There are days when I love being a game reviewer. I get to play games, voice my opinion (no matter how pompous), and make some money while doing so. However, there are other days when I have to force myself to play a game knowing all the while that the review I finally write will leave myself, Chi, and GameCritics.com in general, open to attack. I had one of those days this past week, 10 minutes into EA Sports' latest basketball title NBA Live 2000. The whole 'Live' franchise is already a legendary one in this industry; every year, no matter how bad or unimproved the new version was from its predecessor, NBA Live is annually proclaimed the basketball game of choice by video game players and critics. So much so that newer and more revolutionary titles like Nintendo's NBA Courtside and Acclaim's NBA Jam (64-bit version) were consistently overlooked. I, for one, was never swept up in the 'Live' hysteria so I've always been a bit more objective and with this latest release, I am even more disheartened seeing the amount of praise already being showered on EA Sports.
The best thing Live 2000 has going for it is the inclusion of Michael Jordan and even that is nowhere as monumental as it was built up to be. It entails taking him on in a one-on-one 'street-ball' game. And that, my friends, seems to be the only part of the game that the developers worked on with any interest. They must have went out and recorded the sights and sounds of a local park to recreate their inner-city basketball court, which is complete with passing cars and onlookers, who are checking out the action. Taking a basketball superstar onto the court for a game of one-on-one is cool, especially once the trash talking starts. But with the bad animation and awkward movements of the players, this little diversion loses its appeal quickly. I'd say that only the most devout fan will want to play MJ more than a few times.
After having worked on this mode, the developers apparently sleepwalked their way through the rest of the game's production because nothing after that shows any amount of ingenuity. EA Sports went out and acquired the rights to 50 of the greatest ballplayers from the 1950s through the 1990s. This means that I could play as any one of those great players individually or on a team made up of the greatest players from a given decade. What basketball fan wouldn't jump at the chance to play as any of the greats from days long past? I'd venture to say that a few would actually turn it down once they've been told what they have to do to access those golden oldies. Accessing Michael Jordan could only be done by beating him in a game of one-on-one (thankfully, that was pretty simple), but getting everyone was bit more tricky. For example, to unlock the legendary shooting guards I had to score 20 or more points in the three-point contest. For a crack at playing as any of the great point guards, I had to rack up 30 assists in a game on the "starter" difficulty setting. The only explanation I can come up with for making me jump through hoops would be that the developers knew there wasn't really any other reason to play through the standard mode. But whatever the reason, it's wrong to make gamers jump through hoops like this in order to get what they had laid down money for in the first place.
This tedious process of unlocking players was only compounded by the fact that everything in the game was so unrefined. Start up Live 2000 and you'll think that you were playing a 16-bit title. The player models look archaic, especially for 32/64-bit games and the frame rates are appallingly choppy. I came to the conclusion that this title was either proof that these aging consoles were no longer up to the task or it could simply be the case of rushed development. After some thought, my guess would be the latter because I've seen better on the PlayStation and N64 which are both capable of so much more then what Live 2000 offers. A case in point is the user interface that greets the user when the game is started up. Even simple navigation through the menus is cumbersome because the keys needed to highlight options and accept choices in one menu are totally different from those needed in another menu. For that matter, just finding the create-a-player mode was a result of pure luck because there is no help top be found in the instruction manual and no clear information to be gotten from the on-screen menus. Finding my way through that mess to get to the game was difficult enough, but once I started playing it, I discovered that I also needed to relearn how to play a ball game and the result was certainly not a better experience.
I didn't set my sights high before playing, if anything, I was hoping for at least a rudimentary playing experience. And, amazingly, Live 2000 couldn't even deliver me that. I took my own character (forged in the mediocre create-a-player mode), got myself traded to the Knicks, and started a season hoping to seek revenge on the Spurs. When I first brought the ball up court on offense, I quickly noticed was how much more tighter the computer defense was (almost to an unnatural degree) compared to previous Live entries. Not that it really mattered anyway because the overall experience was more of less ruined by the strange movement of the players. I can't explain it better, but players in Live 2000 animate as if they were wearing skates. They don't walk or run, but rather glided across the court. I actually got a kick out of watching my player slide out of bounds while trying to line up for a three-pointer and slide out of bounds while going for a rebound. I also can't ignore the fact that players in Live 2000 look nothing like the motion-captured polygon models they were supposed to be. Moreover, for all the hype about motion-capturing Kevin Garnett for his dunking prowess, it is ironically difficult to perform dunks so that we can witness some of his 'unique' moves. There were many times when I was on a fastbreak (as an aside, the computer always seems to catch up and get in front of me no matter how far ahead I was) that I found that if I didn't time it exactly right, my character wouldn't dunk for anything. It was like hitting the lottery when I actually pulled one off, because the odds seemed so ridiculously high. But as lottery prizes go, the instant replay in this game is anything but a reward. The animation is painfully slow and after a couple of seconds of viewing it, I never wanted to see it again.
As bad as Live 2000 is, I figure the whole 'Live' franchise is so ingrained into the psyche of today's gamers that they've already gone out and purchased this game without noticing anything wrong with it. The rest of you, who for whatever reason have not bought it already, please listen when I say that you are better off to stay away. Live 2000 is not worthy of having Michael Jordan's name attached to it and certainly not worthy of your hard-earned dollars; if nothing else, Live 2000 is a big step backwards for the 'Live' franchise. Aside from the inclusion of the game's legends and MJ, there isn't anything in Live 2000 to set it apart from the piles of NBA games on the market. Okay, now that Live fans have finished reading my review, I'll have you know that I am ready for the onslaught of negative email.