NBA Live, EA’s flagship basketball franchise, has had a rough go of it over the past several years. While it used to be firmly established as the basketball simulation of choice amongst sports gamers, it has shifted into near-irrelevance largely due to the universally acclaimed NBA 2K series. This year marks a very significant turning point for NBA Live as it has been developed by a new team with a renewed focus on fundamentally sound simulation-style basketball. NBA Live 10 has received an overwhelmingly positive reception this year, and we’ll investigate whether the iPhone rendition of this resurgent brand delivers like its console brethren.
Given this is the first time NBA Live has come to the iPhone, it has a passable amount of modes and features. All 32 NBA teams and real-life rosters are included, and there’s a good selection of free agents available to bolster your favorite team. You have the usual Exhibition option to fire up a one-off games, and there are the typical Season and Playoff options to round out the gameplay modes. We would have loved to see considerations like multiplayer, Dynasty mode, All Star Weekend minigames, and the awesome ‘Be a Pro’ scenario, but perhaps that’s on the development roadmap for next year.
EA wrote their own captions, so we didn’t have to!
Controlling the action in NBA Live is solid. We loved the implementation of both basic and advanced tutorials to get users acquainted with the controls. You have a virtual joypad on the left side, and your contextual offensive and defensive actions are on the right side. Tapping on a clipboard in the upper-right corner opens up play-calling options, but the options are generic without any recognition for the team you have. You won’t see Phil Jackson’s triangle offense or Mike Brown’s 1 vs 5 Lebron sets. Definitely disappointing, but not completely unexpected.
On the hardwood, NBA Live has some issues. It plays more like an arcade game than a simulation game. While you can try to play realisticly, there’s no reason to run plays when you can sprint into the paint for easy dunks all game. Once we saw several instances of no-name scrubs like Kwame ‘Butterfingers’ Brown bull-rushing their way into the crowed paint for spectacular dunks, it was clear that this was no simulation.
If you’re a fan of streaking for fast break dunks and bombing away from beyond the arc, you’ll probably have lots of fun taking it to the AI. We also noticed that the AI doesn’t seem to get superstar players involved much. It didn’t matter if we were going against Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo, or Wade; the AI tended to have the role players shooting the bulk of the shots. Besides these issues, collision detection isn’t on point in NBA Live. You’ll see players clipping and warping through each other in the paint, and raise your eyebrows at some dunks that go through the backboard.
Can you beat Shaq’s free-throw record?
One of Live’s biggest pluses is its presentation. The players look great in motion, and the arenas are accurately labeled on the courts. The jump-shots look a bit floaty and generic, but the dunks and post play celebrations look fantastic, especially when you see them in the sweet replays. Commentary is handled by Marv Albert, but it’s not that great. Marv could use more studio time, as the play-by-play is spotty and lacking a consistent flow.
With other EA sports franchises like Madden, FIFA, and Tiger Woods making a smooth transition to the iPhone, we’re disappointed that NBA Live doesn’t follow suit. While we view this game as a legitimate effort, we feel the game could benefit from a stint in the D-League to shore up the gameplay kinks. With attention given to this year’s rough spots and the inclusion of more gameplay modes, next year’s NBA Live could be an MVP candidate.