I’ve reviewed NBA Live 08 for PC, and it was terrible. A sad, sad state of affairs. So, in that light, I’m reviewing Live 09 on the Xbox 360 to hopefully give the series a fair shake, seeing as how this – the 360/PS3 build – is the version EA Sports has been putting all of their effort into. What I found is that this is not what I’m used to on the PC, and that’s both a good and a bad thing.

First, let me get the graphics part of things out of the way. For the one or two of you who are wondering how it looks, it’s as easy as ‘still image’ vs. ‘moving image.’ Were this a slideshow instead of a game, it would be  amazing. The skin textures, hair, faces, and uniforms are all dead-on. However, after reviewing NBA 2K8 last year,  I can’t help but feel that the players seem a little stiff and robotic. There’s also the age-old NBA Live problem of dunking through backboards, which I swear EA should have fixed by now. Live could also benefit from Madden NFL 09’s animation system, because the animations are way too long and take you out of control of your player way too much.

In fact, being out of control is a far too common occurrence in Live 09. On inbounds plays your player runs to a set spot on the court before the play, and you have no control over it. The same type of thing happens after scores, where your player will run down court, regardless of your feelings on the matter. This just makes the NBA 2K series that much more impressive.

When you are in control, though, the game plays pretty darn well. I’ve often lamented NBA 2K8 for not allowing me more freedom on leaning jumpers, both forward and back as well as side-to-side. Live 09 fills that desire. Jump shooting is less hit-or-miss then in NBA 2K8 because there are fewer shooting styles. When you get to the rim – not an easy task, thank goodness – your player has to work to get their shots off, so no more automatic baskets at the rim. Locomotion has been improved as players plant their feet and move rather then slide. Signature animations, though, are sadly few and far between.

The implementation of Live’s NBA DNA feature is really hit-or-miss, and sadly it’s allot more ‘miss’ so far, and not because the Live 365 isn’t really active yet, but rather because it seems to make so little difference come game time. Setting how players react to certain spots on the court seems to have little to no effect on their play. The amount of player ratings, on the other hand, are astounding, and make it possible to really tweak a player however you want. The create-a-player feature is not up to snuff, though. In fact, I prefer NBA 2K8’s CAP feature to this, and that’s saying something. The biggest problem, for me, is that while you’re working on the player’s face, he’s looking at the ground, making it hard to get a good look at him. That and the fact that the options are terribly under explained makes this a real trial and error process.

Wrapping this up, I’ll touch briefly on the features I’ve missed. The dynasty mode is solid but highly unremarkable, and All-Star Weekend is allot like the PC version, except that the dunk Contest seems much harder and feels highly sped up in comparison. The FIBA mode is a neat idea, but I hate the fact that the world teams have replaced the NBA legends squads of past Lives.  I understand that EA is trying to market Live on a global scale, but this is a terrible miscalculation, to me. There are also zero retro jerseys in this game.

In all, this is a huge step up from the Live 08 on PC that I reviewed last fall, but it still has a long way to go to catch the NBA 2K series. Alphasim out.