NBA Live 09 Hands-On Report

Posted July 7th, 2008 at 11:43 am

The increased shift towards community involvement and interaction have paid dividends for several of the upcoming EA Sports titles. The first real development towards this was with the early community event for NBA Live last year. After proving to be a success it has led to events around games such as NCAA Football, Madden, and NHL where feedback could be taken early enough to be considered and acted upon. Now for a second straight year the NBA Live 09 community event offered the same opportunity at the same time.

Once again to preface everything to come this event takes place while the game is still very much in the development process. At this point it is normal to find bugs and tuning issues. What is great though is that those things can be pointed out and worked on. As I did last year I plan on comparing these thoughts to the final product in order to see how much impact the event had.

If I were to sum up my feelings on NBA Live 09 following the event it would be that there are a bunch of new, very exciting and fun additions to the game. However the overall gameplay still has several underlying issues that are difficult to ignore. The encouraging thing is that most of those were potentially fixable or improvable and there was no overriding issue that seemed to obscure everything else.

While at the event I got to take in the opinions of the other community members and found myself to seemingly be the least outwardly enthusiastic in general. Statements were made by some that the game had surpassed 2K and that’s not something I’m going to come out and claim. Feature wise that seems very likely however gameplay is always going to be subjective and certainly it was too rough to make that judgment already. On the other end of things I did leave extremely excited about Online Team Play, the NBA Academy, Pick & Roll Control, Lockdown Defense, and enhanced EASW video uploading options.

Of course much of the discussion around the game will have to do with the “ground-breaking” feature that is set to be announced until E3. Obviously I can’t speak to this feature, however I will say that literally two hours were spent explaining and displaying it. It is very much targeted to the hardcore crowd but should also have appeal for everyone else. Once this is officially announced we’ll be able to discuss the feature in greater detail than will be made available through the announcement or any media sites and I’ll be able to give my personal thoughts on it. I have also been asked to hold back on anything related to online play, which gutted what I could present for this initial hands-on report.

The NBA Academy was probably the area I was surprised most by how much I enjoyed and appreciated it. They originally had a list of 80+ possible scenarios to practice however could only get so many in. One that is lacking which would’ve really been helpful is free throw practice considering they changed the system this year. However I found great use for drills such as fast breaks since you’ve never really been able to practice those in the past. That should reflect directly in game situations now once you get comfortable with them. Others that I got into were pick & rolls, rebounding, and full five on five practice (which can include your own first team vs second team which is great for dynasty).

The Pick & Roll Control works really well and gives you an extra sense of control over the action. When you call for the pick a player automatically comes up to set it. This is supposed to be based off ratings and positioning on the court however it seemed like many times a player not well suited to be setting a pick would do it. The longer you hold in the button the different action the pick man will take. Let go quick and he’ll cut to the basket, hold it in longer and he’ll pop out for a jump shot. The meter that you can judge the timing off of wasn’t displaying correctly which made it more difficult to do what you wanted, but it was easy to tell this will be a popular feature.

Lockdown defense is pretty simple, you just body up on your man. It doesn’t necessarily lock you in though as you’ll have to react still to whatever move the offensive player makes. It makes it somewhat of a game within a game and definitely made playing defense more fun and gave the feeling that you can affect what happens much more than in the past.

Game presentation is very similar to last year. Starting lineup announcements are different and the game loads from the practice gym followed by a locker room fly through. The halftime and timeout cut scenes have not changed and post-game has the same highlight reel. On a positive note the Tip-Off is all new, displayed at a low closer upward angle. The default broadcast camera angle is a pulled a little farther out than last year and is slightly angled which was nice. I’m not sure I cared all that much for the spectators standing most of the time in the front row at the bottom of the screen though.

In a very welcome change the free throw system has an old-school feel to it. Gone is the right stick use which was a next-gen addition that never really worked well. Last year all I did was hit B to shoot it at the percentage of the player. Now there is a line displayed on the backboard with a sliver of white where you want to release the button. Hold it down and it’ll move to the right at a speed relative to the player’s free throw percentage and to a white area relative to it as well. From what I heard it was extremely difficult to make free throws with Shaq. Overall it seemed to be a fair system that produced realistic results and it was a relief to have a new system in place.

I speculated when a Superstar mode was stated to not be in but then Be a Pro was revealed with absolutely no specifics that it may turn out to be a one game experience and it is. That was somewhat disappointing but at the same time that’s what I expected. Everything from the camera angle to the success meter are the same as used in Online Team Play. It could almost be seen as a single player practice mode for OTP more than anything else.

As promised last year the FIBA mode has been expanded to 24 teams with the official rules and trapezoidal lane. The list of teams includes USA, Russia, Spain, Lithuania, Greece, Argentina, Slovenia, France, Turkey, Serbia, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Iran, England, Australia. Somehow I missed noting six of the teams.

I really liked the quick play call with Y, and that the plays are listed with the name of the player it is called for. So I might hit Y and it would be “Durant Get Open”. Basically it would call a play for you and as soon as that player’s icon lights up you would want to pass it to him. What I appreciate about this is that I’ve always been distracted pulling up the plays and reading them. While doing that I’m not paying attention to the action on the court. Now I can run a play and immediately recognize what is happening.

The Hot Spots are represented better on the court. No longer is the court filled with colored sections when it is displayed. Instead the sections are “outlined” with the color. Much more visually appealing and less distracting.

A big issue I had last year was using one button to do two commands…alley-oops and direct icon passing. That has been addressed this year with the icon passing being the dedicated RB and alley-oops requiring the RB held in and a push up on the right stick. It felt pretty good to do but took some time to get used to.

Dunks are all new and very much improved. What we were told is that dunks used to be based on what the dunk contest did which was three separate motions and that just didn’t flow well together in games. Now though they are one full animation and look much more natural.

EA Sports World will offer the opportunity for video highlight and screenshot uploading. But the video uploading is better than has been for other games as you’ll have editing options such as being able to change the cameras (including a floating camera you can use to shoot from anywhere you want) and change the speeds. By placing markers in different places you can go through several cameras and speeds. The videos can run up to 25 seconds. Plus they’ll finally have sound!

Here is a list of areas that I had issues with. I discussed them with some of the producers at the event and passed them along immediately following the end of it. Considering the restricted amount of time we had with the game it results in various pros and cons. As a positive if I notice something after only a few hours than I feel adjustments may be necessary. Frustrations would only increase in magnitude the more the game is played. In addition to that if I identify something that quickly I suspect most others would too. On the downside you don’t get the opportunity to find all the problems and can’t be sure that you didn’t just experience an anomaly. The biggest thing for me was the poor passing and a feeling of not being control of the action at all times.

  • There were several instances where I felt like control got taken out of my hands. One was with the leaning into of shots that when I felt like I was doing what I needed to in order to pull up instead. Because of the tendency for it to carry me into a leaner or layup looking animation it limited me in what I could do off an explosive move.
  • The other thing which did illicit some frustration was being pushed or pulled into a turnover. This happened in some cases being pushed back past the half court line after just crossing it, or being pulled out of bounds by an animation. Usually this happened with a defender in lockdown.
  • There is a sense of not being quite responsive enough, for me that was especially the case with passing. Seeing an open guy, hitting the button, and not having it pass quick enough or throw the right type of pass resulted in missing out on open opportunities.
  • It was discussed at length but I really struggled with passing to players based on direction of the stick. There was really no sense that I could swing it around the wing if I wanted to, or post up and then kick it out to a guy unless he was straight ahead.
  • I also had times where it was almost as if it was preloading passes off of inbounds after a made basket. This could be due to me trying to rush the pass out, though I wouldn’t expect it to pass once or twice immediately after my PG got the inbounds just because I had hit the button multiple times before it passed in.
  • Just from my perception it almost seemed like there were very few wide open opportunities. Obviously those should be relatively rare, however it may have to do with the passing issues where by the time the ball would get to an open man a defender had closed in on him.
  • Alley-Oops may not have enough risk to them still. I saw some that went out of bounds or were deflected/intercepted however there were too many that were caught and dunked in traffic, pushed defenders out of the way, or catching and laying it up in an unnatural fashion. I did really like though how in many cases the players would just go up and catch the ball if they weren’t in scoring position.
  • The one-handed intercepted passes looked great but I felt as though they were happening a little too often.
  • Noticed some rebounding issues that seemed to carry over from last year. A couple players may go up for the rebound yet it is a player who stands still on the floor who it ends up falling to. I also saw the ball hit the floor a few times before being picked up.
  • On fast breaks I had cases of passes intercepted when it really should have been led ahead for an easy score, no arc or lead on those passes. Or in the case of players stopping to catch a pass when they should’ve continued running.
  • In the limited time I split between All-Star and Superstar. I really couldn’t say that I noticed any difference between the two. Considering its head to head though I don’t know if that is significant or not.
  • There is still an overall feel of lack of agressiveness when it comes to rebounding, but especially so with loose balls. Often it didn’t even feel like the players were making full effort to get to them. I know diving isn’t in, but it was almost as though they wouldn’t go full speed even if you were controlling one and was using turbo. It’s somewhat difficult to judge how to approach the ball and occasionally that means you run right by it.
  • I really liked how the double-teaming is handled, but it almost appears like the second defender in doesn’t look like he is doing much to make it more difficult for the ball handler. I think I noticed this most in the post where if you were controlling the second defender you didn’t feel like you were helping all that much.
  • By the end of the day I felt like it was too difficult to drive past a defender with players who are great at doing so. I had real trouble getting Deron Williams any penetration which didn’t seem right to me. Obviously it shouldn’t be easy to drive, but I wasn’t finding any of my moves effective enough to do so, or the defender seemed to stay in front of me regardless. It could be that the explosiveness of certain players needs to be improved since at times they would feel slow to me.
  • There were several instances where players with their foot on the 3 point line were credited with 3 point shots. This wasn’t just announcing errors but it was giving them 3 points. It was obvious when the shot was put up as well as in instant replay that they shouldn’t have been for 3.
  • Came across that bug which messes up the broadcast camera for one side of the floor a few times. Seemed to be corrected only after committing a foul from what I tried.

Feel free to comment with your thoughts, and if you have any questions or would like clarification please visit this forum thread where it will be easier for me to interact. Not nearly everything I learned about the game is covered in this writeup. Just know that I can not address anything online related or the huge feature that is waiting on the announcement. After a few days I will compile the information that comes out of that forum thread for an additional article.