Fans of EA Sports' long-running NBA Live series can express themselves on the hardwood like never before in this cross-platform "06" edition, thanks to the introduction of the "Freestyle Superstar" feature, which expands upon earlier editions' "Freestyle Control." Gamers who play as the league's biggest talents will have access to an alternate control scheme designed to allow them to perform exceptional moves, such as deceptive passes, unorthodox shots, and powerful dunks.
Different superstar players have different move sets available, according to their playing styles and specialties, as represented by eight categories: inside scorers, outside scorers, high fliers, playmakers, power players, and shooters. A few extremely proficient players may have more than one superstar style available to them, and gamers can choose which one they'll use.
In addition to new features, NBA Live 06 is designed to deliver the action and accuracy fans of the series have come to expect. The game offers an expanded Dynasty mode that allows players to lead their favorite teams far into the future. As with earlier editions, a full NBA license allows inclusion of all the league's real-life teams, rosters, and arenas. Television-style presentation includes play-by-play and commentary from Marv Albert and Steve Kerr.
NBA Live continues to be a series that doesn't know what it wants to be. As a simulation, the 2006 version fails miserably; it's much better as a casual pick-up-and-play arcade game, but the default gameplay is ridiculously easy, providing little challenge for veteran players unless you go in and massively tweak the game's multitude of gameplay sliders, which is something many casual fans are unlikely to spend time doing.
Out of the box, the game is a certified dunk fest. Defenders play the NBA version of Ole! as they allow players to knife into the lane for a handy two-handed slam. Dunks are exciting, but when you see six or seven per quarter it saps the adrenaline rush from what should be a spectacular play. If you spend a lot of time tweaking the sliders you can get it to play moderately realistic, but no other EA Sports game demands more customization as NBA Live 06.
In addition to the slam fest, some of the same old Live problems continue to rear their ugly head. The rebounding model is woefully inefficient. After you get used to the game and get your timing down it's not uncommon to see 30 to 40 offensive rebounds per game by one team. It's absolutely ridiculous. This is also something that sliders and gameplay tweaks cannot fix. It has been a recurring problem with this series since the 2001 version and it is still one today. This problem alone is reason enough for a sim fan to skip the game; it's just crazy how many offensive rebounds that players with low rebounding skill snatch during a game.
The infamous NBA Live "skating players" are back again, as well. This problem has also been a thorn in the game's side for years now, and why EA Sports cannot or will not fix it remains a mystery. Basketball is a game of short, quick steps, and when you see players gliding around the court like Brian Boitano, it not only looks goofy but it adds to the over-the-top arcade feel that the game provides.
The graphics are pretty good for the most part. The heads of the players look a tad big, but the player models on the whole aren't too bad. The freestyle movements remain tight and the cardboard cutout animations are nowhere near as bad as in previous editions. In fact, the game has some of the best dunk animations around; some of them look really spectacular. It would be nice if the arenas were as authentic as they are in other EA games, but unless you're a hardcore fan of a particular team, you probably won't notice any flaws.
The play by play delivered by Marv Albert and Steve Kerr is extremely dull. Albert sounds like he has a train to catch and Kerr as if he's reading from a script rather that watching a live game. Great play by play, particularly in a fast game like basketball, can add so much atmosphere to a game, and that added level of excitement is missing here.
It's not all bad. In fact, there are several areas in which the game has dramatically improved. The new "Superstar" mode is a cool addition. It's a tad too powerful, but the idea is solid. Basically each team has a couple of "Superstar" players that have the ability to perform spectacular plays via the Superstar button. The players are broken down into specific categories such as shooter, scorer, high flyer, stopper, playmaker, and power. Some players even have more than one Superstar skill. High flyers like Dwayne Wade can slam home some super-nasty dunks while great point guards like Steve Nash can whip behind-the-back fast-break passes; it looks really sweet, even though these moves are borderline money plays once you get the gang of using them.
Speaking of fast breaks, for the first time in years it is possible to run a real fast break in an NBA Live game. Over the past several editions running a fast break was impossible because players would stop when receiving a pass on the wing; they wouldn't catch it in stride. This year, running a fast break is super smooth and adds a missing ingredient from older versions when playing with a quick team.
Online play remains a problem. No built-in league support combined with surprisingly laggy gameplay makes for a frustrating online experience. Until EA Sports comes to grips with the fact that sports games need online league functionality, their games will continue to be second rate in terms of online play. It takes a lot of leg work to run a league, and yet EA refuses to build it into its design.
Franchise play is pretty much the same as last year aside from a few new features and tweaks. One cool aspect is that as players age, they start to look different on the court. Your rookie center at age 21 may look a whole lot different (i.e. fatter) when he's 35. If a player is not properly trained he may develop a small paunch; little details like this go a long way. You also get assistant coaches which help players develop, but this is a small addition at best.
NBA Live 06 isn't a terrible game, and it really depends on what you want out of a basketball game as to whether or not you're going to enjoy it. Hardcore simulation fans really need not apply due to the broken rebounding model. But if you want a lot of high-flying sizzle in your hoops game and you don't care about the other minutiae, then by all means pick it up. Just don't expect a lot of authenticity.
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