NBA Live 99
Windows - 1998
Description of NBA Live 99
What a franchise!
Every once in a while, I am asked to play some street ball. People assume that since I am comparably tall (hey, I edge out Johnny Stockton, ain't that good?) I should be good at the game. Sadly, the truth is if I am bad at any sport it must be basketball. In school basketball, I usually got beat fair and square in the shooting and in the physical game. Rumor goes that there is a rule calling for this to be a non-contact sport, but you know, it's wrong.
Therefore, most of my experience comes from playing computer basketball since the legendary Dr. J vs. Larry Bird on my trusty Apple II. The last edition of the NBA Live series I played was back in 1996. You know, I am not addicted enough to churn out solid money for only partially improved versions. Last year, I played the surprisingly strong NBA Action 98, which offered gamers a direct understanding of the usual gameplay weaknesses in EA Sports titles. And this year, I volunteered to look at NBA Live 99 and guess what: it's a pleasant surprise.
Was it worth the wait?
The surprise has pros and cons in it. Let's begin with the introduction video which is a usual EA strength. It was big news to me that this year's edition of NBA Live is no good in that area. Actually, the video is as bad as it gets. Not because of the image quality but because the video sequences are too short. Watching them for a minute can give you a headache after a good day's work. The menu screens are just as bad. If you don't know where you can control the substitutions you will have a hard time finding them. The same holds true for post game statistics, save game screens, and so on. The mix between typical gamepad- and mouse-maneuvering is just not convincing even though it sure works if you know how to handle it. Furthermore, the sound effects are relatively weak. The announcer is more the standard stuff and nothing to write home about while the in-game sounds are close to a silent court: you hear the feet and the occasional defense, defense! but nowhere near as much noise as you expect from your average NBA game. No trash talking from the players, either. It's as if you're playing training match with a few dozen people hanging around the arena. Certainly, a major area to upgrade for the next edition.
The surprise is only complete with noting that NBA Live 99 is very strong in the gameplay department. Actually, I think that this game is as close to a true simulation of basketball on the PC as is possible right now. First of all, the controls are very well done, provided you have enough buttons on your gamepad. If you do, then you're in for a treat thanks to an enormous variety of moves and shots. Crossovers, fakes, and alley-oops are yours to command. Figuring out what the buttons can really do, however, is a major task. You'll have at least a complete season under your belt before you really master all combinations. The good part of this is that you can adequately compete by shooting and passing only, but the game gets more interesting the more buttons you use.
The game itself plays very well. You can set up nice pick and rolls, you can drive to the basket, you can play for the outside shot, and you can definitely outplay the computer to get some beautiful tip-ins or slam dunks. The coaching department does a good job of giving you options and even the computer knows what to expect when you constantly try the three-pointer. Even the CPU knows how to adapt to monotonous playcalling. For the absolute beginners, there is the arcade mode which is fun a couple of times. Malone can jump way above the rim and Shawn Kemp flies over half the court before dunking. I have to say, though, that arcade mode loses its fun rather soon. But since there are four simulation modes to try out -- including the easy rookie mode and the incredibly difficult all-star -- it's hard to complain about this.
Good gameplay with bad habits
There is still room for improvement, though. I'll focus on the more important problems which occured to me while playing NBA Live 99: Scoring is a tad monotonous, particularly in rookie mode. Most of your scores will come from fast-breaks and dunks. So, in a sense, rookie mode doesn't really prepare you for the challenge of all-star and superstar. Long passes are too easy. You may have seen many of those beautiful long assists over the years in reality, but in this game they work on a regular basis. Start behind the goal line. Throw the looong ball. Hook up neatly with your power forward. Again and again.
Watch the player graphics, see Hornacek's mouth open? Another nagging problem has affected fouls. More often than not, the basket is counted even if the foul occured before the shot. That's clearly against the rule. As is the problem of illegal defense calling: you know that illegal defense should be called every time a player sits back in zone coverage for too long. NBA Live 99 only calls this in the key, however. Illegal perimeter defense gets nothing more than a wink and a nod from the folks in stripes. This defense-related problem contributes to the overly-high number of blocks and steals in the game.
Then, there is the fatigue problem. Team up Malone and Stockton for a full quarter and they'll be as fresh at the end as they were at the beginning. Only minor players feel any sort of fatigue at all. Starters and stars are ironmen who grow tired only if you're constantly pushing the turbo button. Since your best players hardly ever show fatigue and the computer driven players rarely get in serious foul trouble, the bench isn't very crucial. There's no need for the likes of Jud Buechler. And finally, your power forward finds the basket a little too easy except on rebounds which are usually won by small forwards and guards. I found the centers to be particularly useless players as they are not only slow and clumsy but hardly ever get a rebound.
No slam dunk but a nice layup all the same
Never have I felt the connection between the sport and the PC game to be closer than with this year's edition of NBA Live. Oddly enough, even though this is perhaps the hottest basketball game ever done for the PC, it has gone largely unnoticed. Judging by newsgroup commentary and overall media attention, then all other EA Sports titles generated more attention. It will be interesting to watch the NBA making the transition to the post Michael Jordan area and the same holds true for NBA Live 99. The series has some hard miles behind it, but this is still one very good game.
If you plan to buy the game then consider going immediately to the NBA Live Series Center. There you'll find roster patches which improve the gameplay enormously, adding realistic fatigue and other things to the game. After that, a good game might just turn into a great one for you. That results in a very good and very playable basketball game which easily outperforms the disappointing NHL 99 and FIFA 99. NBA Live 99 is to basketball, what Madden 99 is to football. Each is a very good, very solid game which is definitely worth your money.
Review By GamesDomain
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