NBA Live 2002 Preview

We go hands-on with the Xbox version of EA Sports' venerable basketball series.

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Live 2002 features refined graphics and new modes.

It was hard not to be a little disappointed with last year's version of NBA Live for the PlayStation 2. The controls were not as sharp as in previous efforts in the series, and the game was lacking a few key features, including the popular franchise mode, which unexpectedly made it into the PC version. While NBA Live 2001 for the PlayStation 2 still turned out to be a good game, it certainly seemed that EA Sports had been pressed to get it out on time and so made a few sacrifices during the development process. However, that's not the case with NBA Live 2002, which not only features a full franchise mode but also includes refined graphics, a variety of new dunking and dribbling animations, and new pregame cutscenes.

In the franchise mode, you get help take teams like Orlando to the finals.

There are six modes of play in NBA Live 2002: play now, season, playoff, one-on-one, practice, and franchise. The play now mode essentially functions like an exhibition mode--it lets you pick two teams and then jump right into the game. In the season mode, you get to select one team and take it through an entire 82-game season and through the playoffs. Though the season mode's not quite as deep as the franchise mode, you can still perform all of the basic functions of a general manager, such as organizing your roster at the start of the season and initiating trades with other teams before the trading deadline. The playoff mode bypasses the entire season and lets you compete for the NBA championship right away. Fans of last year's one-on-one game should be happy to know that it's returning in NBA Live 2002. You can still create all sorts of legendary one-on-one match-ups, like Jordan versus Bird or Magic Johnson versus Isaiah Thomas, but other than the addition of new faces to the NBA roster and some refinements to the street court, the one-on-one mode remains largely the same as last year's. The practice mode lets you run around a street court by yourself so you can try out different moves and get a look at some of the new animations in the game. This mode is particularly helpful for becoming familiar with timing on post-up and fade-away shots.

NBA Live 2002's best feature is the franchise mode, which was missing from the PlayStation 2 version last year. As in the season mode, you play through the full 82-game season and the playoffs, and you make trades with other teams. However, each player has a point value, and your team can afford only a certain number of points before going over the point cap. When you try to trade for another player, you have to be able to match his point value, or the trade won't happen. For example, you couldn't trade Doug Christie for Michael Jordan because Jordan's point value is simply too high, but if you put together a package of three or so other players, then a trade is more likely to happen.

MJ Retires Again

David Robinson gets ready for one of his post-up moves.

Another great aspect of the franchise mode is what happens at the end of the season. As the general manager of the team, one of your first responsibilities is to re-sign current players, which you can usually do without a problem, but there are times when key players refuse to re-sign with your team regardless of how many points you have available. In addition, some players on your team may choose to retire at the end of the season, leaving you to scramble for someone to fill that position. Interestingly, Michael Jordan and a number of other high-profile players decided to retire after our first run through the franchise mode, so in the following season, their teams tried to fill the void through trades or the rookie draft.

The draft functions similarly to the actual NBA draft. Teams are allotted points based on how they finish the season--the team with the worst record has the most points and the highest chance of receiving the number one pick in the draft. Once the draft begins each team selects from a list of randomly generated rookies, each with his own scouting report complete with strengths and weaknesses and his predicted selection in the draft. If you're looking for a certain type of player in the draft, you should have no problem finding it with all the detailed information available.

There are plenty of new dunk animations and replays.

When you're not busy making deals for other players, you'll be out on the courts trying to earn respect for your team. NBA Live 2002 uses just about every single button on the Xbox, including the select button. The right trigger serves as the turbo, which gives your player a little boost of speed. When you hold down the left trigger, a button appears above each player's head, letting you pass the ball directly to the corresponding player. Crossovers and stutter steps are performed by pressing the X and black buttons respectively. The white button on the Xbox controller initiates an alley-oop, and the select button calls for a pick. Lastly, the Y face button lets you set up in the post. On defense, the face buttons are used for stealing, hand checks, and rebounds. It can take a little while to feel completely comfortable with all the moves at your disposal. The post-up move in particular poses a bit of a problem early on because your player doesn't get into the post-up stance right away, giving it an almost unresponsive feel. Otherwise, the control with either the D-pad or the Xbox analog stick is good, and you shouldn't have any substantial problems.

NBA Live 2002 for the Xbox features all the visual enhancements of the PlayStation 2 version. Before each game, you'll see a cutscene that shows the home team walking out of the locker room, as well as a player-introduction sequence. Overall, the player models are better than those in last year's game--some players look more like their real-life counterparts, though other player models are a little questionable. Also, the player models in the Xbox version, in general, appear to be a little smoother than the models in the PlayStation 2 version. The frame rate remains steady throughout most of the game, but there are times--specifically when going for an alley-oop, or during replays--when it stutters slightly. In addition, the default live camera angle can occasionally be a problem during fast breaks since it doesn't track the ball properly. The new dunk animations, as well as the new replays, are well done and are successful in adding some street ball personality to the game. NBA Live 2002 is scheduled for release in early December.

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