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Freestyle fun marks NBA Live 2006

Chris McGrady and Tae Andrews | Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Chris: With headlining acts such as FIFA 2006, NFL 2006 and NCAA Football 2006, EA Sports has effectively built the gold standard for sports-related video games. And in the world of basketball arcade entertainment, NBA Live 2006 is a slam-dunk.

The game’s numerous new features (see the new Playmaker control) complement nicely with the improved graphics and controllability of the players. Although perhaps removed from reality a bit (i.e. Carmelo Anthony or Manu Ginobli routinely dropping 60 points in a game), the ability to personalize your playing style is a huge step up.

The previous version of the game had several features that could turn a nasty baller into a weepy bawler. In the old version, certain moves in the game were nearly impossible to execute.

Gone are the days of the inability to perform even a simple “pro-hop,” which prompted the renaming of the button that produced such a move to the “turn over button” among many avid NBA Live players. Ushered in is a new era of behind-the-back passes and tomahawk jams. With the new take, video gamers are given a virtual arsenal of effective drive, dunk, dish, dip and dodge abilities that will have even the most experienced of players salivating.

Aside from regular game play, there are numerous extra features that enhance the overall experience of the game. The first of these is the All-Star Weekend, which includes the 3-point competition, the Dunk contest and the All-Star Game.

Need help working on your outside stroke? Well, the 3-point feature is back and better than ever. Don’t like the view you’re getting from your shooter? Feel free to change the camera angle without leaving the game. The 3-point competition will let even the most un-athletic of coach potatoes “make it rain” alongside the likes of Kyle Korver and Michael Redd.

The dunk competition makes the game enter a new realm of fantasy rivaled only by the bullet-time bonanza found in “The Matrix.” There is such a thing as hang-time, but the way LeBron James hangs in the air makes the gamer start looking for wires attached to his back. Despite this stunning visual aspect, the competition takes on a near-ludicrous level when King James tosses the ball off the shot-clock, does a forward handspring and then dunks the ball with his arm covering his eyes.

Stupid? Yes. Entertaining? Definitely.

The dunk competition’s perverse use of fake abilities makes the most unrealistic facet of the game one of the most fun.

Want to prove that Charlie Weis isn’t the only guy out there who can put the “nasty” back in “dynasty?” Look no further than NBA Live’s Dynasty Mode.

Are you a fan of the championship-thirsty Clippers or the toothless Toronto Raptors? Well, fear no longer. You don’t have to wait until next year’s draft to watch your team rebuild, as you can trade and sign players en-route to the championship faster than you can say Greg Popovich.

Don’t feel like playing an entire season just to pull a “Denver Nuggets” and run into a brick wall in the first round of the playoffs? That’s fine, too. Just use the simulation feature and you can skip more games than Ron Artest, and you don’t even have to punch anyone to do it.

Overall, the game is a worthy, enjoyable and entertaining take on professional basketball and is an enticing time to the Marcus Camby in all of us.

Tae: The evolution of a perennial sports title is a continually changing process. Game creators use fan input to determine what facets of a game work and which aspects aren’t working. Then they seek to modify and improve upon deficiencies in the overall gaming experience.

The latest reincarnation of Live is definitely a step up from last year’s title, but it fails to be an entirely successful renaissance since some areas still require improvement.

Last year’s version of the game placed more of an emphasis on the use of power forwards and centers to dominate the interior underneath the hoop. But this was met with a negative reaction from Live players sick of driving to the basket in search of a jamboree, only to find they had mistakenly been invited to a block party.

In other words, it was too easy for shot-blocking big men to mercilessly swat would-be drives to the rim. Fear not, fellow Livers, for this year’s game is much more guard-intensive.

An effective mid-range jumper game combines with a new relative ease in finishing around the basket to make the 2006 version the Year of the Guard, as opposed to 2005, which was definitely the Year of the Forward.

By far the best aspect of this year’s game is its new Freestyle feature. The 2006 reincarnation of NBA Live offers a new twist: hold L1 and then hit any of the four buttons on the right side of the controller (triangle, circle, square, or X).

In turn, this will enable the player to, in the words of rapper Bun B, “go hard through the paint like Carmelo.” Different options are available for different kinds of Freestyling, allowing you to “have it your way” through a variety of customization options that even Burger King cannot match.

For example, using the Playmaker Freestyle feature with a flashy point guard will allow the player to sort through a nastier palette of dishes than one can find while scrubbing plates on the dishline of North Dining hall. Freestyling with a scorer such as the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili provides you with a variety of creative finishes at the basket, allowing you to make like breaded chicken and shake and bake your way to the rack.

Similarly, using Freestyle with a high-flyer such as Dwanye Wade will enable the player to defy the law of gravity en route to a series of high-flying aerial slam dunks. With more no-look passes and ankle-breaking dribble moves, the new and improved Freestyle feature is no doubt the most fun new part of the game.

But what makes the 2006 version so much fun – increased creativity in scoring – is also the game’s biggest flaw. The influx of myriad new offensive weapons makes scoring in Live ’06 too easy. It’s fairly routine to rack up ludicrous point totals of 40 or 50 points with a single player.

The game overall suffers from a lack of realism. The experience overall definitely smacks more of the arcade than of the hardwood.

EA Sports’ tagline is, “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game” as a testament to the realistic nature of its games. NBA Live 2006’s mantra should be, “If it happens on SportsCenter’s top 10, it happens a lot in the game.”

Also, by performing breathtaking moves ad nauseum with but the slightest effort, they lose some of their excitement.

But despite its flaws, NBA Live 2006 is a fun way to get your hoop on and settle some of that preseason trash-talking you’ve had with your roommate by going Manu y Manu on the Playstation 2.