NBA Live '99 Review

For PlayStation

Rating: Awesome
   I played NBA Live '99 when it first came out a few months ago, but I 
just couldn't get into it.  The main reason for this was that the NBA 
lock-out was in full swing, so I wasn't exactly in love with the NBA at the
time and I knew that when play eventually resumed, the rosters would be 
nothing like they are in Live '99.  With the NBA now back in action, I've 
been playing Live '99 a lot more and have found it to be what I knew it 
would be all along- a worthy addition to the greatest basketball game 
series ever.
   First of all, as a hardcore basketball fan, there was no way I was going
to play the game with rosters from July 1, 1998 (and I didn't feel like 
spending the money on a DexDrive), so I actually sat there for several 
hours with my Sports Illustrated listing all the NBA teams' starting five 
and top reserves, and changed all the rosters so that they matched the real
NBA rosters as closely as possible (doing this was actually easier than it 
sounds thanks to the game's simple interface).  And unfortunately, that 
included releasing Michael Jordan... err, "Roster Player" from my team, the
   After getting the rosters up to date and adjusting the many rules and 
options to my liking, I dived right into the game and the first thing I 
noticed was that the Artificial Intelligence has been drastically improved.
The computer-controlled players in Live '99 make those from previous games 
in the series seem stupid in comparison.  This makes for a much tougher 
game with a lot more replay value than any other basketball game on the 
   The gameplay is full of the usual slight adjustments and improvements 
from the masters of sports game at EA.  Live '99 is not revolutionary by 
any means, but all the small improvements add up to the game even more 
playable and the control even more intuitive.  Crossover moves are often 
nothing more than worthless gimmicks in other basketball games, but the 
crossover move in Live '99 actually feels like an important part of the 
game.  You can't just run straight for the basket and shoot; you can't just
drop back and make three pointers the whole game; you actually have to move
the ball around and work your way inside.  Needless to say, the experience 
is a lot more strategic than most basketball games.  The result is that you 
feel as though you really earn every single point you score, which makes 
the game all the more rewarding when you win.
   Another major addition which stems from the improved AI is the greater 
emphasis placed on defense, particularly blocking.  Blocking seemed to 
happen very rarely in past Live games, which is a shame because it's such 
an important part of the game of basketball.  While I've certainly never 
played basketball professionally, I speak from experience when I say that 
there's nothing quite like the satisfaction of watching some punk try to 
drive on you and then swat the ball away and deny him the chance to score.
Blocking has finally been given the greater role in the game that it 
deserves in Live '99, which, here again, makes the game much more strategic.
No more running towards the basket and shooting whenever you feel like it.
If you try to shoot the ball with Shaq right in front of you with his arms 
up, odds are you're going to get stuffed, just as you would in real life.  
Also, the affects of pressing the "steal" button have been fine-tuned to 
keep the number of steals and fouls reasonable, which makes the game even 
more realistic.
   The graphics from the default camera angle are great, but not much 
better than the graphics in Live '98.  However, during instant replays (or 
if you zoom the camera in), you can see your players up close and personal,
and they look very realistic.  Now they even make facial expressions based 
on what is happening in the game.  Charles Barkley may get a smirk on his 
face after dunking on somebody, and likewise, he may get a puzzled and 
slightly annoyed look if he's benched two minutes later.  Unfortunately, 
substitutions don't happen very often in Live '99 on the default setting 
for quarter length (three minutes), which completely eliminates a major 
part of the game- the bench players.  I could always increase the quarter 
length, but it just doesn't feel right because I've gotten so used to 
playing Live with three minute quarters over the years.  And with three 
minute quarters, there are little or no substitutions in the game.  Two 
more quick notes: The free throws are awkward at first because of the lag 
between when you press the button and when the ball meter stops, but it's 
not that much of a problem once you get used to it.  And while the menu 
music isn't on the same level as Live '98, what is?  Live '99's menu music 
is great in its own right.  
   Predictably, the options and interface in Live '99 are incredible, as is
almost always the case with EA Sports.  The list of great options and 
features goes on and on.  The Create A Player option is still the best in 
any sports game.  If you don't think a player is really "all that," you can
change all of his ratings at will.  There is now a full draft feature that 
lets you (and the 28 other teams in the league) select a team of 12 players
from scratch.  The amount of statistics that the game tracks is almost 
scary.  And finally, Live '99 lets you play up to ten back-to-back seasons,
and during these seasons the performance of various players may improve or 
get worse, and trades can be proposed by either you or the computer.  It's 
no match for Madden's Franchise Mode, but it's a nice start and is enough 
to make me excited about a full-fledged Franchise Mode for Live 2000.
   If you're wondering why 989 Sports canceled NBA ShootOut '99, I've got a
simple answer for you: It looked silly compared to NBA Live '99.  But then 
again, so does every other basketball game on the market.

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