NBA Live 09 PS3 review

We catch up with EA Sports' annual basketball opus. Is it a franchise heading for retirement? What do you think...

With depressing predictability, EA Sports’ yearly renovation of its key franchises has begun. Recent weeks have seen FIFA, Tiger Woods, NFL and NHL games all re-enter the market, refreshed and re-invigorated. This time, it’s the turn of another great American sport: basketball.

As usual, it’s easy to feel a sense of cynicism about EA’s yearly profit-pushing reliance on its key sports franchises but, as usual, booting up the game seems to almost allay these yearly fears. A snappy opening sequence with a famous tune over the top of it, a glimpse of some stunning graphics and the promise of the world’s best game of basketball herald the return of EA’s famously fantastic presentation and give a glimmer of hope that this year’s effort will rise above the rest.

The list of new additions to the game certainly suggests – as with FIFA 09 – that EA has been genuinely trying to churn out more than just the annual update, just in time for Christmas.

The inclusion of Dynamic DNA is one such feature that suggests that EA means business. It works in a similar fashion to FIFA’s much-lauded Live Season option – that is, real-world form is reflected in-game, thanks to downloadable stat updates. If a player on your team is running through a hot streak, for instance, his attributes will reflect this and he’ll start scoring three-pointers for fun. Find that your defenders are experiencing a chronic lack of confidence and letting the opposition score with little resistance, though, and their poor performances will also be translated to the game.

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As well as this well-implemented addition, there’s EA’s new ‘pick-and-roll’ system, which lets you control two players at once – the one who has possession of the ball, and one that you want to move into a potential scoring position. It’s easy to use, too: hold down L2 to call a player over, and release the trigger at a certain time to make him perform certain actions. Holding onto the button longer, for instance, will make your attacker more inclined to hang back for a shot while you press forward for a potential rebound. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, it’s easy to draw defenders into vulnerable positions and exploit the opposition with relatively complex tactical plays.

Several other small enhancements have been added to the on-court action. A couple of new moves allow you to try and trick defenders into opening a gap for you to breeze past them, although they don’t seem to work consistently: a move that seemed easy five minutes ago can, inexplicably, not work mere seconds later.

Other areas of on-court play can seem a little hit-and-miss, too. Players seem to catch up with the game far too easily; it’s no good trying to execute a manic breakaway down the court when sluggish defenders are on your back within seconds. The pace of the game seems far too variable, too, with frantic, fast-paced matches slowing down for no good reason. Players often run outside of the court, too, and the number of fouls that just aren’t called is, surely, far too many – the rules are there to be obeyed, not to be malleable.

Even EA Sports’ famously fantastic presentation has the occasional blip. Animation can occasionally be ropey, and the crowd isn’t particularly impressive – if I can use a football analogy, it’s more Pro Evo than what we’ve come to expect from the flashier FIFA.

Both the visual issues and slight gameplay issues are sure to irritate occasionally, but that doesn’t detract from the overall feeling that NBA Live 09 plays a pretty good game of basketball. It’s not the most accurate or realistic simulation of the sport we’ve seen – and some of the stranger gameplay choices are, well, noticeable – but the solid gameplay and generally superb EA Sports presentation just about saves NBA Live 09 from an obscure retirement.

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3 out of 5