NBA Live 2003 Review

NBA Live 2003 offers players a lot more this year than roster updates.  New play modes, including online play, animations and motion captures, and a new "Freestyle Control" to give you access to wide array of player moves are all included in this year's incarnation of the game.  The result is a very fast-paced game of basketball, but one that tends more towards arcade style play than a true basketball simulation.

ScreenshotsThe new Freestyle Control makes use of your controller's right stick.  On offense, it can be used to create special moves such as crossover dribbles, stutter steps, and fade aways.  Pressing or rotating the stick initiates the special move, which is context sensitive to your player's situation.  Pressing the stick right will lead to a different move depending on whether the player is moving up court, stationary, or even dribbling with his right or left hand.  In total, there are about 50 possible moves in the game.

The Freestyle Control also works on defense, although the number of defensive moves is understandably fewer.  Pressing the stick left or right to attempt to steal the ball from the offensive player's opposite hand, and pressing it up to keep your player's hands up are the most common uses of the Freestyle Control on defense.  The steal moves are a bit superfluous, because there is also a steal button while on defense and the Freestyle Control does not seem to result in more steals.

Overall, defense itself in the game is almost superfluous.  The Freestyle Control gives the offensive player a lot of power to drive to the hoop.  When this is combined with the turbo button - as far as I can tell the turbo is unlimited - you can rack up a lot of points driving baseline to baseline with the same player.  Steals are hard to come by, and defensive players can rarely get into a position to close off the basket because the game moves so quickly.  Viewing the post game stats is a testament to this, as shooting percentages are always quite high and the shot chart is littered with shots under the basket.  The one area of defense that is the most effective, shot blocking, occurs at an unrealistically high rate.  In addition, every block is of the "not in my house" variety that sends the ball flying out of bounds and gives possession back to the offense.  It be nice to be able to scoop up the ball after one of the blocked shots on occasion.

Another factor that encourages the player to play one on five basketball is that fact that only short passes are reliable.  Down and cross court passing results in a very high percentage of intercepted and out of bounds balls.  The computer does not seem to suffer from the same passing handicap, though, and makes long passes with ease, helping it to run fast breaks faster than you can even hit the button to take control of a defender.

Another new feature in this year's NBA Live game is the "Quick Play" control.  The D-pad can be used on both offense and defense to call one of four plays without the need to pause the game or call timeout.  Defensive plays include zone versus man on man defense, double teams, and a full court press.  On offense, you can call for an isolation or three point play or a pick.  These plays are easy to call on the fly, and your AI teammates do a good job of running the play as soon as it is called.