The latest incarnation of the NBA Live basketball game, 2004, brings a slew of new features to the franchise that aims to make playability a lot more realistic and challenging. This is achieved through a better-featured freestyle control that lets you change moves while in mid-air as well as perform a variety of spin moves, crossover dribbles and low/high post pivot moves. It definitely gives the game a lot more authenticity, and dedicated NBA Live fans will enjoy the various moves that can be made either when the defence is present or when you have blown right past them!
With the added freestyle moves comes added body language, and the players now twitch and swagger with a great deal more emphasis. This means bumps by a defender on your player will have him backtracking and trying to re-establish position. Graphically, the detail on the players’ faces leaves a little to be desired, but as a whole the graphics are excellent and a powerful machine is required in order to play the game in its full splendour.
The game also has a bit of a Grand Turismo element to it, as you can purchase all sorts of gear, such as additional Air Jordans, once you have accumulated enough points by completing certain listed player or team tasks within a game. Items purchased can then be used in games.
Musically, the soundtrack on this version includes many exclusives and continues to borrow from urban genres. Stand-out tracks include the energetic “GhettoMusick” by Outkast, the funky “Another Victory” by Mobb Deep, the DJ Premier scratch-hook influenced “Virus” by Red Cafe, and the soul-infused “Love and War” by Dilated Peoples. It would be great if EA could assemble a tracklist consisting of influential groups such as Public Enemy, Run-DMC, Grandmaster Flash and Gang Starr in its version of the series. Well-known former NBA on NBC network analyst Marv Albert provides commentary for this version, too.
Make sure you don’t get too caught up in the audio while playing, though, as you will need to focus closely on the control layout, especially if you use a keyboard. This layout has been changed compared to 2003, in particular in that there are now separate dunk/layup and jumpshot keys. Like NBA Live 2003, there is a dedicated alley-oop key; new in 2004 is the pro-hop/power dribble key. With this key, your player can make a powerful two-step, two-footed leap towards the rim or, if away from the hoop, he can take two steps and stop dribbling in order to find the open man for the pass.
If you’re more of a stats person than a player, you’ll like the Dynasty mode (the same as the Franchise mode in previous versions), which lets you wheel and deal your way towards a championship run and also hone your players’ skills during training camp. Exhibition, Online, Practice, 1-on-1, Season and Play-off modes are present, but I was again disappointed at the lack of extra ‘all-star weekend’ activities such as a three-point shooting competition or dunk contest.
Overall, though, I am a fan of this fran-chise and 2004 contains more advanced features and harder game play than previous versions, which means I won’t be winning too many games too soon unless I lace up the high-tops and hit the practice courts regularly!
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Sports