At Electronic Arts' summer press event, we got an opportunity to play an early version of NBA Live 06 on the Xbox and PlayStation 2. The major new feature being added to the game is freestyle superstar, which is a special set of controls that are available exclusively to the top NBA players in the game. The idea is to make the unique athletic abilities of these players stand out more from regular players, in both a visual and a functional sense. So instead of having power players like Shaquille O’Neal and Amare Stoudamire having their open dunks thwarted by puny guards that are standing in the way, the freestyle superstar controls will let these stars physically dominate and throw down, just like in real life. Instead of crafty playmakers like Jason Kidd and Steve Nash throwing the same basic chest and overhead passes all the time, like your average point guard, Kidd and Nash will be able to execute special moves, like wraparound passes and no-look passes, when you use the freestyle superstar controls.
There are eight different classes of freestyle superstars in the game, six on offense and two on defense. They are: playmakers, power players, high fliers, shooters, and inside or outside scorers. Defensively, the game classifies inside and outside stoppers. Two-way players, like Kobe Bryant, will have both offensive and defensive superstar capabilities. But each player can only have one type of superstar controls on each side of the ball. Using Bryant again as an example, he's classified as an outside scorer on offense, though many would say he also has the characteristics of a high flyer. If you prefer to classify Bryant as a high flyer, you can do that in the settings, since his stats reflect that ability. However, you can't take a superstar (but one-dimensional) shooter like Kyle Korver and turn him into a playmaker, because he doesn’t have the offensive awareness or the handles for that role.
So how will the freestyle superstar controls work? First of all, you'll need to spot your superstars. Different icons appear under each star while he's on the court, depending on what type of superstar he is. Scorers have a ball underneath them, while shooters have a crosshair as their insignia. And defensive stoppers have an open palm as their icon. While controlling a superstar, you simply hold down the L trigger (L1 on the PS2) and the face buttons become remapped. Pressing L and a face button will execute one of your special moves. For a power player, you can uncork powerful spin moves leading into strong two-handed dunks that will almost always work if you have position on a physically overmatched defender. Moves for outside scorers include double-clutch moves, floating shots in traffic, and up-and-under scoops when going baseline underneath the basket. Shooters can execute set shots, which are very accurate, or they can fake a pass and then put up a shot. Playmaker moves include different types of passes, like bounce passes through traffic or no-look dishes. High fliers will get way high in the air and can dunk on defenders that don't get up to challenge the drive. Defensive superstar moves include quick steals, powerful shot blocks, and the ability to wrap around behind a driving ball handler to poke the ball away. In all, there are up to eight different freestyle superstar moves, as you can tap or hold down each of the four face buttons for a different move.
On paper, it can sound like these superstar moves are extremely overpowering, and you can just use them at any time to dominate the game. In practice, this isn't the case. While playing at rookie difficulty will let you do your special moves at will, we tested by playing against the Detroit Pistons at all-star difficulty. We found that the superstar moves aren't just a free path to the basket. Perfoming no-look passes or wraparound passes while being closely defended often resulted in turnovers. We tried using power moves in the paint while guarded closely by Ben Wallace, and we found ourselves getting rejected or losing the ball. The developer is keenly aware of the possible balance issues introduced by having freestyle superstar controls, and it's taking steps to ensure the game remains balanced. From what we played, things are off to a pretty good start in that area. The idea is that the freestyle superstar moves are meant to accentuate your advantage when you find yourself in space or have gotten a step on the defender. They're not meant to be completely overpowering.
Aside from immersing ourselves in the freestyle superstar action, we got some other details on NBA Live 06. The game will sport a new graphics engine, and the most obvious aspect of this is the amount of new animations added to show off freestyle superstar moves. The Xbox version of the game will also offer 720p high-definition resolution. The PS2 version of the game won't have that level of detail, but a full copy of the classic NBA Live 95 will be available in that version of the game. NBA Live 06 is currently slated to be released this fall on the PC, PS2, Xbox, and GameCube platforms.