Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: September 27, 2005
Championships, brawls, million dollar players, and West Coast versus East ... all of this means one thing – the NBA is back. It's a new season, which means another chance to take your favorite team to the playoffs, but this time around, with NBA Live 2006, not all players are created equal.
The most obvious change to this year's NBA Live is the addition of superstar controls, meaning that star players with the necessary athletic prowess possess a variety of flashy "finishing moves." Each team has at least one of these superstars with at least one or more of the following superstar abilities: highflyer, scorers, playmaker, power, shooter, and stoppers. Power allows players to power his way through the court, using moves like a powerful two-handed dunk that will shake the entire stadium. On the other hand, a player with the playmaker ability would be the complete opposite and be adept at passing the ball behind his back to his fellow teammates, all without looking. If your athlete has proficiency as a highflyer, he can get massive air and pull off some awe-inspiring dunks. Scorers have a higher probability of scoring, while stoppers are better at defense, with quick hands to either block or steal the ball.
More multi-faceted superstars have several abilities from which to choose. For example, Kobe Bryant can be given any of the offensive superstar designations (except power), so if the Lakers are playing the Pistons, who have incredible inside defense, you could switch Kobe from high flyer to shooter. Changing your superstar's ability based on the opposing team adds a minor strategy element to the game and spices up the gameplay a bit.
In order to execute one of the four superstar moves, you hold down L1 and then press one of the face buttons. There are a couple of minor quibbles that I have with the superstar moves: the moves are almost impossible to stop, and players with the stopper-inside skill are far too vulnerable to steals. Even a strong handler can get picked off a few times during each game.
Superstar controls aside, NBA Live 2006 sports the usual modes of play: season, dynasty, playoffs, NBA All-Star weekend, freestyle challenge, one on one, slam dunk school, and individual practice. The goal of dynasty mode is to manage a team for 25 years. You get to hand-pick the team's staff, from scouting and training coaches to the assistant coach (unfortunately, you still can't change the head coach). Additionally, you have to implement training camps at the beginning of the season and scout for prospective players during the scouting season. Like Madden, there is a PDA for you to check e-mails, league news, and staff messages. With this new addition, you can keep your team and coaches in check and make sure they always have something to do. Players and coaches must not be allowed to waste time because extra coaching can only improve the team's chances of making the playoffs.
If you don't want to take your team through an entire season and just skip straight to the playoffs, there is a gameplay mode to accommodate you. I love to play this mode during the real playoffs just to see how my game compares to the actual one. Unfortunately, players don't mature and progress here as they do within the dynasty mode, which I was quite surprised to find myself enjoying and preferring over the season mode.
NBA All-Star weekend mode features the slam dunk contest, but instead of using the R2 button to throw, you now use the R3 button to toss up the ball to do any crazy tricks. After throwing the ball, you then choose the gather and the dunk to execute. The gathers and dunks differ depending on which face button is used, and mixing them together can produce some amazing and unrealistic-yet-entertaining results. If that's not your cup of tea, then you may feel more at home with the other modes, like three-point shootout or rookie challenge.
The graphics in the game don't seem to have improved all that much over last year's iteration, but the dunks have gotten more elaborate and are absolutely breathtaking. The stadiums and crowd seem to look the same, and even the location for the NBA All-Star weekend reminds me of NBA 2005. EA is probably holding onto the new graphical models for the next-gen systems.
On the other hand, the sound is awesome. The background music really enhances the enjoyment, especially when the crowd gets into the game during home matches. Pump up the crowd with insane plays, or quiet them by dominating the home team. Alas, the announcers are quite boring and just don't make the game as lively as their real-life television counterparts. Filled with a good variety of upbeat hip/hop, R&B, rap, and reggae, EA Trax always comes to save the day.
Like most EA titles, you can take NBA Live 2006 online. The lobby is organized similar to Madden's, with statistics running along the bottom of the screen to show current game scores. Quick match availability is also listed here, so you could pick up and play an exhibition game, go one-on-one, enter a slam-dunk showdown or rule the three-point showdown. The online segment plays well, as long as you can find someone to play against; unlike Madden, the online community for NBA Live isn't very densely populated.
Overall, NBA Live 2006 is far from ground-breaking but still surprisingly fun. Be sure to play on a slightly higher difficulty setting, as the lower-level AI players are too dim-witted. This title is great for multiplayer battles because of the addition of the superstar skills, but aside from that, the game is pretty similar to last year's offering. If you are looking for a completely new NBA experience, this is not the right game for you. If, however, you just want a new game with updated rosters and are curious about the ins and outs of the superstar abilities, then this might be the title for you. NBA Live '95 has also been included on the disc, so there's also something here for retro NBA fans.
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