This franchise appeared to be headed downhill from the last couple of NBA Live releases. EA promised an improved game with the new FreeStyle Control, better AI play and more high-flying dunks than ever. Did EA follow through on their promise? Read on to see.
Presentation/Graphics : 85
The graphics in this game are adequate. Most players look close enough to their real life counterparts, although some of the players' arms look a little bit too muscular or blocky. The frame rates run at full speed, no matter the occasion. The animations are well done, especially the high-flying dunks. The cut scenes become repetitive after a while. Also, there is no sort of player introductions in this year's game for whatever reason.
Classic jerseys are also a new addition in this year's game. Most teams only have one classic jersey included for their team, with the exception of a few teams.
Presentation/Audio : 80
The sound effects are authentic, especially the crowd sound effects. The color commentary is nothing spectacular but adequate enough. Perhaps the addition of Marv Albert will help keep the commentary into a higher notch. In this year's game, Albert is only in the FreeStyle tutorials. The music includes many big name stars, such as Angie Martinez and Snoop.
Interface/Options : 60
One of my complaints last year was the sluggish control. This aspect of the game has certainly been fixed. The controls are a lot more responsive allowing you to actually just play the game.
This year's game modes include Practice, Season, Franchise, and the other modes from NBA Live 2002 are included.
Most of the other aspects of the franchise mode are essentially the same as last year's game. The game no longer will have 3-way trades between teams. According to EA, they didn't want to confuse the user too much. I thought they could come up with a better excuse than that one. NBA Live 2003 also does not allow you to trade draft picks nor does it allow you to save a current game in progress.
I simmed a few seasons, and let the CPU do the drafting and sign free agents. It seems like it is too easy to end up with good players. I saw my team went 27-1 in one season (28 game schedule). I had Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Jason Terry, Latrell Sprewell, Jermaine O'Neal along with Corey Maggette, Michael Olowokandi and Robert Horry. However, the stats in the CPU simulated games are as they should be.
Gameplay : 85
The gameplay in NBA Live 2003 creates a potentially fast paced game due to the improved AI fast break logic. This type of style creates a good amount of opportunity to turn the ball over if the ball is handled without care. During my first few games, I turned the ball over a good amount of times, but once you learn how to pass the ball around with patience, the number decreases a good amount.
There were some major issues I had with the gameplay in NBA Live 2002--the lack of injuries, rebounding, and AI. The AI has definitely been improved with the computer being able to recognize when they should push the ball up the court or not. Rebounding is also much better than last year. Jumping for the ball will actually be factored in when going for the rebound. However, the lack of injuries in the game is still present. Injuries occur during simulating, but not during actual in-game play. In an interview with Live 2003 Assistant Producer Tim Tishner, he said in-game injuries only occur after hard fouls. I have yet to experience a hard foul in all the games I've played.
The biggest addition to this year's NBA Live game is the FreeStyle Control. It allows you to perform cross-overs, jukes, and post-up moves as well as defensive moves. I found this feature to be a great touch because it gives you the freedom of going left or right at any time you want. It does take some time to become familiar with all the moves at your disposal.
The next big improvement is the fast break AI. The computer really pushes the ball up the court if you don't get back on defense. Rebounding is improved a bit as well. Out jumping players for the ball actually results in getting the rebound.
The AI offensive play is also improved. Try playing against the Magic and T-Mac will often be isolated on one side of the court. Playing the Jazz will force you to deal with the pick and roll almost every time down. Not everything is good though. While playing against the Lakers, they often posted up Samaki Walker and Shaq equally. Other than that, I didn't really run into any major issues.
Some of the issues I have with NBA Live 2003 include the high shooting percentage of the computer as well as the way steals are represented. The computer routinely takes either shots in the key or 3-point shots. This results in the computer shooting 65-80%. The gameplay engine needs to be fixed so that the ball does not always stick to the players' hands when they get their hands on the ball. There are also way too many blocks. The game seems to have a problem with the awareness of where the loose ball ends ups after a block shot.
Some other minor complaints include a situation when I tried to pump fake from the 3 pt line, but ended up getting fouled on a reach-in. Nothing wrong with that except the ball ended up going in from the 3 pt line. This doesn't happen too often but has happened a few times against the computer.
Overall, I am satisfied with the gameplay. It is not even close to perfect by any means, but the arcade type gameplay is still enjoyable to play.
Replay Value : 75
The replay value means nothing if the game is not fun to play no matter how good the franchise mode is. The franchise mode is essentially the same as NBA Live 2002. I found just trying to learn how to completely become familiar with the new FreeStyle control was enough to get me to go back and play the game. It is rather disappointing to see nothing new in the franchise mode though. I feel like once I play enough to know how to use the FreeStyle control, NBA Live 2003 will only be a game that I play when I have friends over.
Overall : 85
NBA Live 2003 is a huge improvement from NBA Live 2002, bringing back the enjoyment that had been missing before. Obviously the FreeStyle Control has a huge role in this revival. This game is not the best basketball simulation game out there because of the speed and spectacular high flying dunks in the game, but so far is the most enjoyable of the three basketball titles on the Xbox. The game gets even better playing multiplayer against other humans.
If EA can fix up a few aspects of the game, next year's release will be something worth anticipating. These issues include the way the ball sticks onto players' hands when they reach for it, the excessive number of blocks and the lack of in-game injuries.