Following two incarnations on the PlayStation 2 console, Electronic Arts' NBA Live series makes its inevitable trip to the Microsoft Xbox. Those looking for significant enhancements to the Xbox version will be left disappointed, as, outside of a few visual and control tweaks, the game is essentially the same as the PS2 game. It shares all the issues that accompanied the PS2 version and even manages to add some minor problems of its own. For example, in the Xbox version, box outs are performed by pressing the small white face button on top of the controller, which is a bit awkward to reach. This essentially means that it is very difficult to box out and press the jump button at the same time, detracting from the already anemic rebounding in the game. Despite the game's problems, however, fans of the series will find impressive visuals, realistic animation, and one of the most comprehensive franchise modes found in hoops simulations to date in NBA Live 2002 for the Xbox.
Along with the franchise mode, NBA Live 2002 includes exhibition, practice, one-on-one, and season modes, which were all available a year ago. The NBA challenge feature did not make it into the Xbox version of the game. But the lack of the NBA challenge isn't the only oversight in NBA Live 2002, as there are quite a few gameplay issues, starting with the lack of any real zone defenses.
Unless you're a hoops fan who has been on one of those Rip Van Winkle naps, you know that this season the NBA has discontinued the illegal defense call. In essence, this means that teams are now able to play zone defenses at will. Unfortunately, it seems that the developer of NBA Live 2002 didn't receive the memo about the new defenses. There really is no effective way to run zones in the game. The development team has removed the illegal defense call, but it forgot to include actual zone sets. To exacerbate matters further, although the game does include the defensive three-second call, which discourages defensive players from camping out in the lane without guarding their man, there is no technical foul penalty in NBA Live 2002 for the first infraction, as there is in the actual league. These are major oversights on the part of EA Sports, and they significantly detract from the overall simulation aspects and realism of the game.
There are a variety of other issues with the gameplay, most of which persist from last year's game. The game's default controls on defense are rather unintuitive. The white face button is used to face up on the offensive player, but the game uses the X button for turbo. The distance between these two buttons means that it is virtually impossible to use the turbo while facing up on the defender. Additionally, like NBA Live 2002 on the PS2, the game does not let you control crossovers, which are executed based on proximity to the defensive player and court position. Fortunately, the spin move in the post has been refined a bit in the Xbox version of the game. The animation, which took a second to initiate in the PlayStation 2 version, is now more fluid--the player will spin off his defender on command. Still, there are other issues with the game. Although the rebounding game is a bit better than last year, as mentioned, it is still quite difficult to secure boards, especially on the defensive end. All this leads to quite a bit of frustration on the court, which could have been easily avoided with a few minor tweaks.
In general, the gameplay in NBA Live 2002 is quite similar to that of last year's PS2 version, with one major exception. The dunk animations are now much more realistic--there are no soft dunks in the game. Players throw it down with the utmost of vigor. You can almost feel the rim rattling after a monster dunk by players such as Shaquille O'Neal or Vince Carter. However, much like last year's game, the players really don't have individual personalities in performing these moves. For example, dunks by Carter and Kobe Bryant will essentially look the same, while in the actual NBA Carter throws it down with power and Bryant displays more fluid grace.
Still, there are a few shining beacons in NBA Live 2002. The most obvious of these is the new franchise mode. As is true in most EA Sports games, the franchise mode in NBA Live 2002 is probably the most robust of any hoops game on the market. Not only does the game let players take part in multiple seasons, complete with trades, drafts, and free agents, but it also includes a variety of subtle details that can't be found in competing products. For example, for every draft, the strengths and weaknesses of each individual player are listed, much like the way it is done in draft previews from hoops publications. Everything from the player's speed and skill level to his commitment to the game is analyzed in these draft previews. Hoops fans could spend hours evaluating players and making decisions about player management. Aside from the franchise mode, the game still features the best free-throw system on the market. It is relatively easy to knock down the freebies with players such as Reggie Miller and Derek Anderson, while making one with players like Shaquille O'Neal can be a real chore, as it should be.
On the visual front, NBA Live 2002 on the Xbox looks a little cleaner than the PlayStation 2 version, but it is hardly a noticeable improvement. Which isn't such a bad thing, because it is still easily the most visually impressive basketball game on the market. The resolution of player textures has been improved, and each of the individual players has his actual accessories and tattoos. If you were so inclined, you could zoom in on the virtual model of Allen Iverson and see each individual tattoo, and they all correspond to actual A.I.'s tattoos. New to this year's version of Live, as with the PS2 game, is a variety of cutscenes. In addition to the player introductions, the game has cutscenes for players entering and exiting the court, arguing with refs, warming up at the free-throw line, talking on the bench, and celebrating after big plays. All this is designed to immerse the player in the NBA experience, but after a few games, the cutscenes begin to get repetitive and we found ourselves skipping them regularly in order to return to the action.
The commentary in the game is virtually identical to that of the PS2 game. The commentators do a good job of mentioning player names during play calls, discussing the general flow of the game, and citing statistics in analyzing team and player strategy. The crowd is also quite attuned to the action on the floor, as they will cheer big plays and boo opposing players. The game does not have any real player chatter, except for in the street-ball games, which is a shame, since it would have worked well in concert with the new cutscenes.
NBA Live 2002 on the Xbox is plagued by many of the same issues as the PlayStation 2 version. The lack of actual zone sets is unforgivable, as it completely ignores an essential aspect of this year's NBA game. The rebounding game, which wasn't very strong to begin with, has taken a hit, as the control schemes for both rebounding and facing up on a player are utterly counterintuitive. As with the PS2 version, there are new presentation elements, and the new franchise mode adds quite a bit of replay value, but NBA Live 2002 seems to be falling behind competing hoops products on the market and didn't improve much in moving to the Xbox.