NBA Live has had a rough transition to the current generation of consoles; however, slowly but surely, the games have gotten better every year. NBA Live 09 doesn't make the same leap forward that 08 made, and the much-hyped dynamic DNA feature has little effect on the gameplay. However, new pick-and-roll controls, as well as signature playcalling, make this Live the best in several years.
NBA 2K9 has "living rosters," whereas NBA Live 09 has "dynamic DNA." No matter the name, the result is generally the same. EA will be updating Live's rosters on a daily basis to reflect what is happening in the NBA. If Chicago Bulls rookie Derrick Rose continues to show no fear driving to the hoop as he has this preseason, his in-game persona will reflect that. Should Shaun Livingston prove he can stay healthy with the Miami Heat and start the season off on a hot streak, his attributes will get a bump to immediately make him a factor. Basically, you're going to have really up-to-date rosters; if that's important to you, you'll enjoy the feature. If you were pretty happy with the frequency of roster updates in previous years, you won't get as much out of it.
Dynamic DNA isn't just used for current rosters; it's used throughout the game, though its implementation is better in some areas than others. Floor overlays and percentages that tell you how likely a player is to drive left to the hoop aren't very useful. They're also--judging by the updates after a bucket--quite often inaccurate. The DNA feature is most useful with regards to playcalling. You can bring up a playcalling menu at any time with the press of a button while dribbling. You're then presented with four playcalling options. These options are determined by what plays are typically run when the ball is in that player's hands in real life. That's neat, but the best part is that once you call a play, the game walks you through it by placing markers on the floor. This not only teaches you what your role is in executing the play, but it also makes what your teammates are doing extremely obvious so you're not just running to spots and wondering what to do with the ball. If you prefer to run a simple pick-and-roll, you can do so with ease. If you hold down the left trigger or L2, a player will come set a screen, and you can use it as you see fit to drive or take a shot. You can also get your teammate involved a little more. If you release the button before the meter fills, your teammate will go to the hoop. If you release it later, he'll step out for an outside shot. It's a simple mechanic that's easy to use and very effective.
It's good that calling plays is intuitive because you'll need to instruct your fellow players if you want them to move around at all on offense--they do very little on their own to get open. But even that's not a huge problem because it's pretty darn easy to dunk at will. Unlike previous games, however, you won't always be able to take the ball coast to coast with a single player. Dribble moves with the right analog stick are quite often ineffective, thanks to some unseen gravitational field defenders have that keeps them close. Instead, you'll sometimes have to wait for the CPU to make a bad double-team so you can hit a teammate near the rim (you'll need to use icon passing, since regular passes rarely seem to go where you want) for an easy dunk. Although you can cover your man fairly well with the effective lockdown-defense feature, bad team defense is one of the game's trademarks. Even if you double-team a player, he's nearly unstoppable should he receive a pass in stride while cutting to the rim--players just don't react in time. Poor reaction time is also a problem with user-controlled rebounding; it seems no matter how early, on time, or late you jump, you're going to miss the ball a good portion of the time.
Most of the gameplay modes are the same as last year, but that's not necessarily a bad thing because there's plenty to do. You can practice the basics in the NBA Live Academy, prove you're the best team on the planet in the FIBA World Championships, take part in the slam-dunk contest and three-point shootout in the NBA All-Star weekend, or take control of an NBA franchise in Dynasty mode. An intuitive interface and interesting method of improving your staff are the highlights of the Dynasty mode. But we experienced such quirks as Andrew Bynum winning the MVP while averaging 7.9 points and 10 rebounds per game, or even worse, a few crashes that left us unable to continue our season.
Live 09 is the latest EA Sports game to include the Be a Pro mode found in NHL 09 and FIFA 09. However, unlike those games in which you control one player throughout the course of his career, you're only able to play a one-off game in Live. This makes the mode downright uninteresting because you have no vested interest in how you mesh with your teammates. You'll have a little more incentive to be a team player if you play the five-on-five Team Play mode online. Not only do you receive a rating based on your performance, but you'll have to deal with some pretty unhappy teammates if you hog the ball or play like a jerk and cost your online club a win. Online play lags a bit when playing with more than a few other human opponents, but in general, the online experience is fairly smooth.
Live 09's presentation is inconsistent. Pregame intros are nicely done, most of the better-known players look reasonably like their real life counterparts, and there's plenty of great animation. However, the transition from one animation to the next is often poor, and the in-game presentation is rather dull. Marv Albert and Steve Kerr are back in the booth, and once again, they do a nice job calling the action, though they don't have much new to say this year.
While it's a little disappointing that Live 09 isn't a drastic step forward, it is an improvement over Live 08 and a very solid basketball game. Dynamic DNA isn't going to change the way you enjoy a basketball game, but effective pick-and-roll mechanics and intuitive playcalling certainly will. If you want a basketball game that's fast-paced with easy-to-manage controls, NBA Live 09 is worth a look.