Our go-around with the latest version of NBA Live 2001 for the Sony PlayStation 2 left us very impressed. In its gameplay and options, the game draws heavily from its considerable heritage, and its graphics take a momentous leap over its predecessors using the power of the PS2 console. Sporting an intuitive interface, detailed graphics, tight controls, and a high-profile soundtrack, the game is well on its way to becoming the best Live yet.
NBA Live 2001 features five basic modes of play: quick game, exhibition, season, playoffs, and one-on-one. Missing from this latest build is the three-point shootout, which can be found in the PlayStation version of the game, and the ability to play multiple seasons. The NBA challenge mode - also in the PS version - is another thing that is not included in the PlayStation 2 game. However, EA Sports has promised that these modes will make it into the final version of the game. Gameplay modes aside, the NBA legends teams have transitioned from the PlayStation to Sony's 128-bit console. There is a team per decade, ranging from the '50s through the '90s, with players such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlin, Oscar Robertson, and more. Curiously, though, the game's first true superstar, George Mikan, didn't make the '50s team.
Where NBA Live 2001 for the PlayStation 2 truly impresses is in its graphics. The game is far from completion, but it's already one of the most visually appealing sports games. The player animations are ultra smooth during play and varied during nonplay situations such as pregame introductions and between free throws. It isn't uncommon to see separate actions for each of the players on the court. For example, during a stoppage of play, one player will stretch, another will talk to a teammate, yet another will argue with the officials, and so on. The player models have been accurately designed to match the height, weight, and physical look of each individual player - Kevin Garnett, who was motion-captured for the game, is tall and lanky, while Mateen Cleaves is his familiar short and stocky self. However, the texturing on the player faces is hit or miss in NBA Live 2001 for the PS2. Some of the players look very much like their real-life counterparts, while many others are hardly recognizable by facial features alone.
The controls in NBA Live 2001 for the PlayStation 2 are virtually identical to those of its PlayStation cousin. The same buttons control shooting, passing, jumping, turbo, and so on. If you're familiar with the PlayStation control scheme, you know that, along with the basic controls, players can switch on the ball, call for a pick, stutter-step, and call up icon passing. Several dribble animations, such as behind the back, spin, and the basic crossover, are assigned to one button and are executed depending on the situation. The action is followed by camera angles such as wire, follow, press, and sideline. A meter is used to adjust the zoom levels, but, unfortunately, there is no option to tweak the height adjustments. In the replay mode, you can freely move and manipulate the manual camera or use one of the 26 preset camera angles.
The game's interface is highly intuitive, with a browser-style menu available on command. Here you can tweak the rules and options, check season stats such as league leaders and injuries, load and save game data, and tweak rosters with trades, signings, and created players. The player-create mode in NBA Live 2001 is also very robust. There are three basic sections: the primary information such as name, position, and birth date; the player's appearance, where everything from specific facial features such nose size and hairstyle to the player's expression can be tweaked; and the actual player ratings section. The ratings for created players have no preset limits, so you can create a near-perfect player with 99s in every category.
As in previous NBA Live games, the soundtrack is laced with a heavy dose of hip-hop and R&B tracks. In the PlayStation 2 NBA Live 2001, Universal recording artist Montell Jordan sings the game's lead music track, which plays during the opening intro movie. Other hip-hop artists, such as Da Brat, make vocal appearances throughout the game. The commentary is handled by veteran Live announcers Don Foyer and Bob Elliot. The developers have improved significantly on the traditionally strong announcing of the Live series with this latest game. The commentary is regularly in tune with the on-court action, as the announcers accurately speak of player stats such as shooting percentages and steals for that particular game - they even make comments based on those statistics. For example, if a team is taking and missing too many outside shots, the announcers will say something like, "They need to find the lanes and get to the basket instead of putting up quick shots."
The game still needs some work, as the frame rate fluctuates noticeably, which is almost unforgivable in hoops games, and the controls need to be more responsive. But at this stage, the game is clearly poised to become the best version of NBA Live to come out of EA's substantial development stable.