Kwame Brown in a box. That pretty much sums up Live 360, a game that might have the look of a #1 pick, but just doesn't have what it really takes to be a champion. This is a game that has seen the most disappointing, perplexing transformation from current to next gen, as EA Sports inexplicably decided to take out everything that made the Live series a million seller in favor of sweat and midgets.
Forget Live 360, this is more like Live 180.
Dynasty mode...gone. Slam Dunk Contest...cut. Superstar moves...bye-bye. Sure, the game looks amazing and the player models are the best of anything currently on the market, but do you buy a game to look at it or play it? By taking so much out of the game (arguably its three most popular features) EA's not pushing the series forward, it's taking a giant leap back, and in the end trading gameplay for graphics works about as well as trading Shaq to keep Kobe, it's just not a smart decision. In the long run, it's the gamers who pay the ultimate price.
If you have some friends and family over and you want to show them something impressive about the 360, turn on Live and have them check out the loading screen. Seriously, the loading screen of Live is amazing, maybe the best thing about the game. A basket rises out of the ground, banners pop all around the court, Dwyane Wade appears, and you have a practice court where you can shoot, dunk, and dribble with up to three other players. You can keep score if you like, or you can enter a code and play a funny game where there is a tiny player against a big player. The more shots the tiny player makes, the bigger he grows while at the same time, the big player, like Wade, starts to shrink. A fun distraction while the game loads. There's a giant video screen on the wall capturing all the action, and after choosing your game (while you continue to dunk, of course), you are brought straight through that screen and into the 3D arena to introduce the starters.
At tip-off though, you realize the default game speed is way too slow, and even when bumped up to maximum speed using sliders, the game still seems to lag. To top it off, there are only four camera angles to choose from, and as much as I fiddled with the zoom and height of each, I really couldn't find one that I liked. The problem is, when you change the camera from the default (which is way too far away from the action as you run up court), you see that the other cameras aren't as optimized, so you see more hitches in gameplay and problems where the camera can't keep up with the action. There are even spots where, after a foul, the camera zooms in on a player to show how much he's dripping sweat, and the camera will get lost, showing players bumping into each other, walking into the basket support, or losing them altogether. No matter what view you use, the camera just isn't fast enough to react to the action, and occasionally does strange things like focusing in on the rim when you need a rebound, rather than the ball or the players, so you don't even know where you are on the court. There are times when the camera zooms in on the player with the ball, so you can't even see the rest of your team, or who is open for the pass. To top it off, there are some strange ball physics plaguing the game, as you'll see balls take some of the strangest, most unrealistic bounces off the rim, making your job as rebounder even more difficult.
When it comes to the animations, you'll definitely see some exciting plays, from alley-oops to windmill slams. Steve Nash will even throw the occasional behind-the-back pass on a break, but with the loss of Superstar moves, it's no longer up to you when you want the flash or the cash, and it's a loss of control I can't believe was taken out of the game. There are still some breathtaking moves in there, especially when you see someone like Vince Carter swoop in for a tip slam and throw it down over the defense. NBA fans will also see a lot of signature shots in the game, including The Matrix's ugly form from behind the arc, but I'll take control over contextual animations anyday.
The feel of the game as a whole is a lot more sim-like than in Live's past, and that's one of the reasons for the slower pacing. Fatigue is turned on as default (this hasn't happened in Live for years), and the default quarter length is now eight minutes in order to get more realistic NBA stats and scores (or so EA says), but in reality, when you play you end up with Jason Richardson averaging 48 points per game. In terms of gameplay, you'll also get a more realistic tone, especially during fast breaks. The AI does a great job filling the lanes, as shooters will even trail off and get behind the three-point line as you drive so you can kick the rock out for a trey.
Another nice touch is the ability to quickly cycle through offensive and defensive sets at dead balls without having to leave the court and head to another screen. Everything you need to do is at your fingertips and displayed in the lower left corner of the screen as you watch the players on the court setup for the next play. As the coach, you have to be quick, though, because if you don't make the adjustment fast enough, just like in real life, you'll have to call timeout to make the proper adjustment, or just wait until the next dead ball.
One strange omission, though, is the fact that manual replays have been taken out of the game. When your team does a spectacular play, you can quickly hit a button and watch that one shot over, but you can't just pause the game at any time and watch random replays. To make matters worse, if the computer does something you want to see from a different angle, you're out of luck, because you only get the replay indicator after your own player makes something happen.
Online play is also kept to a minimum in Live, as you can only play two-players in Quick or Custom Match games. There are leaderboards, lobbies, and chat, but that's about it. But what did you expect? There aren't any features in the regular game, so why should online be any different.
In the absence of any type of Dynasty feature is Season mode. Pick a team and you have one season to make a play for the championship. No training camp, no player progression or evolution, no draft. There isn't even a salary cap in play, so you can go ahead and sign any free agents you want, from Latrell Sprewell to Christian Laettner to deepen your bench. Not that you'd want some of these guys starting, but without the cap, you can significantly upgrade the talent on your bench. And since there is no cap, money doesn't come into play when trying to make trades, so you can finally dump some of the dead weight on your team without having to worry about any cap repercussions. Great if you're a Knicks fan, bad if you're a gamer. How can a game pretend to be a sim and not have a cap? But this just adds to the thrown-together-at-the-last-second mode known as Season. It's like the whole thing was an afterthought because someone told them needed to have some kind of season mode in the game, even if it is pretty weak.
The best feature in Live (there are only two to choose from) is definitely the ability to create your own players from scratch. From nose shape (you can even give your player a broken nose!) to ear positioning, it's all here, along with hairstyles, body types and even skill set. You can model your player's skills after NBA stars like LeBron and Ben Wallace, adding a monster in the middle or a high flyer to your favorite squad.
Graphics and Sound
Like I said, the game was built around graphics, around a wow factor, and at times, you will be left wowed. The thing is, certain sequences and players looks so good that when something you expect to happen doesn't, you're left disappointed. For example: Baron Davis takes a shot as the halftime buzzer goes off. He misses and there is a closeup of him face. You expect him to snarl, to pound his fist in anger, something. Remember, the game is built on graphics. Instead, he just stands there with this completely unemotional look on his face. The NBA's success is built on emotion. Think about it, the players have no helmets to hide their expressions, yet NBA Live is trapped in some emotionless void, and in the end, that makes the graphics that the game was built around seem less important and carry far less of a punch than what was expected.
In terms of the audio, Marv Albert and Steve Kerr provide the commentary, and they do a great job in calling the action. The fans in attendance also add to the experience as they jump up and cheer after a great shot by the home team or sit down and moan if the visitors take the lead. You get a great sense of environment with Live, I just wish the arena was worth playing in.
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