spectacular dunks in NBA Live 2002. Windmills, reverse, you name it, the game has it. Most of the cut scenes are nicely done. However, they do get repetitive after a few games. Mostly the same cutscenes.

With all this praising of the graphics, there is a major gripe I have dealing with player collision. When a player in traffic drives to the hoop attempting a dunk or lay-up, sometimes he goes right through the defender, at least visually. This also occurs when the ball handler tries to do a cross-over or a spin move. Very disappointing to see a company with such an emphasis on graphics overlook this.

Presentation/Audio : 60
Crowd cheering and booing are much improved from last year. They cheer when your team is on a run or does something worthy of cheering. Sound effects such as the squeaks of players' shoes or the ball bouncing against the court are done adequately enough although I occasionally hear what I believe to be rocket sounds.

We have gotten used to play-by-play by now. Nothing too exciting. Accurate for the most part on the play-by-play. Not much color commentary can be found in this game. When there is commentary, some inaccurate comment such as, "Walker is averaging 50 rebounds a night" are made. Other than that, the commentary is pretty repetitive as well.

Interface/Options : 75
The controls in the game are very sluggish, specifically the shoot button. I can't count the number of times I was able to get near the hoop with the ball but got the ball stolen because my guy would not shoot the ball even though I kept hitting the button. The crossover and spin moves don't feel realistic: the moves aren't effective at all. Also, be careful of doing the moves near the sidelines, your guy might spin towards the sidelines instead of towards the center of the court and end up out of bounds. Direct pass works pretty well. You definitely need to get familiar with direct pass on Superstar difficulty level.

NBA Live 2002 features a franchise, season, practice, exhibition and 1-on-1 mode. The franchise mode allows users to draft rookies, sign, release and trade players. The rookies in the draft don't have any sort of numerical ratings attached to them, but instead they all have a scouting report that lists their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, it also lists their potential as excellent, good, average, limited or very limited as well as their expected and actual draft position. Also, you are able to create a player as well as edit existing players. The game also shows the progress of players' ratings in the game. It is nice to see how much a player progresses throughout their careers. Players' ratings looks predetermined. Season stats do not seem to factor into how much a player progresses. On a different note, All Star games feature players who perform well prior to the game, which is a plus.

The computer also offers trades. They seem to be all one for one trades. No draft picks can be included. The good thing here is that you are able to review the trade before you accept or refuse.

The hard drive capability for the Xbox is really nice. You are able to save multiple seasons and franchises without having to worry about erasing custom players, teams, and other seasons and franchises. The load time for the game is great--it's much faster than Playstation 2.

I should mention the game's rosters are accurate as of September 25, 2001. The game shipped in late November. Why couldn't EA just hold off on sending the game to manufacturing till after the NBA season started to get more accurate starting line-ups and rosters?

The off-season also has the All-NBA team, All-Rookie team, All-Defensive team, as well as some of the various individual player awards. The game also shows the NBA Finals MVP.

Most of the menus are satisfactory organized. It just takes some use to know which buttons do what in the menus. The NBA news screen could use some work. One of the features it lists are team trades. The only drawback is that it shows individually one player changing teams to a different team. For instance, for a trade, it would show Ray Allen being traded to the 76ers; however, would not say who he was traded in return for. Usually, the transactions would be listed right next to one another, but in this case when Ray Allen was traded to the 76ers, it just said that he went to Philadelphia from the Bucks.

The simulation engine does its job. Although, in one of my seasons, Jordan averaged 30 points a game with his team finishing 33-49. I think that might be overdoing it a little.

There are no AI sliders to tinker with. Maybe next year. Also, no in-game save. I'm not sure why EA keeps on leaving in-game save out. As a result, this forced me to play only 6 minute quarters.

Some more gripes include the lack of any statistical update on the screen during the game. I believe even NBA Live 2001 had updates randomly flash on the screen during the game.

Gameplay : 60
In general, the pace of the game is great. This means that most likely you will need to play 12 minute quarters to get realistic stats. Make sure you set the game quarter length to be the same or within 2 minutes of the game sim length in the franchise mode depending on your skill.

I play with the shot control set to CPU instead of USER. With the setting on USER, I was barely able to hit 25% of my FGs excluding dunks/lay-ups and the 5-foot hook shots. However, after changing it to CPU, the result was much more satisfactory. I'm able to hit around 45%-55% of my FGs from mid-range. 3-points also went in at a realistic percentage depending on your shooter. The only gripe that goes along with field goals is the hook shot going into the basket at a unrealistic percentage. There is no way Kevin Cato should be able to hit 7 out of 10 hook shots.

Another positive in the game is the better defensive play from the CPU in the post game. You see players trying to go for the steal on an entry pass to the low post. However, the player going for the steal is able to get back too quickly by going right through the offensive player. Another positive is the double teaming by the computer of the player on the low post. This lets you try to find an open man.

There is also an alley-oop button that can be used. However, not all alley-oops are successful as some end up getting aired into the stands or behind the player on the receiving end. Long passes are less accurate, as they should be. Long passes in the game can sometimes end up out of bounds or in the defense possesion.

In addition, the ball physics are nicely done. The ball sometimes rolls around on the rim and could roll in or out. The blocks are nicely done as well. It is really satisfying to reject a dunk or swat a layup away.

The list of disappointments in NBA Live 2002 is plentiful.

Injuries, major or minor don't occur at all while playing the game. Simming will get you injuries though. We need a basketball game to have injuries to players that force them to sit out a quarter or two, as well as the more serious injuries to make the game more realistic. Also, with the illegal defense being taken out in the NBA this year, one would think NBA Live 2002 would have a zone defense set. Nope. They took out the illegal defense call though.

The AI needs some serious tweaking. First, on Superstar level, the CPU's players on defense run around as if they are on turbo throughout the game. This affects the game in a couple of ways. First, I mentioned before how the CPU defender will sometimes double-team someone posting up. Well, as a result of the turbocharged defenders, you aren't really able to take advantage of the double team because once you pass the ball, the CPU defender will use the nitrous on his shoes and get back to his man. You are able to still find an open man if you are double teamed in the post, just won't be able to swing the ball around like in the NBA. If the speed of the CPU defenders would be reduced a little, it would make quite a difference. Also, the turbo charged defenders also kill any hopes for fast breaks as even their power forward and centers were able to catch up to my guards. On Superstar level, there are way too many steals by the computer. Every time I held the ball for more than 3 seconds on the post, I got the ball stripped. This really hurts when the sometimes sluggish controls of the game come into play. Sometimes I'm able to get myself a couple of feet away from the basket, but my shoot button doesn't respond quickly enough for me to put it up. I usually get stripped even if I'm constantly hitting the shoot button.

I kept on noticing that defensive help does not come at all when driving to the hoop. The defenders just sit there with their back turned. In addition, my guys on defense hardly jump to block shots. I usually have to take control and manually block the shot. I'm not asking for a blocked shot every time, but it would be nice to have the players at least contest the shots put up by the computer. I'm assuming this is related to my players' defensive awareness. However, I think it is in almost every NBA player to jump to try to make the shooter adjust his shot. Players don't sit and watch shots go over their head. I tested this theory out by using the NBA 70's team against the Knicks and behold, my guys jumped to defend the shots.

Another quirk in the AI is their intelligence on offense. Even on the highest difficulty level, the CPU hardly took advantage of being open. In the NBA, if no one were within 10 feet of you, most of the time you would shoot. In NBA Live 2002, if the CPU has the ball and no one is within 10 feet, the ball handler will pass to someone who is covered. This isn't basketball. The same goes for an open lane. If there is an open lane, the CPU won't take it to the rack on almost all occasions. Furthermore, the shot selection of the computer also needs some serious work. I've played quite a number of games on Superstar level, and the computer gets off 90% of their shots all in the paint. They attempt 3 or 4 shots from outside the paint on a per game basis, excluding those long bombs at the end of quarters. For instance, Allen Iverson, a player who usually takes a number of mid-range to outside jump shots put up 1 shot from outside the key out of all his shots against me. I should mention that I did play a game where I was controlling the Rockets playing against the Sonics where the computer actually took outside shots. When I went to the shot chart, all of Seattle's shots were either 3-point shots or shots inside the key. Still no mid-range shots.

Adding to the AI complaints, it appears the computer has some sort of catch-up logic on Superstar level. I remember a game where I'm up by 15 with 3 minutes left. Suddenly, the computer hits 3 treys without missing, along with two close range shots over a few defenders, while I suddenly miss 3 shots from less than 5 feet out and get pick-pocketed 3 or 4 times.

Rebounding is another major problem. There are too many offensive rebounds in the game. I remember Kevin Cato getting 7 straight offensive rebounds at one point. Every time he got the ball, I could just kick it out and go for a fadeaway trey seeing how many rebounds I would be able to accumulate. Another game, Shaq had 26 rebounds total, and 21 of them were on the offensive end. The defensive players on the court seem to run toward the ball at a slow pace while the offensive players are twice as fast when there is an offensive rebound loose.

I simply can't understand why the NBA Live 2002 developers think a higher difficulty level equals higher ratings for players. A higher difficulty level should mean a smarter AI. All Star level gets way too easy as I blew out the computer constantly with the Houston Rockets. On Superstar level, I got close games, but I always felt cheated with the way the computer wins. The CPU players are able to strip the ball almost every time you come down the floor. To add to that, you can't even outrun the computer to get a fast break. I've seen suggestions to tweak all the players' ratings. I'm not going to sit and spend my time doing that. That is completely unacceptable to get a game to be semi-realistic. Yes, some people will actually do that, and I commend them for their dedication to the game. EA should have at least included AI sliders to let gamers decide how a real basketball game should play.

Replay Value : 55
Gameplay is a huge portion of a game's replay value. Unfortunately, the single-player replay value of NBA Live 2002 is deeply affected by all the AI gameplay holes. Anyone familiar with NBA Live 2001 for PC will notice there isn't much of a difference in the franchise mode. Yes, there is a franchise mode that lets you draft rookies, sign and trade players. Can't trade draft picks though. Also, be warned that when you initially start off in franchise mode or season mode, there are no free agents available. I kept on looking for the sign free agent option till I thought of this and tried releasing my players, and behold, the magical sign free agent option appears under roster management.

However, I know some people will be able to overlook all the AI problems and still be able to enjoy the game. It is entirely dependent on how accurate of a representation of the sport of basketball someone is looking for. Some of the nice high flying dunks and the high quality graphics can be enough for some.

Overall : 65
Is this game worth the purchase if you have NBA Live 2002 for PS2 already? Definitely no. By no means would I consider NBA Live 2002 a simulation. A simulation is supposed to accurately simulate a sport. NBA Live 2002 does not do this too well. Too many quirks in the AI to be considered an accurate simulation of basketball. However, NBA Live 2002 does give you an enjoyable multiplayer game with friends. All the one-hand throw downs, reverses and other highflying moves definitely provide for an entertaining arcade experience. I've had quite a number of enjoyable games with friends. Much more satisfying experiences than playing against the computer. This game could be worth a rental if you have friends to play against. NBA Live 2002 does do some things right, just not a lot of the important things.

Bottom line, for the basketball fans looking for a realistic game, you won't find it in NBA Live 2002. What you will get is a game with amazing graphics and AI that will leave you counting down the days till the next basketball release for Xbox.

By: James Chheng 12/19/01

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