NBA Live 2004 Hands-On Impressions
The next game in EA Sports' NBA Live series will be very different from its predecessor. We went hands-on and have all the details.
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After playing NBA Live 2004 today at the Camp EA press event, it was fairly clear that the series has undergone a significant transformation since last year's game. Live 2004 simply looks and feels more realistic in terms of the behavior and actions of the players on the court, thanks to what EA is calling its new "10-man freestyle process," which allows the developers to realistically reproduce the animations of all 10 players on the court in just about any situation. The developers accomplisehd this by motion-capturing entire plays with all 10 players on the court at once, as opposed to the traditional method of simply motion-capturing individual moves or players. In plain English, that means that all the players on the court seem completely convincing in their desire to get open, to signal you for a pass, or to defend against their opponents. For instance, in NBA Live 2003, experienced players could use the game's freestyle control to make their way to the hole fairly consistently, since some defenders would simply have their backs turned to the play. In NBA Live 2004, as soon as you take a step in any direction, all players on the court are acutely aware of that fact and typically react to your movements in some way or another. Defense is much tougher in general, and it seems that the freestyle control has been tweaked a bit to fit the players' range of abilities and size more accurately than in last year's game. The version we played today was still fairly early in the development process and didn't have all the final features of the game. We did have a chance to catch up with a few of the developers to hear what they had to say about this year's game, but according to producer Gary Lamb, "There are a lot of new features that [EA Sports] can't even talk about at this point, because we don't want to tip our hand to our competitors." Live 2004 will also have a redesigned dynasty mode that will improve upon the core elements of the previous games and also include many big surprises. We were also told that the PS2 online features in NBA Live 2004 will be expanded to include increased stat tracking, a tournament mode, and a one-on-one game mode.
While it's still early in its development cycle, NBA Live 2004 already looks impressive, even when compared side by side with NBA Live 2003, which is precisely what EA was doing today. We'll have to wait and see what other surprises the developers have in store for us, but it looks like the team is pushing to really evolve the series this year. In the meantime, be sure to watch for our developer interview, which will feature new footage of the game.