Which basketball game reigns supreme on the hardwood this year?While the NFL and MLB have been busy selling their exclusive rights in video game development to EA Sports and 2K Sports, respectively, the National Basketball Association has decided to go with a different game plan and let any video game developer produce NBA games. It seems David Stern and his crew actually got it right on this one (unlike say the NBA’s fashion issues), and the result has been some fierce completion between 2K Sports’ NBA 2K series and EA Sports’ NBA Live series, each bringing some unique aspects of the game of basketball to fans. However, since the move into the next generation with XBOX 360 and the PS3, the market has been controlled by the NBA 2K series, which has brought a pure, fundamental-based simulation style of basketball. On the other hand, NBA Live has produced a run and gun style of arcade basketball that breaks down way too often. But 2009 brings a brand new season and the developers over at EA Sports have built one of the best renditions of their game in recent memory, once again becoming relevant in the gaming world with NBA Live 09, while the folks over at 2K Sports have continued to improve their product with their latest and greatest being NBA 2K9. So has EA Sports closed the gap between the two versions? Or does 2K Sports continue to dominate the basketball gaming landscape? Find out now!
NBA 2K9: Clearly one of the biggest concerns of the developers of NBA 2K9 was to actually IMPROVE the gameplay flaws from their previous version. Thus, it was a pleasant surprise that within minutes of loading up NBA 2K9, it was easy to notice that the simple flaws that broke down 2K8 were completely fixed in 2K9. The biggest fix was finally allowing NBA stars to hit easy lay-ups and close range shots that they would blatantly miss in last year’s game. Gone are the days of Kobe or Lebron making a nice isolation drive, easily getting to the basket only to miss a lay-up that I could probably make … this year those are going down. One of the biggest complaints with 2K8 was the lock on defense was too easy to pull off and guys like Shaq could shadow guys like Steve Nash too easily on the perimeter. Thankfully that won’t happen this year as the lockdown defense has been tweaked nicely with an ability based mechanism that even allows you to shade a player to the left or right. Another huge improvement is a game manual that actually explains all of the complex controls (including low-post and isolation) in the game. Surprisingly, this was not in last year’s game and with the complicated scheme, it was frustrating for gamers to unleash all that was available. The controls have also been explained nicely in a new practice feature that details all of the possible moves that can be performed and really helps you understand all of the intricate mechanics built in to the game that make it so impressive. The bottom line is that NBA 2K9 has almost perfected gameplay to the point where what you do in the game is almost the same as what actually happens in the NBA.
NBA Live 09: The first thing you’ll notice when you slip in Live after having played 2K9 is that it is just slow. Whereas fast breaks materialize in 2K9, it’s rare that your teammates will break a dash along with you and help you put up a few easy ones on the scoreboard. Luckily, the slow tempo game is easy to control, however, with easily laid out controls and a revamped control for quick pick and roll plays. A quick hold down of the left trigger will set the pick and leave you ready to drive in for a deuce. Calling others plays is simpler now too and doesn’t leave a large portion of your screen unviewable for a small period of time. Drop steps and spins for use in low post action are also easy to call up which are another nice aspect to this game. On defense, there is a new lockdown system as well– take a guess at what direction the ball handler will go and let the defender go to work for you. If you guess right, a shot won’t have much chance of success, but guess wrong and you’ll get schooled without a doubt. While this system works well in the low post, it should not be used in the perimeter because a miss-call here and you’ll be giving up big shots. Another addition this year is the ankle breaker moves. These allow your superstar players to bust out a few steps to freeze up the defender and get an opportunity to blow right past him. For more ball handling, you can turn to the right analog stick, which will give you a nice variety of moves you can call on. An odd thing happens at times in the game, though, as a player you thought you had completely gotten past suddenly appears in front of you again. This obviously doesn’t help add to the flow of the game and can be quite irritating. The frequency of airballs is higher this year and players still do some rather odd things such as inbounding the ball while being on the court. Lay-ups don’t seem all that improved in accuracy either this year either.
NBA 2K9: On the court, and off it for that matter, 2K9 brings some of the best graphics ever seen in sports gaming. Players feel more lifelike with signature styles and shots and different facial expressions for different situations. The actual player models are almost always on the spot (K.G. for example almost looks real) and the animations are amazing and plentiful. The flow of players and animations feels a little unnatural, but visually, that’s about the only flaw even close to noticeable on the court. Off the court, the crowds are finally up to par with the rest of the stadium and show much more variability than in years past. The sidelines are accurate with coaches and benches looking just like they should. Needless to say, it would be easy, at first glance, to mistake NBA 2K9 for a real NBA game.
NBA Live 09: Player models are still better in Live than in 2K9, but once again it seems that EA may have overdone aspects. The sweat addition is nice except for the fact that players glisten like they have been rubbed down with a moist towel. The sweat level doesn’t seem to change as the game progresses either and so a player who hasn’t played that much may be sweating as your clutch player who has played the entire game. Animations are paid close attention to as well with short movements even being modeled better this year. But here too, there is an overshot as your players may be standing perfectly still and their shorts will still be moving. Last time we checked, there aren’t many phantom winds in today’s arenas. The court reflections are also not quite as sharp as 2K’s, but the court recreations are quite accurate and player’s faces look remarkable realistic.
NBA 2K9: Although the 2K Navigation menus are still rather weak in NBA 2K9, the rest of the presentation and audio are spot on. A new pre-game introduction features some real NBA video of the most important players from each side. Once in game, the commentary is handled by Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellog, and Cheryl Miller. The announcing is not spectacular, but generally fresh and relevant. The replays are pretty awesome and it’s nice to have some relevant commentary actually match the action on the court. At the end of each quarter, a nice summary video showing key plays is shown, again with accurate commentary. As for the main menu music, 2K Beats has a nice selection of some lesser known artists, but definitely offers something for everyone. Outside of a few annoyances (like no one actually on the T-Mobile Halftime Report desk) the presentation and audio add a nice element to NBA 2K9.
NBA Live 09: There is nothing overly exciting here or in 2K, but the post game wrap up does seem a little more realistic and television like. Commentator comments can be heard repeated after playing a few games, but for the most part EA has included a wide set of possible comments. Replays are scattered throughout the intermissions as well for you to witness the best of your dunks and get embarrassed by the easy 3s you may have given up.
NBA 2K9: NBA 2K9’s franchise mode, NBA Association 2.0, is simply fantastic. It’s easily one of the deepest franchise modes available in any sports game, and now includes NBA.com presentation with updates around the league. The scouting and trading aspects have also been revamped to keep you a lot more involved. This all ties together nicely with new player ambitions that determine the mindset of the athletes on your team, like if they will accept a trade to a specific location. NBA 2K9 clearly offers up the best available NBA experience dynasty mode.
NBA Live 09: Dynasty mode returns this year with few changes and “Be A Pro” lets you play as one player for the entirety of a game, so you can judge whether or not you could live up to their potential. This can be exciting no doubt and is a nice part of the game. There’s also a training mode in Live, which surpasses that in 2K as it really walks you through the game and makes you complete challenges. Go through the training mode and you will come out a better player.
NBA 2K9: The 2K series has always proven to be solid for online players and NBA 2K9 is no exception with 5 on 5 multiplayer experience, during which each player controls a single player and tries to work with everyone else on their team to stage a victory. Although this is a little tricky to get used to at first, it becomes a lot of fun as the action always keeps moving. Also available are regular ranked online games and leagues along with a new fantasy basketball feature where NBA stars like K.G. and Steve Nash actually pick NBA 2K9 players to represent their teams and the winning players get prizes like NBA 2K10, while the winning NBA star gets money toward their favorite charity. NBA 2K9 offers a nice array of online action that has a little something for everyone.
NBA Live 09: Online modes are back and this year you will find 5 on 5 online play as with 2K. Nothing too different from the 2K online options, but the 2K online experience just seems to have a more complete feel to it.
NBA 2K9: A nice late addition to NBA 2K9 (surely taken from NBA Live 09’s Dynamic DNA and 365 updates) is the Living Rosters. The NBA 2K Insider (an actual person at 2K Sports) will take into account the actual play of real players as the 2008-09 season progresses and put players in the game on hot and cold streaks. Also, players’ ratings, lineups, strategies, and injuries will be updated daily to reflect what is actually happening in the NBA. Finally, as a player begins to tear it up in real life, additional animations will be unlocked for that player in game to allow him to dominate in the virtual world. If that’s not enough of an X-Factor, NBA 2K9 has taken signature style to next level with real life tattoos that match the ink that real players show on court in the game. We even had a chance to ask Tyrus Thomas of the Chicago Bulls if his tattoos were accurately displayed and sure enough he agreed that they were.
NBA Live 09: The dunk contest in Live is absolutely crazy. This will give you hours of fun and the court rendering for the dunk contest is incredible. Also worth note is the Dynamic DNA feature which will update your players’ stats to their stats in the real world and allow them to play more like themselves in real life.
NBA Live 09 is a vast improvement over its choppy predecessors, but doesn’t quite yet catch up with NBA 2K9. A scattering of visible glitches in Live still leave it chasing 2K, which somehow managed to improve gameplay when it seemed almost impossible.
NBA 2K9: 4.5 out of 5
NBA Live 09: 3.5 out of 5