When most gamers hear NBA Live, they are reminded of an arcade-paced basketball game. The last few years, Electronic Arts has attempted to move back toward a more balanced arcade and simulation gameplay. This year's attempt, NBA Live 2004, is backed up with new gameplay features such as players diving onto the floor for a loose ball, the pro-hop and a new dunk/lay-up button.
Presentation/Graphics : 85
The overall graphics in the game are what we have come to expect from EA.
Nice, new animations, faces, player models, and arenas mixed unfortunately with a few negatives sets EA back in this area.
EA threw in some new cut scenes in NBA Live 2004. After a while, you run into the same cut scenes and just skip over them. A nice thought, but I've never been a real big fan of adding a few cut scenes.
I rather let the developers fix the problem with the frame rate slowdown that occasionally happens during the game.
In addition, EA added some nice new animations to the game, such as a double team and diving to the floor. Although these are definitely nice additions, some times it works against the game. For instance, if one of your teammates is in the face of an offensive player who picks up his dribble, and you are within a short distance, you will automatically be sucked into a double team animation. You won't get out until the opposing player passes the ball.
Presentation/Audio : 90
The audio and sound effects in the game are great. The music in the game is more on the up-beat rap genre. With the crowd reacting to game situations, players yelling "Pick Left!" and coaches demanding pressure on defense, the sound effects do what they are suppose to do to portray basketball accurately. Marv Albert and Mike Fratello do a great job with the play-by-play and commentator. They don't go on and on about something happening three minutes ago. They do a decent job of chipping in with their comments, and they aren't repetitive.
Interface/Options : 85
NBA Live 2004 has a new dunk/lay-up button that lets you explicitly try to perform a dunk or a lay-up. The first few games, I attempted floating lay-ups from the 3-point line because I accidentally got the buttons mixed up, but once I got used to the new button configure, this new button works well with the new pro-hop button that helps you get to the basket. One thing I noticed missing from the game that has been in Microsoft's NBA Inside Drive games is the ability to control your passes by choosing to do a normal or lob pass. I'm hoping next year EA will give us Freestyle control in the passing department. It's just frustrating sometimes when you have a teammate cutting across the basket and you want to bounce it in there, but you have no real control of whether this happens. Otherwise, the rest of the controller layout is the same and works well for the game.
These days, the quality of a Dynasty Mode plays an important part in its longevity among gamers. Even one major bug can turn fans away from the game.
So, it's rather disappointing to see a major free agent glitch in this year's Dynasty Mode that went through the Quality Assessment department. In some of the seasons I've played, a few of the superstars such as Kobe Bryant or Allen
Iverson went unassigned by any teams in the league. Could this be because of their large salary? What adds insult to injury is teams can sign these same players once the season starts for the league minimum on a one-year contract.
EA also has a new feature called the NBA Store. It allows you to buy trademark shoes or other accessories. I've never been a real big fan of this type of feature, but it is worth mentioning.
Overall, EA added training sessions and new cut scenes into the Dynasty Mode. The training session allows for you to try improving your players' ratings in various aspects of the game. The cut scenes are additions as well. Injuries occur every now and then, as well as the CPU offering reasonable trade offers.
Gameplay : 85
The gameplay isn't perfect but the game is fun to play. Yes, I will acknowledge there are some problems with the game but it's definitely a good mix of sim and arcade basketball. I'm really impressed with how well players move without the ball, such as cutting through the key or battling for position in the low block. The FreeStyle control is toned down from last year. Not everyone who does a crossover will cause a defender to fall to the ground.
What's not right with the game? On the default sliders, human-controlled as well as computer-controlled players are not aggressive enough on the boards. They usually wait for the ball to come to them, instead of going up for the rebound. Another pet peeve is when a player drives to the basket and attempts a lay-up or a shot, but collides with an opposing player. The ball rolls out off the basket more often than it should. This can be fixed by modifying the sliders setting though.
The AI needs to be smarter in who they double team. Currently, they send a second guy over to double team just about every time someone puts the ball on the ground in the low post. In the higher difficulty levels, the CPU players run faster than normal during fast breaks. Another issue with the game is how fast the transitions are between dead-ball situations. I don't even get to see the ball inbounds sometimes because of how fast the game transitions.
Overall : 85
The game flows like no other basketball game out there, but a few flaws keep NBA Live 2004 from running away from its competition. NBA Live 2004 is fun to play, especially with other human players. This game is definitely a game to keep in mind while shopping for the sports gamer in your family.