Electronic Arts has made quite a few changes to this year’s installment of NBA Live 09 for the Xbox 360 console, adding more flashier content and polishing several of the old technical issues that plague the series since its debut. It is quite obvious that the majority of the gameplay mechanics have been tighten up, but there are still a number of on-court components that remain rough around the edges. Suffice it to say, this is one of the better Live games we have played on a 256-bit platform. Long time NBA Live fans will certainly appreciate some of the big changes in the game, and they can expect some solid performance.

With the new season comes a slew of gameplay enhancements. Starting with the latest features, Electronic Arts has laid together five noteworthy innovations to the NBA Live 09’s performance: Dynamic DNA, NBA Live 365, NBA Live Academy, Pick-and-Roll Control, and FIBA World Championship. These latest features give NBA Live 09 a more refreshing basketball experience. For instance, Dynamic DNA is employed to act out the real-life behaviors and tendencies of every player in the NBA. So far, this DNA component does a good job of approximating the particular style and skills of each athlete. Therefore, you won’t see big men such as Shaq, Dwight Howard, or Tim Duncan run an isomotion sequence like speedy shooting guards do, but rather they set up screens and camp around the low posts.

Dynamic DNA incorporates some very interesting components such as DNA Streaks. As the season goes, players get hot or cold. With a downloadable update via NBA Live 365, you’ll always be on top of the sporting news about who’s on fire or in a slump as well as who holds the longest shooting streaks in the game. Dynamic DNA and NBA Live 365 go hand in hand. To take advantage of the ingenuity of DNA, you must continually download the latest stats at NBA Live 365. Another interesting feature of NBA Live 09 is the Pick-and-Roll system. Through the years, the ability for users to have more freedom have expanded quite a bit, shifting from a one-man game formation to two-man game simultaneous action. The addition of Pick-and-Roll control couldn’t come at a time. It gives you extra firepower to your offensive arsenal.

The idea behind Pick-and Roll is the element of “tag-team” precision. You call a teammate to set up a screen for you, then control whether he slips the screen, rolls to the basket, or pops open a shot. This sort of classic Stockton-to-Malone interaction adds huge depth to the usual collection of scripted offense. The success of pulling off such a delicate manuever will depend on player match-ups on the perimeter; you’ll need space, timing, and the right “go-to” man to execute the job effectively. FIBA World Championship is one of NBA Live 09’s most notable single-player options. It offers a nice diversion to the current Dynasty Mode as it allows you to play with 24 international teams, composing of real FIBA tournament structure.

What’s interesting about the FIBA portion of NBA Live 09 is that the stadiums are built within the specific court dimensions. It also has excellent stat tracking categories such as tournament leaders, box scores, and league’s MVP’s just to name a few. However, the material we value most about FIBA is creating those dream matches. It’s nice how you can pit your favorite NBA team against an international powerhouse, and see how they play out! Besides FIBA, there are other prominent single-player modes worth checking out: Be A Pro Mode, NBA All-Star Weekend, and Dynasty Mode. There is an interesting twist to the Pro mode. It plays just like a regular game but you take control of just one player the entire time.

Think of the Pro mode as an audition to a starter’s position; you are scored based on both your offensive and defensive performances. There is a performance bar meter that indicates how well you are playing your position. At the end of the game, you’ll receive a grade, a report summary, and comments of the kind of player you are. It’s nice to know where your skills are situated among the superstars in the NBA. If you can’t wait for the season to reach the All-Star break, NBA Live 09 offers you quick access to the NBA All-Star Weekend. It’s one of the entertaining aspects of the single-player modes. Some of the interesting things you can do include Rookie Challenge – rookies taking on sophomore players, 3-Point Shootout – see who has the top long range, Dunk Contest – show your gravity-defying stunts, and last but not least, the NBA All-Star Game – top players of the East face off the best in the West.

Of course, the main highlights of NBA Live 09’s single-player option happens in the Dynasty Mode. Some of the materials we love about the Dynasty Mode includes Dynasty upgrades. You’ll need to earn dynasty points to purchase improvements for your team such as boosting the rank of your staff, get better results from training, improve negotiation with free agents, develop better scouting for potential prospects, and more! Part of what makes Dynasty Mode special is the Academy Training. Championships can be decided in training camp. By enrolling your players into the Academy, you’re honing their abilities through various workouts or different challenges. This is good for scouted rookies to see if their potential measures up.

The biggest factor that makes NBA Live 09 a worthy title is its gameplay. While the gameplay remains relatively untouched, there are some progress to the way players move. Two of the most appreciated assets are Lockdown Mode and Quick Strike Ankle Breakers. The Lockdown maneuver gives you what defensive pressure feels like; you get a body on the ball handler and try to force him to create a turnover. Just don’t overuse it as your constant purge for such force can wear down your defense over time. As a result, skilled ball handlers will serve you a giant “poster”. Quick Strike Ankle Breakers are our most favorite addition to NBA Live 09’s list of gameplay enhancements. It gives you the ability to explode past the defenders. By setting up a big hesitation pose to the person guarding you, you have a chance to blow by him with a strong crossover move. Electronic Arts made it easy to perform these Quick Strikes and it’s really fun to see your defender get faked out and left behind in the dust.

So far NBA Live 09 has seen a few notable improvements to the gameplay department, but there are still a number of old technical issues worth mentioning about. First off, the game is suffering a bit from lag time when executing “direct” passing, making it difficult to take advantage of the fast break opportunities. There are also some inconsistencies with the blocking mechanism. When you try to block a shot, you’re almost always out of reach! What’s more is that when you’re in flight going for a basic swat, you feel as though you’re lunging for a clothesline instead of maintaining a mere defensive wall. You’ll also notice that when you miss a layup or a dunk, your player takes a long time to recover, particularly when shifting back to defense. As a result, your whole team is compromised on the other end of the floor, giving your opponent major confidence to take open shots and easy buckets without any contention.

Graphically, the game looks more polished when compared to last year’s performance. Character models seem less robotic and have a more refined texture to them. It’s amazing how some of the superstars appear so much similar to their real counterparts, even capturing many of their prominent features such as fine lines that go with their age. The crowd, on the other hand, doesn’t look like they have improved much, but then who amongst us take serious note of what goes on in the stand. Nevertheless, you’ll be pleased with the latest layups and dunk sequences. The extra layer of player animation certainly improved the action on the court. The way NBA players strut off their patented moves carry an uncanny resemblance.

Overall, NBA Live 09 is a solid basketball game. With the addition of Dynamic DNA, NBA Live Academy, and FIBA World Championship among other nifty content, this is NBA Live at its best! Long time fans will appreciate the new Lockdown Mode and Pick-and-Roll system, which add more depth to the action on the court. The gameplay remains exciting for the most part thanks to the inclusion of Quick Strike Ankle Breaker, which gives gamers the ability to explode past the defenders with amazing footwork never seen before. However, there are some lingering issues that need to be addressed; these are mostly associated with the noticeable “lag time” and the “sluggish recoveries” with the control. Needless to say, NBA Live 09 is finally living up to its competition. This is one dynamic experience NBA Live vets shouldn’t pass up.