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NBA Live 2005

The obvious challenge with sports titles is finding a way to reinvent how we experience the same game each year. Some years have been more innovative than others. But when titles find those new wrinkles, new elements that seize our attention, those instances are true successes. NBA Live 2005 accomplishes this truth with its addition of the All-Star Weekend. By taking what could be considered the most exciting event that the NBA has going for it these days, EA hands us the opportunity to dunk to our hearts delight.
The new NBA Live has a little something called the Slam Dunk Contest. Maybe you've heard of it? If you haven't, then lets just say that this may be one of the most anticipated contests of the real All-Star Weekend, and once you're allowed to actually compete in video game form, there is no disputing why. You're high-flying, alley-ooping, and bouncing the ball off the Jumbotron in a display of skill and unabashed athleticism. Anything Vince Carter, Lebron James, or Kobe Bryant can do, you, possibly, can do better. And all this is managed by a simple two-button scheme.

click to view screenshotThe most complicated aspect of the Slam Dunk Contest is timing the alley-oops correctly. This is no joke. You have to flick the right analog stick to launch the ball, then get to it in time to grab and dunk it. And even though it's frustrating when practicing, finally getting that one alley-oop to finish is oh so sweet. But even the attempts are fun to watch as all the player-animated failures look real. Seeing them go-up, then stumble a bit after they've given-up once they see it's not going to work are great touches.

To do the pedestrian dunks, ones that aren't really worth much in the contest, all you need is to start off with the "gather." This is when the player runs toward the goal. There are different kinds of gathers that give different speeds. Simply press and hold any of the four face buttons on the controller and steer your player towards the goal. Then, at the right moment, press another one of the four face buttons and you will go up for the dunk. You hold that second button for as long as you can, and at the last critical moment, let go go for the exciting dunk. Using different buttons will get you different dunks -- the wilder the dunk, the better the final score.

click to view screenshotThings really get nutty when you get your friends into the action. You can have up to four players competing at once. Some modes are timed and you're required to get in as many crazy dunks as possible before the time runs out. If you do the same dunk twice, your points get docked. The excitement that all of this generates makes the stress worth it. You'll see spectators literally leap out of their seats, high-fiving, holding an open mouth, and screaming after you pull off one of the behind-the-back monster dunks you've practiced for an hour or more. There is even someone recording it all on handy cam. Fantastic!

In terms of fixes, EA listened to last year's criticisms. Now, you can do tip-ins and put-backs which really do give players an incentive to fight for those 2 points after the brick. Also, you're not sliding all over the place, finding those infuriating triple teams or collision detection issues that used to break the flow of the game.

The Dynasty Mode has been given a much-needed tweak this year. The control panel is now boiled down to a simple PDA, a la Madden 2005. And the AI involved in getting free agents to accept contracts is more in-depth, as they will be considering multiple factors, such as how well your team is doing and what other teams are willing to offer them. And although the visual presentation has improved, it still doesn't look as good as ESPN NBA 2K5. If this title could look as good as, or better than the competition, then that would be phenomenal.

EA did their homework and pulled together a solid basketball game this year. There isn't much to complain about in NBA Live 2005. And with the addition of the Slam Dunk Contest, the replay value is huge.



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