There's no denying that a few years ago, the NBA Live series was stuck in a rut. Not only did it have its own problems, but the 2K series was outstanding and taking videogame hoops to a whole new level. Recently, the Live team has picked things up and the series is better than ever. This year there are a number of small additions that make the game more enjoyable than ever before, but there's not a huge difference in how the game plays when compared to Live 2005. .
You can do everything short of mandating a dress code for your players in the game's dynasty mode. If you want to progress through multiple seasons, but still use your playing skills to impact your team, you can intervene during simulated games. This lets you try and hold on to a lead during the 4th quarter or try and bring an underachieving team back from a big deficit. It's a feature that's perfect for people that want to see what their team can do over multiple seasons, but don't necessarily have the time to play 82 games a year. .
In addition to performing basic GM duties, you now have to hire an assistant coach, trainer, and scout. Your assistant coach will work with individual players, and help them improve certain aspects of their game, but you can only choose basic categories to work on, like offense, defense, and athletics. It would have been nice to be more specific in regards to what skill you want improved, such as dunking, rebounding, or free throw shooting. The trainer's just there to help your players recover from injury – there's not much too it. Your scout can be sent around the world to evaluate talent for the upcoming draft, or get some inside information on an upcoming opponent. Again, there's not much to it, but it does add another layer to running the team, which some people will enjoy. The big problem with this new mode is that it's very tedious and there's little to gain. Your PDA is constantly buzzing, giving you generic updates on what your scout has done, what other players in the league are working on, or that your center has improved his offense. You've got to constantly monitor your assistant and scout as they won't do anything unless you tell them to. Hopefully next year the interface will be re-done to be less cumbersome, and taking the time to deal with all the aspects of your team will yield more worthwhile results. .
In addition to a season mode, the NBA's All-Star weekend is included in all its glory. You can of course play the East vs. West All-Star game, and you can even take part in the three point shootout or slam dunk contest. Heck, if you're really into things, and I mean really into them, you can play the rookie game. The three-point shootout is a pleasant diversion, but there's not much too it, unlike the dunk contest. In the dunk contest you can pull off a large number of dunks, and the way it all works is surprisingly intuitive. There's an amazing amount of depth to be found here, and you can spend a lot of time perfecting your dunks. A practice mode includes a tutorial on exactly how to throw down different dunks, and while it's more instruction than you get on the PSP, some more help would have been nice. .
On the court, the action is fast and clearly geared to a more arcade-like experience, over the realism of a sim. You can change the game style, but when you're not playing in arcade mode, the action's still pretty fast. Shooting percentages are inordinately high, but really, nobody wants to shoot 40% from the field in videogame basketball, regardless of how much they gripe about the unrealistic shooting percentages. There are plenty of dunks, alley-oops, and lay-ups, as defense is largely an afterthought as your main goal will be to keep the defender in front of you, pounding the steal button in hopes of knocking the ball loose. For some reason, you'll still shoot entirely too many balls off the back of the backboard – especially if you're playing from the baseline view. This was a problem in Live 95, and for some reason, it's still an issue. Oh yeah, NBA Live 95 is included, but unlike the awesome NHL 95, it hasn't aged very well at all. The only thing it's good for is to see how far the series has come in ten years. It's cool that they included it, but it doesn't add to the overall value of the game.
NBA Live 06's controls are easy to learn, yet they have a surprising amount of depth to them. You can pull off a variety of moves off the dribble by flicking the right analog stick, and it feels great when you break a defender's ankles. There are separate buttons for shooting and dunking, which takes awhile to get used to, but anyone who remembers the frustrating days of players not dunking when they're right under the hoop will immediately fall in love with this feature. Icon-based passing makes it a piece of cake to run the fast break, though the superstar controls being added as the other left shoulder button did cause a little confusion on occasion. Alley-oops are easy – perhaps too easy. Often times if you're stymied on offense you can simply through up an alley-oop and one of your players will usually go up and get it. It's a little cheap, and something that gets exploited by human opponents quite often. .
Freestyle superstar controls are an all new feature this year, and while they're a little over-the-top, they are a nice addition. The league's better players all have a designation, such as scorer, playmaker, high-flyer, sharpshooter and more. This means they've got a whole bunch of moves up their sleeves that other, less talented players don't have. When you see the superstar icon pop up, you can hold down the left shoulder button and press any of the face buttons to pull of a special move. High-flyers will throw down huge dunks, sharpshooters will pull up and shoot rainbow three-pointers, and playmaker will dish off no-look or behind-the-back passes. These moves give the game an even greater arcade feel than it already had, but they do a nice job of differentiating the superstars from the average players. Some of the skills are clearly more useful than others, playmaker and shooter being the weakest. The field goal percentage in the game is already high, so you don't notice much of a difference with your shooter, and the fancy passes don't do much other than look cool. Perhaps toning the entire system down a little for next year is in order, but it's a nice addition. .
An online component is included, but other than the fact that you can now compete in dunk contest and three-point shootouts, it's disappointing. It's a chore to log-in, and you'll have to agree to let EA market your email address, or pony up a couple of bucks to play. The rest of the game plays just like it did last year, which means it's solid, but there's nothing particularly noteworthy about it. .
As is the case with most sports games late in a console's life, NBA Live's visuals are starting to show their age. They're not terrible by any means, but they're not impressive either. The players, especially the superstars, all look like their real-life counterparts, right down to their tattoos. For some reason, though, their heads are disproportionately large compared to their bodies. This is made worse by certain camera shots, to the point that you might think you turned on big-head mode by accident. The new superstar animations are great looking, and really add some more personality to the game. A common complaint over the years is that the players look like they are skating on the court, rather than running on it. It's still an issue here, but really only noticeable if you're looking for it. .
The arenas are nice looking, with plenty of little touches to bring them to life. There are large TV displays that will show replays, and even there are working scoreboards that go around the arena near the upper decks..
Live's commentary is above average, and the addition of some new blood helps it feel fresh. Marv Albert is back, but new to the booth this year is Steve Kerr. The duo call the action accurately, and their commentary is poignant and generally doesn't lag too far behind. The in-depth analysis that they give at the beginning of the game is great, but don't expect that kind of talk the whole game – it doesn't happen. Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith provide commentary during the All-Star weekend. They do a decent job and have a few laugh out loud lines when you play poorly. The EA Trax are, as always, hit or miss, but there are some pretty good songs included. .
NBA Live 06 is a good game, but there's not enough new content to wholeheartedly recommend it as a purchase unless you haven't bought an NBA Live game in a few years. The freestyle superstar moves are nice, but the other new stuff, like hiring staff, online dunk contests, and the inclusion of NBA Live 95 aren't worth shelling out fifty bucks for if you own last year's game.