The first PlayStation 2 installment in the popular NBA Live series drew some criticism, not so much for its own failings, but because it hadn't improved on the series and didn't keep pace with competing products. Although the game has improved in a few areas, the same can be said about NBA Live 2002. Aside from some new presentation elements and the impressive franchise mode, the game looks and plays very much like last year's version. 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, once again, did not make it into the PlayStation 2 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 make matters worse, 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 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 R2 shoulder button is used to face up on the offensive player, but the game uses the R1 shoulder button for turbo. The close proximity of these two shoulder buttons means that the only way to use the turbo and face up on your man at the same time is to use both your index finger and your middle finger, which can be counterintuitive. Additionally, like NBA Live 2001 on the PS2, the game does not let you control crossovers, which are executed based on proximity to the defensive player and court position. The same goes for the spin move in the post. The animation for this move takes entirely too long, and it takes a second to initiate. Also, although the rebounding game is a bit better than last year, with the ability to box out more effectively, 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 game, 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 in last year's game, the players really don't have their own 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 solid aspects 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 for each individual player are listed, much like the way it is done in the draft previews in 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 looks a little cleaner than last year's game, but it is hardly a noticeable improvement. Which isn't such a bad thing, because NBA Live 2001 was easily the most visually impressive basketball game on the market. The player faces are a little more realistic, 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. New to this year's version of Live on the PS2 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 announcing in the game is virtually identical to that of last year's 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 is plagued by many of the same issues as last year's game, and it also introduces a few new ones. The lack of actual zone sets is unforgivable, as it completely ignores an essential aspect of this year's NBA game. Although the rebounding game is a bit improved, there are new presentation elements, and the new franchise mode adds quite a bit of replay value, NBA Live 2002 does not improve significantly on last year's version and seems to be falling behind competing hoops products.