NBA Live 2004
last year's edition of NBA Live had the unusual advantage (for an EA Sports title) of not being another incremental improvement on a previous version. That's because there was no Live 2002 for PC, and there were no other basketball contenders, so Live 2003 was a welcome return for a spectacular and often overlooked sport sim.
Now, most Brits can't stomach a game of back and forth scoring, both the simulation and its real-life counterpart, as we're too used to the fine tactics and hard graft of football. A goal is an event, a basket is a forgettable and flickering instant, like gulping one of those white balls in Hungry Hippos. And NBA Live is usually just as fast.
However, Live 2004 has slowed down a bit and introduced some control changes in an effort to distinguish itself from its predecessor, and the result is yet another highly polished title. Yet despite the changes, it still feels much like the same game.
The slower pace should make it better, but it's still too fast for any tactics. But where it suffers most is the more complicated controls, with more buttons needed which just serve to confuse things. This makes it another case of being a game that's better on a console.
Unless the prospect of seeing each NBA player wearing the brand of shoes they use in real life excites you, stick with Live 2003.
Download NBA Live 2004
Last season's impressive Live showing breathed new life into the stagnant series, and its path down the comeback trail continues with superior on-court control. The new "Pro Hop" jump-step move makes driving through the lane easier and flashier, and you can now alter your shot midflight to avoid getting stuffed. Other well-designed additions include separate controller commands for performing dunks, layups, and long-range jumpers, and the ability to quickly switch to an off-the-ball player by pushing the R3 button. The improvements don't stop there, as this year's edition addresses 2003's problem of being too darn arcadey. Don't worry, you can still run-and-gun in true Live fashion, but the improved defensive A.I. tones it down just enough to give it a sim feel. This also means you can forget the days of ridiculously high shooting percentages. So, is all this enough for Live to reclaim the roundball crown? Not quite. ESPN's superslick presentation and addictive 24/7 mode leave EA's title in second place.
Live 2004 delivers a completely different feel from Live 2003. Last year's game introduced us to Freestyle Control, which was cool, but it made defending too difficult. Thanks to some intelligent tweaks, you'll now find a much better balance between offense and defense. It's not as easy to blow by a defender on the perimeter, but when you do, the adjusted A.I. compensates and another defender picks you up. Plus, more-realistic blocking means you'll no longer swat Shaq with little guys like Steve Nash.
EA Sports' latest basketball game sports serious improvements, most notably on defense. Players are much better about stepping into passing lanes to deflect or steal the ball, and double teams are especially effective when the ball goes down into the post. This emphasis on defensive play really affects the overall feel and pacing of NBA Live 2004, making it look less like a dunk-fest and more like actual basketball. So, if you liked last year's game but thought it was a little too frantic, then you'll assuredly dig Live 2004.