While it can’t quite do for basketball what “Madden
2005” does for football, EA Sports’s “NBA Live
2005” — the newest installment in company’s
basketball franchise — provides users with some fun new
twists and an overall entertaining game.

This year’s major addition to the “Live”
franchise is the NBA All-Star Weekend slam-dunk and three-point
contests. The hoopla surrounding these events is apparent from the
highly realistic light show introduction for All-Star Weekend 2005
in Denver, which gamers can experience when selecting one of these
two new game modes.

The dunks are slightly awkward upon first attempt, and
it’s hard to get the timing and distance right. But after
some practice, it’s not hard to pull off some pretty sick
dunks.

Gamers are slightly limited in the number of throw-downs they
can connect on, but combining different types of take-offs with
different aerial maneuvers allows players to dip into their entire
repertoires. EA Sports also adds the ability to rotate players in
the air and the choice of different ball tosses to begin dunks.

The three-point competition is fun at first, but gets
repetitive. One button press grabs balls off the rack; another
shoots it. Releasing the ball at the right height of the
player’s jump increases its chance of going in.

On the default setting, the three-point contest is far too easy
— any newcomer could land a score in the high 20s or even a
perfect 30. On its hardest difficulty setting, it becomes much more
realistic and entertaining.

The gameplay in the regular mode of “Live 2005” is
easily the best in the series, but still falls short of being
100-percent true to life. Blocked shots are far too common, and
it’s hard to set up any real plays besides basic
pick-and-rolls or isolations. The transition game is almost
nonexistent, and the only way to get a fast break going is to
simply out-run your opponent down the court.

Nearly all non-gameplay aspects of “NBA Live 2005”
are impressive. Player faces have never looked better (players can
easily be identified by their faces without seeing their name or
numbers), stadiums are identical to their real-life counterparts
and the player animations are smoother than ever. Gamers can choose
from a wide range of jerseys — not just home, away and
alternate anymore — in which to outfit their team, and many
are unlockable by completing different parts of the game.

The only knock on the game’s detail is the listless crowd
that never gets up on its feet to cheer — even in the
game’s final minutes. The crowd even appears almost
two-dimensional from some angles.

“Live” features some of the better commentary
available in sports games. Long-time NBA announcers Marv Albert
(play-by-play) and Mike Fratello (color commentary) man the booth
and describe the action. Fratello’s color commentary actually
contains player-specific portions — after a Kenyon Martin
comment, videogame Fratello references Martin’s knee injury
from his college days at Cincinnati. This is a nice touch that
could make a good addition to other titles in the EA Sports
catalog.

Overall, the game has enough features to make it worthwhile.
While a die-hard NBA fan may cringe at the lack of a realistic
basketball game, most videogame-playing fans looking for a fun
hoops experience will enjoy “Live 2005.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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