EA Sports' NBA Live series is like the Chicago Bulls of basketball games. The Bulls were the dominant NBA team of the '90s and arguably the best basketball team ever. No other team even came close, and any time a contender like the Jazz reared its pretentious head to challenge them, the Bulls slapped them down in the championship when it counted. Similarly, EA Sports' NBA Live was the dominant basketball game of the '90s. A few companies like Microsoft and Fox have tried to compete, but NBA Live remains the premier basketball game on the PC. However, just as the Bulls recently split apart and turned into the biggest turkey in the NBA, so too has NBA Live lost much of its luster. Fortunately, NBA Live 2000 hasn't taken as big a fall as the Bulls; it's only lost a step compared with the new games in town.
NBA Live 2000 is basically the same game as Live 99, with the addition of Michael Jordan and a cast of all-stars from the '50s to '90s. It has the same types of gameplay as before: arcade mode, simulation mode, exhibition games, single-season games, and multiple-season games in franchise mode. The NBA Live series' dizzying array of options also remains intact. You can tweak graphics detail, adjust quarter length, toggle virtually every official NBA rule, or throw everything out and just play wild arcade basketball.
Like 99, Live 2000 lets you manage your team through multiple seasons and try to create a consistently winning franchise. However, whereas Live 99 only let you play ten seasons, Live 2000 requires you to play 25. It would have been nice to have an option to play for five, ten, 15, or 20 years, rather than forcing you to stick it out for 25. The new one-on-one mode is also a fun addition to the game, because it lets you play as or challenge the greatest basketball players in history. You can match Iverson up against Jordan or relive the classic Russel-Chamberlain battles of yesteryear.
Single games are still fun whether you play them in exhibition or season mode. The emphasis is on action, and as always, it's better to play offense than try to win on defense. However, it seems that every year, NBA Live gets better in terms of letting you play defensively if you so choose. I didn't steal too often, but I sure blocked a lot of shots.
NBA Live 2000 adds a direct shoot and direct pass option, so you can force shots, dunks, and layups. But in reality, direct shooting does not mean you will automatically get your dunk or layup. You'll occasionally be frustrated when you think you're in position for a dunk and end up seeing your player try a jumper from under the basket. Thankfully, this only happens rarely.NBA Live 2000's computer-controlled teams are tough as always in superstar mode and get progressively easier as you pare down the difficulty setting. However, I noticed some things that shouldn't have happened no matter what the difficulty level. For example, in starter difficulty (the normal setting), whenever I was in the lead, the computer player failed to play with any sense of urgency. If the computer team was down 10 points with one minute left, it would still take its sweet time to shoot. In previous versions of NBA Live, the AI fouled too often when it was behind because it was trying to get the ball. Unfortunately, it fouled so often and needlessly that it ruined its chances for catching up. Live 98 and 99 did away with that problem, but Live 2000 seems to go too far in the opposite direction, at least in starter difficulty, as the AI plays too lethargically when it's losing.
The graphics that were so mind-blowing in Live 99 are still good but no longer revolutionary in Live 2000. The players move well and animate quickly and smoothly. After particularly good baskets, your players will celebrate with chest thumping, jumping, and lots of facial expressions. Unfortunately, NBA Live 2000's graphics are weak by comparison to present PC game standards and don't look nearly as good as NBA 2K for the Sega Dreamcast either, whose animation is better, graphics cleaner, players more lifelike, and players' likenesses more accurate than in NBA Live 2000. Live 2000 still looks good, but no longer looks great.
From Live 95 through Live 99, the series offered good graphics, fast and rewarding action-oriented gameplay, and a lot of great extras. In contrast, Live 2000 is a modest update that falls behind simply by virtue of not moving forward. Live 2000's biggest claim is that it adds the elusive Michael Jordan to the roster, so now you can play against him in one-on-one basketball. NBA Live 2000 is undoubtedly a good basketball game and still one of the best on the PC. But you can't consider PC sports games in a vacuum, and while recent PC sports games look better than anything on the PlayStation, the Dreamcast is another story.
The bottom line is if you only have a PC, then NBA Live 2000 is worth getting. Those who are familiar with the series will feel right at home: Live 2000 is just as good as Live 99, but at best it's an iterative update to the classic PC sports series; the gameplay, graphics, and style are eminently familiar.
However, if you own or are considering owning a Dreamcast, then you'd be better off with Sega's NBA 2K, which is a better game in every way. And just like that, NBA Live is no longer the champion of basketball games. It still might be the best on the PC, but then, the Knicks were the best of the East, the Bulls' conference, and the Spurs of the West beat them handily in the championship that the Bulls used to own.