NBA Live 09 Preview

NBA LIVE 09 Preview by IGN
The development team at EA Canada is starting to put the first polishing touches on NBA Live 09, this year’s version of the long-running basketball franchise. Last year, there was a heavy focus on refining elements of the gameplay, adding features like Quickstrike Ballhandling and improvements to low post play. Although they’re going to build upon a couple of these mechanics, a large amount of this year’s title is about going back to basics, remaking both the offensive and defensive side of the ball for newcomers and veterans alike.

The first thing that players will be introduced to is the NBA Live Academy, which will act as the hub for all activity within the game. Essentially a practice facility for your favorite team, this gym features two full courts where your team will work on skills, such as their jump shots and defensive plays. To further help you with your game, you’ll find a number of assistants and the head coach scattered around the court observing your practice and your moves. By taking a player over to one of these coaches, you can work on one of 40 separate skill challenges designed to get you accustomed to NBA Live 09’s new gameplay mechanics.

Ready for tip off?
Some of these skills relate to some of the adjustments that have been made to this year’s game, such as shot timing. Instead of relying upon hitting the shot button and keeping your fingers crossed that the ball will go in, success or failure will be tied to the release at the top of your jump. Again, spending some time getting down your shot, especially the Signature Shots of some players, will be key to your success in the game. You’ll need more than a good shot, though. You’ll also need to take advantage of some of the other features of the game, such as the redesigned Pick and Roll Control for ball handlers, which allows players to instantly call for and set two-man plays.

Instead of having to specifically run a play to manipulate a ball handler and a screener on the court to exploit the defense, players can quickly pull the L2 button to immediately call over the nearest player to the ball handler. This move will place a basketball icon over the screener’s head, and provide one of three options for players. If you want the screener to immediately slip away from the screen and cut towards the basket before the screen has happened, you release the trigger early. If you want them to roll towards the basket after the screen, you fill the icon half way. If you’d rather that they pop out for a shot after the screen, you fill the icon fully. This provides a lot of flexibility on the offensive side of the ball, as you can quickly and efficiently dish the ball to players and get around defenders.

Calling plays is much easier this year.
Another thing that will help players get around defenders are the newly included Quickstrike Anklebreakers. Similar to the Ballhandling moves from last year, the Anklebreakers are tied to the right analog stick. However, by pulling and holding turbo along with the right analog stick, players can perform hesitation steps, larger crossovers and bigger moves that are rather hard to defend against. That doesn’t mean that defenders won’t be able to stop these steps. Thanks to the new Lockdown Control, players can immediately put a body on a ball handler, placing additional pressure on them. What’s more, if a handler tries an Anklebreaking move, defenders have a second or two to pick which direction they think their opponent will move. If they guess correctly, they lock down the other player even tighter, making turnovers more likely. If they are wrong, however, they lose a step and will probably get blown past as the other player goes for a score.

Apart from these quick maneuvers, players have a redesigned play calling system that instantly makes it easier to choose plays for your squad. As soon as players hit the L1 button, the play menu pops up with one of four plays: Isolation, Post Up, Off-Ball Screen or Get Open Play. By hitting the corresponding button, a prompt will pop up on the floor that tells you where to go to start the play. Players wait there until a teammate gets open, at which point they can pass the ball to them, take a shot or run a new play.

We managed to get a little hands-on time with these changes, and while the build that we played was still early alpha, it gave us a sense of some of the changes that are being made to the title. For example, Pick and Roll Control seemed to be a little sticky at times as players tried to determine the closest screener to set up the play. This could complicate the timing-based system to determine a flash or a pop out to the perimeter, but after a few rounds of practicing with the mechanic, it became second nature. It also helped us when it came to exploiting the hot zones of players, which return for this year. However, we still couldn’t help but notice that there were a few issues down in the paint, particularly when it came to the speed of fast breaks (which went at the speed of molasses) and layups (which were practically impossible to pull off). However, we were assured that these were still being worked on as we played the game.

Pick and Roll Control is a big plus for ball handlers.
We also managed to notice a couple of additional tweaks made to the ambient surroundings within each arena. For example, there are many more unique crowd members scattered throughout the seats, making it a bit harder to spot the same person seated next to each other. In fact, there are at least 64 different people in the stands, along with mascots, vendors and dance team members along the sidelines. This adds to the overall environment of the arena. On top of this, there were additional camera angles that had been placed in the game to highlight the game action.

Off the court, there have been a couple additional changes made to some of the other gameplay modes. For example, the Dynasty mode has been augmented to take advantage of the newly included Live Academy, which will allow you to take your team into the gym once a month to boost their stats. What’s more, players will be able to take a member of the upcoming rookie draft class into the Academy prior to the draft to see whether or not their play style will fit into your system. This will cut down on your frustration during a season as well as trim down any potential lame ducks that you might draft and discover aren’t really what you need.

Don’t crumble under this defense.
Outside of that, FIBA Mode returns with 24 separate teams that can be selected from around the world. These teams have their own courts and the AI abides by FIBA Rules, which can make it somewhat of a challenge for players accustomed to the NBA. In fact, players can take an NBA squad and pit them against a FIBA team to see which organization is better. Apart from this, players can also enter the Be A Pro mode, which allows players to select one player from a team and experience the game from their perspective. This can be done offline or online as well, now that there is five on five online team play where ten different people can control separate players on the court. Along with online custom leagues, there could be quite a lot to NBA Live 09 when it’s released this October.

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