We weren't expecting much from NBA Live 06 to be honest. Each year Electronic Arts seem to refine and improve their other sport franchises while the NBA titles are left to sell on pure brand power. NBA Live 2005 was about as enjoyable as root canal, at least you might crack a grin from the Nitrous Oxide. But as the saying goes, practice makes perfect, right? Read on to find out as we try to avoid the obvious jokes about balls, penetration and rings...
First of all there's a few warnings before gameplay even begins. As with the other EA sport titles this one is a real memory beast; with a whole 153 spare blocks we were still given a memory warning...ouch. The other problem stems from the default difficulty setting. You would think Starter is the place to be for a starter, and who would blame you, but there's actually an easier Rookie option hiding in there. It's just a small bit of ambiguity really, but if you're new to the series that'll save a stiff learning curve.
With that aside NBA Live 06 is actually a pretty good game. Graphically speaking it's had a nice layer of polish slapped on, as you would expect. And in most cases the character models and animations are really starting to look and feel real, though the crowds are still rather poor three-dimensional blobs with little facial detail. However the biggest graphical fault comes from another source; those freakishly tall players scattered throughout the game. Instead of stretching the player upward and adjusting a few dimensions EA seem to have a general be-bigger-by-X% format. This fails badly and the player just doesn't look authentic with a 3-foot wide chest, the words sore and thumb strangely spring to mind. Those small details aside though everything else is solid, fluid and pretty well simulated.
Aurally speaking you'll either love the music or hate it. Sure if you enjoy ghetto music you'll be in the former, EA have signed some major hip-hop names and delivered a very genre specific roster. Sadly if your music tastes aren't hip-hop orientated you'll be speeding through the music-laden menu quicker than you can say Chamillionaire. In the game things get much better though, the tried and tested formula of musical jingles is back and great, and any music is subtle and well implemented. Besides nothing beats the crowd screaming or jeering as a last second basket is scored or cocked up. Even the commentators are quite well executed. There are some of the old repetition problems but with some amusing conversations and a reasonably wide range of dialect you can forgive a genre wide problem.
Gameplay wise is where this latest incarnation excels though. As ever the game is pretty tough, but this year it isn't "excuse me while I slit my wrists" tough. You'll need to spend time on your stealing tactics, dive right in and you'll just give away two free throws. Give it some practice and figure out which players are better at stealing and you'll be grabbing those balls in no time. Indeed you also need to defend your ring, hone your tactics at watching a play and make sure your defence is there and jumping at the right time. Both these play mechanics have had a good amount of attention since last year, and thankfully they work well enough. The best is yet to come though...
Last year we commented on a general lack of being able to attack with flair or creativity, something so integral to the sport. Electronic Arts certainly listened to the critique and have introduced a new play mechanic to remedy the problem, Freestyle Superstar. Players with the requisite physical talent can perform special moves that mirror that of their real life counterparts, and this is where NBA Live 06 comes to life. All in all there's eight different groups of Freestyle Superstar player ranging from specialities such as Power player to Playmaker.
With both defensive and offensive aspects of the game near perfect and the whole series finally reaching a suitably lifelike, yet quite arcadey, status you'll be pleased to know things go well beyond the main season. Dynasty Mode makes yet another appearance in the latest batch of EA sports titles, basically it's a Premier Manager 96 standard Manager mode (for more on this check out our Fifa 06 review). The Playoff's can provide an entertaining and enjoyable distraction, as can the NBA All-Star Weekend. The Freestyle Challenge, either slam dunks or three point challenges, and One-on-One modes deliver simple but fun versus action. There's even a Dunk School for those patient enough to really master the technique and finally an Individual Practice mode to help crack a specific players attributes. There's more than enough to chew on here and it's variable enough to keep it fun.
Unfortunately there is one or two problems with the programming. Right at the end of a game, if you're winning and scoring every basket, you'll find the biggest perpetrator. Your opposing coach will call a timeout and when play begins again every time you touch the ball the nearest rival player hugs you. The logic here is you will score if you get possession, so by conceding two free throws that might reduce your score rate - i.e. you might miss one or both of the penalty shots. It's an understandable bit of programming but unfortunately destroys gameplay and can really drain your will to live. And as ever with an EA sports title you'll find areas to score a cheap basket from or easily steal the ball, but otherwise it is a cracking basketball game.
This is quite probably the best basketball game money can buy right now. Mastering the techniques, conquering the harder difficulties and becoming the best of the best is rewarding but more importantly fun. It's just a shame the timeout bug gets under the skin at times.
NBA Live 06 certainly doesn't push the old Cube to its limit, which is a shame, but it is a marked improvement over last year. This is more of a good-looking Playstation 2 than a well endowed GameCube game.
With an extremely one-sided musical style you'll either love it or hate it. Thankfully if you sit in the latter demograph the in-game sounds are solid, realistic and complimentary to the game. Just get through those menu sections fast.
If you don't bore of all there is on offer here you could probably dedicate your life to beating every game mode going. And with multiplayer fun tacked on as well NBA Live 06 is simply huge.
In all honestly NBA Live 06 is more of a 7.5'er, but with the magnitude of improvement over last year's NBA iteration we couldn't help but add a few bonus points. In most parts all the high-energy flash and action from the sport is well executed in the game, the only real problem being in the timeout bug. If you fancy some licensed NBA action this is certainly worth your time and money.