NBA Live 2003 is the best NBA game that will come out for the PC in this year, and the year isn’t even over. That’s not much of an accoplishment though, since NBA Live 2003 is the only NBA game that will come out for the pc in this year, because the rivaling games, Sega’s 2K3 and Microsoft’s Inside Drive are console exclusives. So the question is, will EA fullfil the desires of NBA fans that can’t afford a console, and provide them with a basketball game that isn’t just a steaming pile of crap? Well, that depends on how you like your NBA game.
The Live series has been absent from the pc gaming market in 2002, which is not much of a loss, since Live 2002 was pretty much a recycled release of 2001, which in its turn was criticized for being too similar to 2000, which was in deed pretty good to begin with, but how many versions of the same game can the average consumer pay for? Yes, you got it right, not that many. Fortunately, the EA team understood that big changes must be made to the game’s engine, and the new iteration of the Live series definitely surpasses all of the previous ones, while providing a decent fight for the Sega and Microsoft franchises.
Live’s 2003 new controle scheme, named “Freestyle”, has been hyped for quite a few months now, promising an absolute control of the player’s movements, and new tricks that weren’t seen in a basketball simulation game. While not as revolutionary as promised, Freestyle is in deed a welcome feature in basketball games. Basically, the system allows you to pull a very large number of spins, cross overs, and other dribble moves, by using your gamepad. Yes, gamepad, since doing many of those moves with your keyboard is virtually impossible, which renders 90 percent of the system useless for users that don’t have a gamepad with two analog sticks. But for those that do, pulling tricks is a breeze – just turn the right analog stick in a direction, and the player that has the ball will pull a dribbling move. There are quite a few combos that can be discovered, and you’ll see some new moves in almost every match that you will play. The right analog stick can also be used for defensive moves – you can use both of your hands to steal the ball, block the offensive player’s passes, and even charge at him. The system is also quite realistic – you can’t pull an infinite number of crossovers when you’re guarded, becase the ball will be stolen from you.
The Live series has always walked on the thin line between realism and arcade like gameplay, and the same continues in 2003. While some aspects of the game (mainly the Freestyle system and the ingame move calling abilities) add quite a few new tactics and strategies to the game, the overall experiense results in a huge number of dunks and fast breaks. Make no mistake – the game is extremely fun, but if you want realism, you might want to try the console rivals, a specially NBA 2K3. Live 2003 heavily relies on momentum play – if you sink a few shots in a row, your players will run on the fast breaks faster, harder shots will go in, and your opponent will be virtually helpless, unless he calls for a quick time out to cool down your team. It works in both ways though – when the AI controlled team gets pumped up, there isn’t much you can do but hope that you got a few time outs left, because otherwise, your ass will be handed to you. The AI in Live 2003 can pack quite a punch – don’t expect to beat such powerhouses like the Sacramento Kings or the LA Lakers, if you play with the Grizzlies or the Bulls, unless you’ve been practicing for a while. The AI can be unforgiving at times, stealing passes at an unbelievable rate, and dominating the court when the momentum is on their side. Overall, the challenge is welcome – the previous iterations of the Live series were far too easy even on the hardest difficulty settings.
The game has a handful of game modes : you can play an exhibition game, a season, a franchise (multiple seasons), practice with a single player, play an online game,or play a 1 on 1 game.
The franchise mode, which is the main mode of the game, is the deepest one. It allows you to play up to 25 seasons with a team, while trading players, drafting new players, and seeing your all times greatest retire. While the franchise mode isn’t even close to being as deep as the one in NBA 2K3 (not to talk about 2K3’s carreer mode), it provides a lengthy and fun experiense, that packs quite a few trading and drafting strategies in it.
The 1 on 1 mode allows you to pit to of your favourite players one against the other, and play a 1vs1 game in 3 different locations : a sports gym, a street court, and a beach court. The annoying thing is, that only the gym court is available in the practice mode, which is quite a weird decision on behalf of the EA people. Nontheless, having a 1vs1 game between Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquill O’neal for the “greatest center of all time” is quite fun. There are quite a few classic teams available in Live 2003, mainly the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s All Stars, and there are some unlockable characters available through cheats.
The online mode uses the new EA matching service, which while being effective and full of neat features such as tournaments and ladder play, requires you to pay extra money for it, although the first month is free. Now, that may be a fair thing to ask with games such as EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot, but asking you to pay a monthly fee, when the game that you’re playing will become obsolete in less than a year is just wrong, on quite a few levels. Anyway, there are also a lan and direct connect options of playing, which might not have the plentora of features that EA’s service has, but it can try and fullfil your online basketball desires.
NBA Live 2003 uses a whole new graphics engine, and it shows. The player’s polygon counts have been bumped up, resulting in smoother looking models, and better looking faces. Many of the NBA players have been modeled right down to their tatoos – Shaq has his “Man of Steel” tatoo on his arm, and Iverson has the chinese letter embedded on his neck. Most of the players look exactly like their real life counterparts; Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, O’neal, and other NBA superstars are almost exact replicas, and they even retain some of their real life signature moves – you can actually see Carter pointing to the sky after a ferocious dunk. Unfortunately, other players pull those moves once in a while, which makes them look a bit awkward, but it is still impressive none the less. The dunk animations are lovely as well, although some of them are not exactly in place; there is no way that Kobe Briant can pull his Dunk Competition winning dunk in mid game, no matter how good is he. The facial animations have been vastly improved, providing moving eyes and lips, which add a lot of personality to the virtual players. The camera will often zoom in to the player’s bench for a short cutscene during time outs and fouls, providing a view of the coaches as well, whom while not being as well modeled as the players, still provide a nice sense of a real NBA game.
The game’s ingame sounds are standard – you get your ordinary shoes screeching, ball dribbling, and crowd remarks, and while none of those are revolutionary, they are still effective. The crowd will cheer for you when you’re playing at home, and will boo, or go completely quiet, when you’re playing abroad, or being dominated at your home court. Unfortunately, some of the sounds are a bit repetitive : hearing the crowd chanting “T H R E E” when you throw a 3 shot is nice for the first few times, but it gets old after a few games. More team specific cheering would’ve been a welcome addition as well, something like “Go Vlade” when you play with the Kings, for example. The play by play commentary is standard as well, and most players will probably prefer to turn it off, since it gets very annoying after a while.The music consists of copyrighted rap songs, written by such as Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, Ghetto Fabolous, and others.
And now, the annoying parts :
The Create a Team feature is gone, and no where to be seen. Grabbing a rebound on offense is extremely difficult, and sometimes your players will just stop and won’t run for the ball. Many of the players have overrated characteristics.
While none of those truly harm the game, they still leave a sour taste in your mouth, a specially since other aspects of the games are so well polished.
Closing Comments :
NBA Live 2003 is a worthy basketball game. It may not be realistic, but it surely provides a fun and lengthy single player, and if you have the money for it, a very extensive multiplayer experiense as well. Highly recommended for users that don’t own any next generation console.
Great models, great textures, good animations.
The play by play commentary gets boring fast, crowd specific cheers are few and far between. The court sounds are good though.
Fun, fast, and the Freestyle controls add a lot of depth if you have the gamepad to use them. A few bugs prevent a perfect score for this one.
Like the first paragraph said, it’s the best basketball game you can get for the PC. Too bad that the extended multiplayer mode requires an extra payment.
Overall (not an average): 8.7