The NBA Live series has gone through several yearly revisions on the original PlayStation. Each year, EA Sports has found a way to improve on the series that has easily become the reigning champion of pro hoops simulations on console platforms. So naturally, big things are expected from its transition to Sony's powerful next-generation PlayStation 2 console. Unsurprisingly, NBA Live 2001 for the PS2 comes wrapped in a brilliant visual package. But while it's still a fun game, several annoying gameplay flaws keep it from truly advancing the considerable lineage of the Live series.
The primary strength of Live for the PS2 is its spectacular graphics. The on-court player models, the benchwarmers, the crowd, and the NBA arenas are rendered with an unprecedented level of detail and realism - this is easily the most visually impressive basketball game on the market. The high poly-count player models have detailed jerseys and lifelike skin textures. On the other hand, the facial textures can be hit or miss in Live 2001. Some players are easily recognizable, while most are hardly recognizable from their facial features alone. Complementing the detailed textures and player models, the remarkable player animations feature subtle touches such as proper body lean on drives to the basket and realistic movement on dunks and swat blocks. Even the players' facial expressions and mouth movements are synched to their respective reactions to in-game situations and taunts. Players arguing calls, celebrating during bench sequences and after dunks, encouraging other teammates during the course of the game, and other such ambient animations help make the game come alive and feel truly realistic.
On the court, EA Sports has further tweaked the post-up game. Players can post up and perform such moves as jump hooks, fadeaways, turnaround jumpers, and up-and-under moves. Players can also roll either left or right from a post-up situation to perform moves going to the basket. On defense, the human-controlled player automatically faces up the offensive player, which is very useful because it lets you concentrate on staying with your man using either the analog stick or the D-pad. The control scheme in NBA Live 2001 for the PlayStation 2 is virtually identical to that 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. But all these options don't make up for the annoying gameplay flaws in Live 2001 for the PS2.
The Live series is known for its tight, responsive controls. Previous versions of the game are packed with a multitude of moves that are innate to the NBA, and player actions on the court are highly responsive to button commands. In the PlayStation 2 incarnation of Live, the game has lost some of its precise control traits. In several instances, the player simply would not respond to button commands. For example, there were times when players would not execute a quick wing jumper off a fast break or jump to block a shot, even with the corresponding buttons firmly pressed. This lack of response is not a common occurrence, but it does detract from the overall gameplay experience. In the paint, Live doesn't give you total control of the rebounding game. It is very difficult to box out, and that leads to a lot of offensive rebounds for the opposing team, particularly when you're playing against the computer in the toughest difficulty setting. Additionally, it's impossible to assume complete control of dribble moves. There are three primary dribble moves in the game: behind-the-back crossovers, between-the-leg crossovers, and the spin move. Pressing a button will execute the corresponding move, but you won't be able to control the direction. So shaking your defender becomes a random event, rather than a result of a well-executed and controlled movement.
The PS2 version of NBA Live 2001 has four primary modes of play: exhibition, season, playoffs, and one-on-one. Conspicuously missing from this next-generation version of the game are the three-point shootout, NBA challenge, and franchise modes. Despite the lack of a franchise mode, the meat of the gameplay is in playing a full season. Here you have complete control over your selected team(s), with the ability to make and reject player trades, sign and release players, and play as any team on any day of the NBA season. Additionally, following the finish of the regular season and before the start of the playoffs, there is an awards screen with winners in categories such as MVP, defensive player of the year, all-NBA and all-defensive teams, and more.
The secondary one-on-one mode lets you select any player in the league, or players from one of the five all-decade teams, and play in street-court matchups. The all-decade teams, representing squads from the '50s through the '90s, include such NBA legends as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Jerry West, and Oscar Robertson, among others. In this mode, EA Sports has faithfully re-created the sense of playing a pickup one-on-one game, with a visually detailed street court and ambient environmental sounds such as a blaring boom box, noise from passing cars, and constant player chatter and taunts. Like the rest of the game, the one-on-one mode is visually appealing, but, as with its PlayStation counterpart, playing single one-on-one games can get repetitive after a while. One addition that would have helped is a one-on-one tournament with full stats tracking, but unfortunately there is no such option in the game.
As mentioned previously, NBA Live on the PS2 lacks the three-point shooting contest, the distinctive and entertaining challenge system, and the much-needed franchise mode. In the game, you can compete in a single season with a host of customizable options, but the fun ends after the first run to the championship. Losing the enjoyable multiplayer experience of the three-point shootout is disappointing, and not having the added depth of the challenge system is discouraging. But the lack of a franchise mode, which is highly essential and is being implemented in Sega's competing product, is an unforgivable oversight on the part of EA Sports.
Speaking of unforgivable oversights, the PlayStation 2 version of NBA Live 2001 does not enforce the five-second back-to-the-basket rule - the so-called "Charles Barkley rule" - which lets players post up for no more than five seconds before they have to shoot or pass the ball. As you can imagine, the ability to back down defenders at will can slow down the pace of the game. The gameplay faults in NBA Live 2001 for the PS2 aren't individually glaring, but taken on the whole, they detract appreciably from the overall experience.
The commentary is handled by the familiar Live announcers, Bob Elliott on color and Don Poier on the play-by-play. The announcing in the PS2 version is extremely deep, with all-new commentary and in-depth analysis. The commentary is regularly in tune with the on-court action, as the announcers accurately speak of player stats such as shooting percentages and turnovers for that particular game - they even make comments based on those statistics. The hip-hop soundtrack in the game features a brand-new single from Montell Jordan, and it includes such recording artists as Bootsie Collins and Choclair. Although most of the tracks are cookie-cutter hip-hop productions, some of the songs can be catchy.
If you're a fan of the NBA Live series, you'll find many familiar elements in the intuitive gameplay, control scheme, comprehensive statistics tracking, and interface that have become the cornerstones of the series. But with highly impressive games such as Sega's NBA 2K1 on the next-generation hoops market, the gameplay flaws in the PS2 version of NBA Live 2001 are further magnified. Having said that, NBA Live 2001 is beautiful, and it is still a lot of fun to play. By far, it's the best basketball game - pros or otherwise - on the PlayStation 2.