NBA Live 2002

We hit the court with EA's latest

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When EA brought the NBA Live series to the PS2 last year, the game improved drastically in terms of visuals, but unfortunately the overall gameplay suffered. The game lost some of its tight controls, and several integral gameplay modes, such as the franchise mode and the three-point shootout, didn't make it into the PS2 game. Fortunately, after playing a 75-percent-complete build of the game, we're pleased to report that several of those issues have been addressed. NBA Live 2002 now includes a full-featured franchise mode, new and more realistic dribble and dunk animations, and an intuitive new interface.

Pregame cutscenes are new in NBA Live 2002.
Pregame cutscenes are new in NBA Live 2002.

Still, despite all of the additions and enhancements, the gameplay and graphics in NBA Live 2002 are based closely on last year's game. In terms of gameplay, NBA Live 2002 retains the series' familiar control scheme. Either the analog or the D-pad on the PS2 Dual Shock can be used to control the player. As with last year's game, the analog control is a little slippery, so it's easier to control players using the D-pad. NBA Live 2002 also affords the player a variety of moves on both the defensive and offensive end. On offense, players can perform several different crossover dribbles, spin dribbles, and stutter steps. More complex moves such as the alley-oop pass, for example, are now easier to execute, because they are assigned to the L2 button on the PS2 controller and can be performed anytime a teammate is cutting to the hoop. On the defensive end, the controls remain essentially the same as in last year's game.

Where the game has improved appreciably is in the dribble and dunk animations. The dunks, in particular, are executed with much more authority in NBA Live 2002 and are accompanied by post-dunk animations, such as off-balance landings and a variety of taunts. Perform a two-handed dunk with Shaquille O'Neal, for example, and you'll leave the rim rattling for a few seconds. Particularly impressive dunks are accompanied by slow-motion replays, which are shown in letterbox format and feature impressive blur effects. In addition to the new dunk animations, there are also a handful of new crossover moves. However, much like in last year's game, you will not be able to control the direction of dribble moves, because they are performed depending on the situation and the player's proximity to defenders.

Grant Hill lines up a three pointer.
Grant Hill lines up a three pointer.

Graphically, NBA Live 2002 is a cut above last year's game, managing to improve virtually every visual aspect. The 3D modeled player faces, which were hit or miss last year, are more realistic. The overall player models have also been revisited. The players' physiques have smoother joints, and their tattoos and accessories are modeled more accurately after their real-life counterparts. However, there are some graphical issues that will hopefully be addressed before the game's final release: The frame rate staggers noticeably, particularly when the pace picks up during a game, and there is some clipping during replays. Regardless, NBA Live on the PS2 continues to be the most visually impressive basketball game available for the system.

Although the graphics and gameplay improve on the existing formula set forth by last year's game, NBA Live 2002 does include several new features. Most prominently, the game now includes a franchise mode, where players can guide one or more teams through multiple seasons. As is typical with other EA Sports games, the franchise mode in NBA Live 2002 is incredibly comprehensive. In this mode, you can sign, release, draft, and trade players, all the while dealing with a broad salary cap. The cap works very much like the one implemented in the actual NBA, but the player salaries are replaced by a points-based system. Like in the NBA, when managing a team you must deal with a variety of scenarios. For example, an all-star third-year player might require a lot of points and multiple years for his contract, while a player nearing retirement might not be willing to sign a long-term deal. Decisions must be made both in terms of salary and the number of contract years, because releasing a player under contract counts against a team's salary cap.

Mutumbo raises up for a jumper in the paint.
Mutumbo raises up for a jumper in the paint.

The rookie class is generated randomly, and each individual player has a different name, physical appearance, vital stats, and scouting report. In NBA Live 2002, each of the rookies are rated on their prospects, and there are a variety of strengths and weaknesses for each player. For example, a player projected in the lottery, which is held at the end of each season, might be a great shooter, a strong ball-handler, and an aggressive, on-the-ball defender, but his dedication to the game may be in question. So strengths, weaknesses, and ratings for each individual player must be thoroughly analyzed when drafting players.

The new franchise mode is also joined by a practice mode, where players can brush up on their dribbling, dunking, and shooting skills. Aside from the new modes, returning modes of play include season, exhibition, and one-on-one. Except for the fact that there is a redesigned street court in the one-on-one mode, not much has changed in these returning modes of play.

At the moment, NBA Live 2002 retains many of the gameplay characteristics of last year's game. Its greatest improvements lie in the graphics and new gameplay modes. The franchise mode in particular is intuitive and incredibly in-depth and should have basketball junkies spending hours assessing rookies and managing player movement. So far NBA Live 2002 is coming along well, and fans of last year's incarnation should find more of what they like in this year's version.

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