NBA Live 06 is a fiddly game, the controls are fairly complicated and in the heat of the moment it is possible to hit the wrong button. You have a good deal of control over the player (apart from the free shooting system), the whole control system allows for some pretty impressive passing/defence/dribbling and play moves - they are mostly a joy to watch and you can pull off some nice trick shots (more by luck thanks to the aforementioned horrible shooting method)
The 360 controller has been mapped to accommodate various player styles, the controls can be reconfigured and from the moment the game boots up you can see that the team has taken an extra step in the interface. Allowing you to control the player and even have a second player join you on the menu, shooting hoops, is a fun little thing and beats static menus any day.
The control system will be familiar to NBA Live 05 players, since it seems to be exactly the same, apart from the horrendous free shot method which has more in common with the new Tiger Woods than it does NBA. There's no explanation about this anywhere, and apparently you have to play a game of shuffle the right stick backwards and forwards, pray to strange gods and hope that it works.
Apart from that EA have created the game of basketball down to the sweat on the player's skin, but we'll cover that in the Graphics section. The game is highly configurable and you can change numerous options, rules and of course there's the great custom player creation which is certainly one of the more in depth features in the game.
With the custom player creator you can change the usual skin type, height and so on, just think of any WWE style game and you're half way there. You can morph the face, change the height of the brows and the length of the nose, alter the chin and change just about any part of the player from head to toe.
When you have your player you can switch him in for professional players, fiddle with the rosters and create your dream team. Then it's off for a quick game, a season or some Xbox LIVE madness. But wait, there's no franchise mode? This missing feature puts a dent in the game's playability right away.
LIVE also suffers from problems, games range from fairly decent lag wise to utterly unplayable and it seems a lot of things in NBA have been sacrificed for the retuned graphics engine.
The camera is where the game falls down; the dynamic camera is pretty much a pain in the neck and often pulls some stupid angles leaving you wondering where you are on the game and what the heck you're doing. The sideline camera is just about where you'll want to play NBA from and you really don't need to switch, but even this reduces the playability because it too has problems and combining this with the pass system causes problems if you have more than one human controlled player - as the icons are often confusing.
There are also no replays, only potted replays from two camera angles after each basket. The lack of a proper replay feature is something of a trend in EA's games of late - Burnout 4 for example was missing a replay feature.
It seems that to be honest the game's playability was second on the list to buffing up the graphics, which EA have to their credit done an utterly amazing job on. The backgrounds compared to the players of course are weaker, but the actual player models are so good that you can see the sweat on their skin, the material of their shirts and the veins standing out in their arms. The game is going to shine on a HD TV but even on a normal TV it looks pretty impressive.
I can safely say that from looks alone, NBA Live 06 is definitely one of the first next gen console games. But there are more problems around the corner in this game than innovations.
Some of the animations are spot on, fluid and give a real feeling of life to the models. Some of the animations look as though a drunken monkey is operating a hand puppet, they are jerky and off frame in several places. So any joy felt by watching the awesome animations, is dashed when you see the player collisions and animations, stick, unstuck and sometimes almost moon-walk across the play field.
NBA Live 06 has some good sound, EA haven't skimped here and there's a variety of background noise. The crowd will quieten down in anticipation of a shot, or become loud and raucous when they get overly excited - it all helps to bring the game to life in this respect. The player grunts and the various slams and thuds as they connect have a solid feel to them and overall the sound for the game is very good.
NBA Live 06 really should have shined brighter than anything, but it is seriously marred with missing features and clunky animations. The graphics engine is superb and the presentation is top notch. But the game suffers over LIVE and also the lack of the franchise mode, proper replays and the awful shooting method conspires to drag the game down into the ranks of the mediocre. The AI is fairly good although your team AI seems a little bit lax, while the computer opposition AI is fairly sharp; again this feels as if this section of the game was rushed along with several other things.
I can only hope that EA ditch the free shooting method for the inevitable NBA Live 07 and deliver the Basketball experience that we're all waiting for, until then rather than shooting hoops it's time to do a few rounds with Tiger Woods and score some goals with Fifa, this should give you a clue as to the next two reviews.