For many sports gamers, it’s probably hard to imagine that NBA Live was once the go-to basketball title for hoop fans. These days the 2K franchise has basketball gaming on lock, but Electronic Arts last gasp of greatness on the virtual hardwood with NBA Live 2005 is still something to behold.
NBA Live 2005 had style and substance
NBA Live 2005 was an incredible blend of both arcade and simulation gameplay. The game provided a wide variety of dunks and layups, with the new Freestyle Air feature pushing fluidity and fun over pure sim.
The game continued to refine the dribbling mechanics first implemented in Live 2003. Simulation tactics were largely rewarded when creating space on the perimeter with the pick-and-roll, or pump faking to bait defenders and get to the free throw line where the T-meter awaited you.
Live 2005 took a nice graphical leap from the previous year as well. The new graphics engine made for a noticeable jump in skin, tattoo, and uniform resolution. Facial renders were a lot better than past Live titles and still hold up pretty well today for a game published in 2004. The game featured a number of different body types and plenty of accessories. This gave users the ability to make players look as close to their real-life counterparts as possible.
Speaking of accessories, Live 2005 featured a fully-rendered NBA Store. Here players could spend credits that they earned in-game to unlock various throwback jerseys, sneakers, and other items, serving as somewhat of a prequel to 2K’s neighborhood.
Of course you can’t talk about this game without mentioning All-Star Weekend.
Unlike modern 2K games, Live 2005 featured All-Star Weekend as a standalone mode that was also available to play at mid-season in Dynasty. Players could participate in the Dunk Contest, 3-Point Shootout, Rookie Challenge, and All-Star Game.
The All-Star Saturday events featured tremendous presentation. TNT’s Ernie Johnson and Kenny “The Jet” Smith served as the auxiliary commentating team, while the Rookie Challenge and All-Star Game featured the usual terrific pairing of Marv Albert and Mike Fratello.
There is still nothing quite like the dunk contest in this game. Lobbing the ball off of one of the big screens and somersaulting into a double between-the-legs dunk still feels fantastic.
After slamming home an incredible dunk, the crowd of players sitting on the floor would get hyped and jump to their feet. Some of them would even be holding camcorders. The camera would then pan over to the panel of judges made up of dunk contest legends (such as Julius Erving) revealing your score. It wasn’t the most realistic from a gameplay perspective, but that didn’t matter. The number of combinations at your disposal captured the imagination and is still better than any dunk contest implementation to this day.
The 3-Point Shootout was also very fun and even featured some signature jumpshot animations which unfortunately weren’t available in regular play.
While Live 2005’s Dynasty mode wasn’t necessarily the deepest, the addition of the PDA added
to the mode greatly. Similar to the one in Madden 2005, the PDA was where players could communicate with the team/owner, scour free agency, and engage in trade talks. As a 10 year old who was a huge fan of The Neptunes, something about this feature made me feel like Pharrell Williams during his Sidekick days.
The PDA feature was fairly realistic too. You could miss out on CPU trade offers and scouting updates if you didn’t check it regularly, and it would take a few days for teams to get back to you when negotiating transactions.
Looking back and seeing where the Live franchise is now, compared to where it was, it’s hard not to get sad. NBA Live was iconic. No basketball title had the same mix of depth and pick-up-and-playability.
NBA Live 2005 wasn’t perfect, but it was the perfect storm for basketball at that time.