Rating: Awesome If you're a fan of basketball games, you must own this game. EA Sports has improved the game technically and statistically without losing what made NBA Live so popular in the first place- the strategic, deep, and extremely entertaining gameplay. Yes, the classic NBA Live gameplay is back and better than ever. The gameplay is so simple, yet so complicated, and it eats every other basketball game on the market for breakfast in my opinion. NBA Live '98 also packs even more depth than previous NBA Live's, thanks to finely balanced difficulty levels and tons more statistics and features than you ever thought possible. As great as NBA Live '96 and NBA Live '97 were, they were always lacking one thing- the perfect difficulty level. One difficulty level would be too easy, but if you took it the next level up, it would be too hard. There was no comfortable middle ground. NBA Live '98 fixes this with the most carefully-balanced difficulty level of all time- the Superstar level. Not too easy, not too hard, the Superstar difficulty level is just right. I realize that this only applies to my particular skill level, but anybody else who plays this game should also be able to find their perfect difficulty level since the gaps between each level are less than they used to be. EA has also added tons more features to their already amazing (and best in the industry) feature package, including hot streaks and cold streaks, more specific injuries, the best stat package on the market, and even a daily news feature during seasons! EA also added a three-point shootout mode which I found to be (somewhat surprisingly) very entertaining, with a simple set-up of going from eight players in one round, to four in the next, to the final two players shooting it out for the championship in the third and final round. This set-up was the exact set-up I thought to myself that I was going to play out with my favorite players, and I was shocked and delighted that the game automatically uses the exact same set-up I had in my head. The 3-point shootout mode is certainly no match for the regular game, but it's great fun in its own right and it is still keeping me coming back for more. EA also improved the game's polygonal graphics to look much more life-like and impressive, made the crowd look and sound much better, improved the dunks big time, and added four very cool new music tracks that play when you're going through the menus. Funk-a-delic! All of these elements combine to create one of the most enjoyable and satisfying basketball games of all time. However, as awesome as it is, I didn't feel NBA Live '98 deserved a "WOW!" rating because of a few flaws. The animation of a player spinning when he has the ball is noticeably choppy, and while the game's computer Artificial Intelligence (AI) is usually outstanding, the crunch time AI needs some serious work. When the computer is down by three with ten seconds left in the game, they should be passing the ball around looking for the open man to shoot the game-tying three, not standing around doing nothing and then lobbing up a meaningless two-pointer at the last second. Regardless of these flaws, NBA Live '98 is still an excellent basketball game, and it is much, much better than anything the competition has to offer.
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