NBA Live 97
Windows - 1996
Also available on: Genesis
Description of NBA Live 97
In reality, there are very few basketball games available which actually attempt to simulate the workings of the NBA. Sure, the action arcade style of games such as NBA Jam and NBA Hangtime capture the hype and excitement, but they lack the detail to be called a true simulation. For starters, 5 on 5 gameplay, coaching and playcalling options, and full NBA teams and rosters.
Setup and Options
I found installation for Live '97 quick and painless in both DOS and Windows 95 versions included in the package. The game tips off in typical EA Sports fashion, with a high speed compilation of full motion video from recent NBA footage. All of the setting and configuration options are available from the main front end, game setup screen. There are a huge number of options and choices. While this is a simulation at heart, those looking for an arcade experience can adjust the settings accordingly. Similarly, 3 difficulty levels allow plenty of variety, the hardest of which is quite some challenge. One of the most interesting new additions is the inclusion of modem and network play. Multiplayer action has been supported in previous EA Sports titles through the use of multiple controllers, such as the Gravis GrIP system, but these expanded options are certainly welcome. 2 computers can be connected by either modem or network, with up to 4 players on each machine. It is a little disappointing that only 2 systems can be connected via network, but at least it's an improvement.
The game is officially licensed by the NBA, and therefore contains all 29 current NBA franchises and over 300 players. Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley are predictably absent, although they can be easily drafted using the extensive player creation feature. Shaq, who was missing from Full Court Press, is included, which EA are very quick to point out (he is splashed all over the packaging). The amount of statistical information for teams and players is amazing. Live '97 is almost a basketball encyclopedia. Fans could spend hours simply scrolling through facts and figures, if the in game wasn't so good that is.
EA Sports' Virtual Stadium technology made it's first appearance in Live '96, and was perhaps the greatest source of criticism for the game. While creating a true 3d stadium environment, the majority of the "revolutionary" new shifting camera views were completely unplayable. Most gamers settled on Classic Cam, which was the angle closest to the 45 degree side court perspective used in the 95 installment. Well, Virtual Stadium technology makes a predictable return in Live '97, although it is to a certain extent refined. All of the camera views feel much more solid, and scrolling is both slower and smoother. There are still a number of unplayable angles, but on the positive side they can be used to great effect in the instant replay feature (and also to create some pretty pictures for packaging boxes too).
All 29 franchise arenas are featured complete with authentic court surfaces and logos. No matter how good the stadium improvements, the greatest visual enhancement of Live '97 is the new polygon based player animations. EA have utilised the motion capture technology used in NHL '97 to create something truly spectacular. From running to passing, jumping and slamming, these things look frighteningly realistic. (And they should, considering Sacremento Kings stars Mitch Richmond and Tyus Edney were two of the motion capture subjects). The actual polygon surface texturing is very smooth and sharp, and movement is fluid and utterly believable. Hey, you can finally switch off those player identification tags, you'll be able to pick out your favourite players straight away. Aside from the obvious visual advantages, polygon animations in a basketball sim actually improve gameplay. Setting screens and running the pick n' roll are much easier with true 3d players.Now, I'm not sure that I need to say it, but yes, this game is strictly for those with high end machines. For a smooth frame rate at the highest resolution level treat the recommended configuration very seriously.
Sound effects throughout are up to the usual NBA Live standard, which is realism. An interesting addition, however, is the inclusion of in game commentary, provided by basketball personality Ernie Johnson Jr. While the speech quality is very good, with few noticable breaks or pauses, it is in no way intrusive upon gameplay. Ernie is basically restricted to calling names, whether that be for baskets, assists, fouls or substitutions. Overall, a solid addition.
Generally, gameplay in Live '97 is very similar to previous NBA Live titles. Some might consider it a disappointment that EA have opted to maintain their "2 button" control approach (one for pass/change and the other jump/shoot). Personally, I prefer simple controls in fast paced games. Perhaps a steal button could have been added. A few other complaints from previous versions are also still here. While players are rated for speed and jumping, they all seem to run and jump the same. 6 foot guards can and will leap up and block 7 foot 2 centers, which just ain't right. These are minor quibbles really. Live '97 does feature more extensive coaching and playcalling options with over 60 offensive plays and 10 defensive sets. Up to 4 plays can be preset and called during the game, using the function keys F1-F8. Unfortunately, 4 is not very many, and to make changes necessitates heading back to the pause menu screen (which is also required to make substitutions). This becomes irritating after a while, and ends up a deterrent in using the strategy options. For the main part the computer players do follow the patterns though, and the plays can be run quite effectively. That is providing you play your part of course.
For the many gamers familiar with EA Sports titles who have skipped all previous sections of this review and jumped straight to this AI section, yes, your suspicions are correct. The AI in Live '97, as in NHL '97, fails to match the high presentation standards. To be fair, there are some nice new touches and enhancements. Teams do not substitute their top players at the end of a quarter, and if the ball is heading out of bounds off the opposition, your teammates will let it go. The major AI problem is the overuse and general dominance of players in the center position. After playing the game for some time, a clear pattern emerges in the computer run offense. The point guard feeds the ball into the center, standing close to the basket (known as "posting up"), who either puts up a shot himself, or moves around to draw in the defence before passing out to a teammate with a clear shot. I realise that there doesn't sound too much wrong with this, but the pattern repeats itself on almost every play. The result is some very unbalanced statistics. The better centers, perhaps in particular David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon, regularly score up to and over 50 points a game, and prove almost impossible to control, even with double or triple teaming. Point guards can also profit with up to 20 assists.
The NBA Champion?
Live '97 is clearly the best basketball sim currrently available. Stunning new graphics, sound and the usual solid gameplay make this one a winner. The only weakness I can see is in the form of a questionable AI, but the new expanded multiplayer options provide the opportunity to bypass this. As far a Live '96 is concerned, there are enough new features and enhancements here to warrant the upgrade. You won't be disappointed.
Review By GamesDomain
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