My prospects of hooping it in the big time ended when my five foot ten frame decided it was done growing. With no speed and an inability to penetrate to the right, I was relegated to a life of fantasy that was fulfilled with videogame basketball. Last year, EA fared just as poorly as I had in their basketball savvy. NBA Live 2001 was arguably a low point in the franchise. The game was fraught with problems - poor rebounding, confusing menus, animation sequences that would cause your man to run right out of bounds, and so on.
NBA Live 2002 for the PS2 attempts to correct many of the problems of last year's version. While some things have been fixed, others are still there, though there have been some improvements. Overall, Live 2002 is much better than Live 2001. But even with the improvements, there are still some minor issues with the game.
Presentation/Graphics : 85
When the PS2 launched much was made about jaggies. The Dreamcast and PS2 fanboys squared off. In the blue corner, the DC fanboys claimed victory with nice textures. In the red corner, the PS2 fanboys countered with the fact that the DC had jaggies too. The argument degenerated into a Pee Wee Herman-esque I know you are but what am I debate. However, another year later and we have the return of the jaggies. Every court has terrible jagged lines making up the boundaries, the lane, the key, and three-point arc. If it weren't for the nice team and NBA logos on the court, you'd swear you were looking at a PSX game.
The player models are a step up from last year's version. Many of the players feature distinguishing markings that are true to life. One of my favorite players is the afro-headed Moochie Norris. EA swiped Moochie's appearance straight from Midway's Afro Thunder. Players such as Shaq, Jason Williams, and Iverson have their familiar tattoos. When the camera zooms in you'll instantly recognize many of the players by face alone. Another improvement is that the players' body shapes and sizes are right on. A troubling spot in the past has been the player animations. Steal attempts were hyperactive swats and spins and crossover dribbles were long, drawn out animations. This time around the animations have a more realistic pace and they don't cause problems near the sidelines. It should be noted that there are still collision detection problems with the three point line. There are too many instances where players are awarded three points when their toes are inside the arc.
The camera work definitely needs some help. There are 4 camera angles available, and none really provide a great vantage point from which to control the players. Some views allow you to zoom the camera in and out while others have it fixed. I prefer to play with an end view. I had to turn the zoom way out just to see a little more than half the court on offense. I also flipped off the autozoom feature. Yet when the action got near the basket, the game invariably zoomed in. While capturing the action is great, the zoomed in camera prohibits you from finding the open man.
Presentation/Audio : 55
Yet another year of poor commentary and boring play-by-play. Actually, poor commentary is being nice. There really is very little color commentary to be found in the game. All I ever hear is the play-by-play of the game, which is accurate. This year some new sounds were added. EA dug through the Tiger Woods archives to find some unrealistic sound effects. Blocks have a huge swoosh and three point shots have their own Tiger sound.
Interface/Options : 75
The missing franchise mode has entered the building. In addition to the multiyear franchise mode complete with managerial aspects, you can play single games, a season, or one-on-one contests. The front office moves include the signing of free agents, the release of players, draft picks, and more. During the course of a season, you can propose trades, and in addition the CPU can initiate a trade deal with your team. Fortunately, the trade system is smart. I tried to trade some scrubs for the likes of Koby or Shaq but the game wouldn't bite. Also, as per NBA rules, the total salaries of both sides must be within ten percent.
One option in the game is the ability to create players. This is key since the game shipped with horribly out of date rosters. Many of this year's draft picks are nowhere to be found in the game, and late injuries, trades, and free agent signings mean most teams will have mistakes in their lineups. Of course, MJ makes his return to the NBA as well as Live 2002.
The menu system, which is nearly as poorly implemented as Live 2001, contains settings for the sound and display. Very few game options exist; there are no AI sliders to customize play. Four difficulty levels and toggles for various rules of the game are at your disposal to modify the gameplay. During a game, you can adjust some of the AI for your team. You can let the CPU determine when your players should be substituted, tell your team to crash the boards, or notify you of plays.
The statistical engine is great. The pace of the game is fairly slow, so unless you play with 10 or 12 minute quarters, you likely won't have realistic stats. To force the rest of the league to stay in line with your stats, you can set the game sim length in the season and franchise modes. Thus if you play with 6 minute quarters, you can force the rest of the league's stats to be consistent with the same length quarters.
Gameplay : 85
The gameplay is where Live 2002 gets tricky. First, the bad. Rebounding, while improved over Live 2001, is still flawed. Too many offensive rebounds are grabbed by both teams. While you can box out somewhat, grabbing the ball off the rim is too difficult. If you let the CPU automatically control your front court, you'll notice one source of the flaw - players jump too late to get the rebound. Also, the button response is slow and sometimes wrong. When you do grab an offensive rebound near the basket you may want to jump right back up and slam the ball. The game doesn't utilize a button press buffer, so if you press the shot button immediately after getting the ball your player will stand flatfooted under the basket. Likewise, if you pass to an open man you have to wait for him to catch the ball before pressing the shoot button. Finally, some fakes near the basket are misinterpreted as real shots.
Other issues with the AI include a CPU team that relies too heavily on the inside game and points in the paint and practically abandons a middle game. On both sides of the ball, if a guard makes it through the paint to the basket, he is almost certain to score the bucket. The game's animation sequence for layups starts early and ends with a basket even if three men jump for a block attempt. And when you are on offense you can spread the offense and run your point guard up the middle. The opposing center usually waits too long to commit to the ball, and by the time he makes a move towards you you're already past him. When playing outside the paint, the AI team effectively rotates with the ball to make finding open shots a challenge. The strong AI also prohibits you from fast breaks. Fast breaks are usually just one-on-one sprints coming off a steal. A strong rebound followed by a perfect outlet pass never happens. Thus, fans of fast break offense will be upset.
Despite these problems, I'm really enjoying the game. It's much better than Live 2001. Looking back at my review of Live 2001, it looks like EA fixed many of the problems I encountered with the game. The post game is better. While I still prefer the post game of the NBA2K series, Live's is still good. When you press the triangle button your player posts up. By pointing the controller towards the basket he backs down. Letting go of the triangle can cause your player to spin around the defender for an attempt at the basket. Or you can press the shot button while posting up for a hook shot. The real gem of the post game is that as your player nears the basket, the AI team eventually double teams him. When it does, you find the open man for a mid- or long-range jumper. This is basketball 101, and I love it.
Another problem spot last year was an impenetrable defense. Players would face you up with outstretched arms that were impossible to go around. No more. The same goes for steals. I could easily rack up double digit steals in Live 2001, but Live 2002 is a different story. Sure, you can still pick the pocket of the opposition, but doing so comes with a higher chance of a foul. My steal count has dropped to more realistic levels. In fact, the stats are incredibly realistic, with the exception of offensive rebounding and perhaps too many blocks in a game. But steals, assists, and field goal percentages mimic real NBA ball.
While a great franchise, the NBA2K series plays a spastic form of basketball. Whenever I play any of the NBA2K games I have to set the speed to the lowest level to approach a realistic pace. With no speed settings at your disposal, Live 2002's pace is ideal. And while a turbo button is available, you don't get a huge advantage when using it. Furthermore, if you play with fatigue on, the sprints will tire your players faster and make substitutions more commonplace. As far as difficulty, I have no problem handling the opposition on the all-star setting, which is the second most difficult level. But if I move up to superstar, the CPU can dominate. The most noticeable difference in difficulty levels is the susceptibility of AI defenders to fake shots.
Replay Value : 90
For me, the game has more replay potential than the NBA2K series. I'm a sucker for a realistic pace, and Live 2002 has it. And much like Madden, the 2002 version marks a major improvement over the 2001 version. I couldn't wait to stop playing Live 2001, but Live 2002 is a completely different animal. Sure there are still some issues (rebounding, button response, few fast breaks, poor audio), but for the most part the basketball is fun. The multi-season franchise mode provides incentive to play virtual year after virtual year.
Overall : 81
Live 2002 for the PS2 is an improvement over Live 2001. There are still some things that need tuning, and if EA can get those straightened out, basketball fans will have a tough choice choosing which basketball title is the best available. But for the PS2 there's no better basketball title out right now. Even with some flaws, NBA Live 2002 is entertaining.