NBA Live 95
DOS - 1995
Also available on: Genesis
Description of NBA Live 95
It's Game Time
EA Sports is looking to clinch the Championship of basketball games, which is not that hard to do given the lack of decent hoops games for the PC. Only a few are currently available, some of the best actually being text based games as the various graphic attempts at the game have fallen short on almost every try. Now NBA Live '95 hits the scene, and it looks like the runaway favorite for the title of best basketball game on the PC. It promises true 5 on 5 play, an NBA license, authentic rules, SVGA graphics, digital sound, full motion video and tons more. So lets see how it delivers.
The game comes on one CD-Rom, and requires at least 3 meg of hard drive space, and 15 meg for the recommended installation, which makes for smoother game play. The install program is very slick, with crisp SVGA screens giving a taste of things to come. It had no problems at all finding my sound card and identifying my type of video card, and it conveniently lets you test the sound and video before it saves the information. The whole thing took only minutes to install, and it works fine with my compressed hard disk, so no problems here. One thing though, you MUST have 8 meg of ram, and use a clean boot to get the needed amount of XMS memory (7,104k). If you have 8 meg and know how to manage your memory, as most gamers have had to learn, you'll have no problems.
The Pre-Game Show
The game begins with a very nice full motion video of some nice plays made by real live NBA players, as well as all the NBA teams logos flashing by. The music here is first rate, as it is right through the entire game, more on this later. After the introduction (which is skipable) you'll find yourself at the main menu, where you can set-up what type of game to play, either an exhibition match, play games during a season or start up a new playoff series. The exhibition games are good for practice, or just a quick game, as they don't count towards league standings. The season play option lets you take over total control of a NBA team for a season, with all the excitement of the race for a playoff spot and the run to the finals. You have the option to play a full 82 game schedule or play shorter seasons of either 52 or 26 games, this will let you play every other team either two times or only once, respectively. Then there are the playoffs, this is the full 16 team playoff format used by the NBA, except that you can choose between playing a full 5-7-7-7 game format, or a quicker series like a 1-3-3-3 game option. While the default match-ups are the same as the real 93-94 playoffs, you can choose to play any team in the league, regardless of their 93/94 standings, and you can swap any team with any other team to create the same match-ups as the current '95 playoffs, or create any combination you can think up. You can even play the all-star game, as they have included last years all-star rosters, or make up your own dream teams using the four custom teams included, which you can fill with any of the players from any of the teams for your ultimate hoops fantasy match-up. There is the option to play in either simulation mode, where the players will get tired, the coaches have to make substitutions, the refs' will call penalties normally, and all the normal rules apply. Or there is the arcade mode, where the players can play all game without rest, and you can never foul out. You are also given the option of playing a custom game where you can pick only the rules you want, and turn the rest off, it even lets you adjust the frequency of fouls called. Then you pick your level of play, rookie, starter or all-star, starter level is a good challenge with the all-star level putting up the toughest fight, and the rookie mode being best suited for young children, as it is quite easy. There is also an options menu, here you can mix the sound, speech, music and crowd volumes to your liking, and also set the graphic options, like crowd animation's, normal or high-res mode, and turn on/off the slow motion dunks, which should be left on so you can fully appreciate the many spectacular jams and dunks.
The Starting Line-up
The Team Office screen is where you get to be both the general manager and coach of your team. Here is where you can set your starting lineups for the game, make all the trades you want, and more. You can also view the team information page, which is a brief history of your respective team, with interesting information like its first year, scoring highlights, playoff history, and more. You can view and compare all the players in the league, and you can sort the players by one of 16 different stats kept for every player. Stats are kept for any current season you might be playing as well as the real 93-94 season, and you can switch between either of them any time you want to see how you are doing in comparison with the real player's statistics. Click on the name of a player and you'll get a digitized picture of him, with all his stats available for your browsing. The pictures are great, virtually a set of electronic basketball cards which are excellent in detail and information, and I find that this really puts a face to the players, not just a number. Making trades is as simple as selecting a player to trade from your team, picking the player you want, and pressing a button. There are no restrictions on the players you can trade, and the computer will never reject a trade, no matter how unfair it is.
Setting up your controls is painless, as the game accepts input from joysticks, gamepads, keyboard and mouse control options. I prefer to play using a gamepad, but the mouse controls work well with a little practice, and any two button joystick will do nicely. The game can be played by up to four players at once, with each player picking which team he will play on. So everyone can play for one team and gang up on the computer, or you can mix it up any way you want, 2 on 2, 3 on 1, 2 on 1 and so on. The game only accepts two gamepads/joysticks though, with the mouse and keyboard being used by the third and fourth players. The game even keeps permanent records for each player in a user log, showing stats like shooting percent and free-throw attempts, so you can see how you have done over your playing career. The game uses two buttons for joysticks and gamepads, one for passing or switching players, and one for shooting or jumping, the mouse uses the left and right buttons and the keyboard is completely player configurable. Controlling the players is easy to get the hang of, as is shooting free-throws, with the game using a "T" shaped meter system, much like most football games use to make field goals. Simply press the shoot button when the ball is in the middle and you'll get nothing but net, hit it a little bit off and it might roll round the rim and out, or miss completely. All in all the feel of the controls is quite comfortable and easy to grasp.
Next you'll hear the announcer telling you in what city the game will be played while a postcard-like picture of the home teams city is shown, then the starting players are shown for each team, with the whole effect being very much like a T.V. broadcast. As the game starts with the first tip-off of the ball, you can see the detail the artists have put into the graphics of both the players and the court. The player animation is excellent, with very smooth looking dribbling and shooting, players who get knocked down sometimes get up shaking their heads, they will wave their arms when open for a pass and much more. But the highlights of the player animation is in the variety of the shots the players try, from finger roll lay-ups, whirlwind jams and fade away jumpers to three point bombs, ally-oops and 360-reverse power slams to name just a few, complete with the occasional in-your-face taunting. The courts are also exceptionally well done, with each one almost an exact replica of the real building with the different types of flooring and background colors. The home team's logos are accurately placed and they even have people sitting by the baseline. When you play in Boston with its bright green paint scheme, you'll know you're in Boston! There is even the shadow of the basket and it's support on the floor, which helps you too see if you are in behind the net or not, as it can be hard to tell sometimes in the heat of the action. The crowds in the stands are also digitized and look very real, a nice touch. The players are fairly easy to identify, as they all have their appropriate hair and skin color, Horace Grant wears his goggles, and even Dennis Rodman has his own unique hair colors which change from game to game. Every player has his number on his jersey, and you can usually see it fairly clear, letting you get the ball to the right player when you need to. Adding to the T.V. broadcast feel of the game is the way the score and other interesting stats are displayed, with the score being flashed after a basket with the EA Sports logo in the corner. The overall look and feel of the game is excellent, with all ten of the players on the screen moving intelligently, trying to get open, blocking other players, moving to the double team when needed and basically playing a pretty good basketball game. The scrolling is very smooth in the regular view mode, but on my system it was a little jerky in the Hi-res full court view, but I believe that with a faster system this would be no problem, even as it is it's not that bad. I prefer the normal view though, as the full court mode makes the players a bit too small to see what they are doing clearly on a 14" monitor, although it is very crisp and clear and useful for seeing the whole court and for watching replays.
Crank it Up!
The sound effects are first rate all the way, turning the game into a true NBA game style experience, with the best crowd effects I have ever heard in any sports game. The crowd reacts to every play just like they should, with a monster slam by the home team being rewarded with thunderous applause, while a good play by the visitors brings on a series of oohs and ahhs, with the odd boo thrown in for good measure. The other sound effects are also given the same treatment, with the sound of the ball hitting the glass or rolling on the rim being standouts. You can hear the constant squeak of the players shoes on the court, the ball really sounds like a ball while bouncing, the ref's whistle is lifelike, and the players make the right sounds when they get hammered to the floor. The music is also of excellent quality with three different playback rates available, and it sounds great even at a medium setting on an 8 bit Sound Blaster Pro, 16 bit sound cards and the Gravis Ultrasound are also supported, which should sound even better. The music even kicks in during some pauses in the action just like a real NBA game, playing one of it's many different energetic and jazzy tracks to keep the you and the simulated crowd entertained.
Late in the Game
The computer coach does a good job of calling the right plays and making the right substitutions when a player gets tired, and plays a pretty sound game. But you can take over the coach's job if you want to, and take control of almost every part of your team's game strategy. During the game you can use the pause screen to set the play style you want to use, there are seven offensive play sets, with between three and eight variations of each set for a total of 46 different plays, and four defensive play sets. You can also change the level of defensive pressure from low, medium and high, to try to create more steals, and also set how hard your players crash the boards in search of rebounds, or if they should get back on defense. You can even set up the match-ups for each player, and pick which of the other teams players you should double team. This gives you plenty of opportunity to try out different coaching strategies in any game situation. The computer controlled team does have some flaws though, the worst one being that when it gets down in the game by about 16-20 points, it will start launching nothing but three point attempts, even when there is a clear shot from in close it will pass out and try a three. This can be fixed by going to the pause screen and setting the computer team's strategy to something other than automatic, then, if and when it gets the score a little closer, you can set it back to automatic and it will continue normally. There is also a setting in the options menu to turn the computer assist on, which temporarily increases the skills of the team that is behind, allowing them to get back in it and make for a close game almost every time.
Post Game Report
After every quarter you are shown a breakdown of the games stats, like shooting percentage, blocks, steals and more, with a comparison of hot players from each team at half-time and a player of the game award and the end of the game. At the end of the game if you are in the playoffs, you go to a playoff screen showing a playoff tree where you can track the teams all the way to the finals. In league play you can check out your division, conference or overall standings, and compare your players to the league leaders in one of 16 stats. League games that you don't want to play can be simulated instantly, with reasonable stats generated. The only problem I have with the stats is that if you play shorter games than the regular 12 minute quarters, your stats will be considerably less than the rest of the league because the computer simulates all it's games as full 48 minute games, instead of the same time you use. Other than that, the stats it generates are fairly realistic compared to the real league, with the different teams playing like they should in real life. Another nice feature is the instant replay playback, with easy to use VCR-like buttons with pause, slow motion and the ability to focus on any player or the ball, allowing you to see a great play over and over again. EA has done a good job of getting the license from the NBA to use the real team logos and almost all of the players for each team, with a few notable exceptions, such as Charles Barkley, David Robinson, and Jordan. But Jordan came back too late to make the roster, and I suspect that these very few other players not included are because of their own contractual reasons and not an oversight of EA.
So, does NBA Live '95 go the distance? Without question, this is the best basketball game available on the PC, if not the best on any platform. It delivers full 5 on 5 NBA action, with almost all of the real NBA players, it has excellent graphics and sound effects, top notch music and game-play that just won't quit. You really get the feeling like your watching a game on T.V., with the superb crowd, seamless digitized speech of the announcer and beautiful hi-res pictures. It offers a fair amount of strategy options while not requiring you to get bogged down in a lot of management details, and I was up and playing in a few minutes and throwing down jams soon after. I have yet to have a crash or notice any real bugs, which is a rare thing these days. If you have any interest in basketball, then you must check this one out, it's the best hoops game going, and I eagerly await the '96 edition when my home city will have it's team by then, the Vancouver Grizzlies. All in all, a excellent game all around and a must for any sports fan, finally a first rate hoops game for the PC has arrived.
Review By GamesDomain
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