At a time of year normally reserved for their Triple Play baseball franchise, EA Sports has finally unleashed NBA Live 2001 just in time forů the all-star break? The obvious question arises, why such a lengthy delay regarding this year’s edition of NBA Live? Was EA Sports concentrating their efforts on developing the PlayStation 2 version of the basketball classic? Perhaps they realized, as their deadline approached, that the gameplay in NBA Live 2001 wasn’t quite right? Now that I’ve had the chance to experience the PC version of NBA Live 2001, it’s apparent that both of these reasons played a small role in what is a slightly disappointing basketball experience.
NBA Live 2001 sports all the usual game modes you’d expect from an EA Sports title. You can play an exhibition game, jump into the playoffs, start a franchise, play a little one-on-one, or fire up the multiplayer mode, which supports up to 8 players online or via a LAN. EA Sports has included a handful of Hall of Famers for the one-on-one mode including the likes of Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. As well, they’ve packed in All-Star teams from the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s for play in the exhibition mode.
The franchise mode, which now allows for 25-year careers, features an assortment of new additions. The NBA’s salary cap has been implemented into NBA Live 2001, so potential general managers will have to contend with contract negotiations and the difficulties of working around a salary cap. Trades have been altered to allow for three-team deals, an addition necessary to alleviate some of the rigors of working under the salary cap. While the drafting process remains relatively the same, information regarding prospects has been improved, such as details regarding their strengths and weaknesses, not to mention their potential for improvement.
The franchise mode isn’t without a few faults though. For starters, you’ll rarely ever see superstars become free agents. If you’re thinking of making room under your cap to sign CWebb from the Kings or Dikembe from the Hawks, think again, they aren’t going anywhere. Perhaps Vince Carter will be looking for a new home south of the border in another year? Think again, he’s not going anywhere either. All teams have the option of signing their free agents before any other teams get the opportunity to show them the money, so unless that particular player refuses to sign with his old team, you’ll probably have to settle for bench players. There is the occasional exception but having played through a handful of seasons with a few teams, I’ve come to realize that obtaining a superstar is better done via a trade. Other little tidbits include the inability to design an offensive or defensive scheme without first loading up a game, a general inefficiency in the menu system with regards to searching for or looking at stats, and a relative difficulty in unloading high-priced bench-warmers (Derrick Coleman, Bryant Reeves, etc.) Oh wait, that last point is actually quite realistic. All in all, despite a few tiny gripes, the franchise mode is one of the highlights of the NBA Live 2001 package.
As sure as the sun rises and sets every day, the visuals in NBA Live 2001 are absolutely spectacular. EA Sports continues to do a tremendous job bringing their sports franchises to life. Each of the players in NBA Live 2001 is instantly recognizable (although Moochie Norris’ afro is noticeably absent) and the facial animations are just incredible. The attention to detail, particularly with regards to the different arenas, is outstanding. EA Sports has added several in-game animations to give the game more of a TV-style presentation and even the fans in the stands have been improved. Better yet, the game ran as smooth as a baby’s bottom even with the details turned on maximum. In terms of the audio, the soundtrack features an assortment of recognizable singers, including Motel Jordan, and is by far the highlight of the sound department. The sound effects are solid as always, but the play-by-play was a little disappointing. The commentary is limited and you’ll hear repeat quips quicker than usual. As a whole though, the NBA Live 2001 experience is more than pleasant on the eyes and ears.
Alright, let’s take it to the rack and get to the real meat of NBA Live 2001, the gameplay. NBA Live 2001 features a wide assortment of moves. You can post up with the likes of Tim Duncan, throw an alley oop to Vince Carter, or drive to the hoop with Allen Iverson’s killer crossover. The controls can be a little overwhelming for beginners due to the fact that you have to push a variety of buttons to perform some of the more spectacular and complicated moves. Besides an arsenal of moves, there’s also a key reserved for playcalling, which allows you to run a pre-designed play during the game. With all that said, I can’t believe EA Sports didn’t assign a button for a pick. Picks are one of the most basic elements of basketball and its omission is startling. In order to get a pick set-up, you have to call a play that has been designed with a pick in mind. This suggests that picks only occur in set plays, which is ridiculous. Picks occur all the time and are necessary to free up players. Without them, you have to break down your defender in order to break down the defence and free up a man. To make a long story short, picks haven't been designed well and because of that, certain strategies are missing.
I’ve heard a few reviewers complain about the computer’s ability to pull down offensive rebounds, or rebounds in general, but I didn’t experience this problem at all. It’s called boxing out. I’ve also heard reviewers state that the ball comes off the hoop randomly, but that’s not true either. Rebounds are a result of a short or long shot, weak or strong side. Sure, the odd shot will bounce off the rim a little wildly, but otherwise you should have no problem judging where the rebound will go based on the trajectory of the ball. It’s the difference between a starting power forward and a power forward sitting on the bench (well, that and 20 ppg). The only problem I found with the rebounding is the fact that the referees have absolutely no concept of the term ‘over the back’. That rant aside, I do have a problem with the way the computer uses the clock. Opponents will often make use of the full 24-second shot clock on every possession, rarely setting up a play until the clock gets down to 8 seconds. This isn’t such a bad thing if you’re a ball control team, but teams like Sacramento should be running the floor. The computer seems to use the same offensive strategy for each and every team, that being a passive strategy. This is particularly evident late in games, especially when opponents are behind. If they need 2 or 3 buckets to tie the game with less than a minute left, they’ll still take far too much time to get a play going. Worse of all, they don’t purposely foul you at the end of the game. If you’re up by 1 point with 6 seconds left, just in-bound the ball and stand there, you’ll win every time. This lack of aggression is really quite frustrating.
Those rants aside, the computer is actually quite solid at most aspects of the game. While he might fall victim to a ball fake by Antawn Jamison, they certainly won’t be fooled by the same move on the part of Chris Dudley. NBA Live 2001 doesn’t actually play like real basketball until you select the All-Star difficulty level (second highest). At the lower two levels, the computer rarely tries to steal the ball and only occasionally drives to the hoop. It’s not until the All-Star level that they actually move the ball around the perimeter with more precision, go after steals and aggressively double-team down low. The highest level is sure to provide a challenge, even for the more skilled ballers, that is until you get to the last minute of the contest, where the computer doesn’t seem to know how to win games. Another gripe I have with the game is the obvious console-style save game function, or lack thereof. You can’t actually save a contest mid-game. This is particularly annoying for those who like to play 12-minute quarters. If you have to run in the middle of a game, you’ll either have to leave the computer on or replay the match at another time. Similarly, the franchise mode also features a console-style save game function. The league doesn’t save itself every time you play a few games, you have to physically save the career mode yourself. Forget to do so and you’ll lose whatever data you accumulated during that session. Why isn’t this like NHL 2001, where it automatically saves your franchise as you play through it?
When the final buzzer sounds, NBA Live 2001 is like a breakaway that results in a lay-up. Where's the slammah jammah? As usual, the overall presentation, variety of game modes, and new additions are fantastic, but there are a handful of issues that hurt the game. The sometimes baffling artificial intelligence, particularly in respect to ball control, the inability to save mid-game, the inability to devise offensive and defensive strategies outside of a game, and the general inability to free up players all contribute to an experience that could and should have been better. I would certainly recommend NBA Live 2001 to basketball fans alike but if you’re a diehard baller, take warning of some of the annoyances you’ll encounter in the game.
Editor's Note: If you're running Windows 2000, please be aware that NBA Live 2001 currently doesn't support that operating system and therefore will not work at all.
Editor's Note II: A thoughtful reader has brought to my attention that a pick can in fact be called by pressing button 9, but only by the ball handler. You still can't free up players with picks down low.