NBA LIVE 06, Electronic Arts
Have you ever wanted to dunk on somebody? Not just any dunk but the kind that makes onlookers squinch their eyes and bring balled-up fists toward their mouths and say, "Oooohooooooo."
Or how about dishing out a no-look, behind-the-back pass so sick that even the toughest street ballers' jaws would drop?
EA Sports brings that feeling to life and more with NBA Live 06, the company's latest and most impressive foray into the world of professional basketball.
The highlight of NBA Live 06 is the new Freestyle Superstar feature, which lets you use the real-life skills of NBA superstars on the court for ultimate success.
There are eight types of Freestyle Superstars: playmaker, inside scorer, outside scorer, shooter, inside stopper, outside stopper, power player and high flyer. Which player you use during your game will determine what type of plays you can do on the court.
Playmakers, for example, are the quarterbacks of your five-man squad. Point guards such as Jason Kidd, Steve Nash and Jason Williams are this type of player. When using the Freestyle Superstar feature with playmakers, you run the floor with precision, sending those trick passes to open teammates with pinpoint accuracy that's sure to leave your opponent wondering what just happened.
When on a two-on-one fast break, it's easy to just dish off the ball to the open man. But why just dish the rock when you could use Freestyle Superstar to go behind your back or head to really let your opponent know who's running the floor?
NBA Live 06 boasts a new graphics engine that provides even greater detail to player faces and body language. When players exit the court for halftime, you need not look at a jersey number to try to find your favorite player; just look at his face -- the detail is that uncanny.
The body language is just as lifelike. When Shaquille O'Neal sends down a rattling dunk, he runs back down the court flexing his arms just as the real Shaq would do on a real court. Players throw alley-oops to teammates and themselves just as if you were watching game highlights on TV. Dunkers hang from the rim and slap glass just like their high-flying real-life counterparts.
Sounds of the game are just as impressive -- whether it be the sound of a dunk, block or dribble or the play-by-play commentary provided by Marv Albert and former NBA player Steve Kerr.
Fans should know what to expect from Albert, who has provided his voice for basketball video games for years, but it's Kerr who provides an even greater sense of realism with his play calling, player analysis and back-and-forth commentary with Albert.
Other fan favorites of the game remain intact, specifically the All-Star Weekend, which allows you to participate in the slam-dunk contest and three-point shootout, and one-on-one mode. But while in the past these were the best features of the game, with Freestyle Superstar, the best part of the game is the meat itself, namely playing five-on-five basketball.
-- David Betancourt
Xbox, PlayStation 2, PSP, $50; Game Cube and Win 98 or better. $40.
X-MEN LEGENDS II: RISE OF APOCALYPSE, Activision
The original X-Men Legends took superhero games in a completely new direction. Successfully combining team-based game play, stellar visuals and robust character upgrades, it was one of the better action role-playing games released last year.
For the sequel, the developers have improved on their shortcomings and released a game that any gamer would want to own.
The story is pretty straightforward: Professor Xavier has been taken prisoner, and the evil Apocalypse is wreaking havoc and is about to take over the world.
For the first time, the X-Men and the Brotherhood join forces to save mankind and free the Professor. That alone is worth the price of admission.
There are five acts to play through, with each act ending with a big battle against one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The final act ends with a battle against Apocalypse himself.
Like its predecessor, Rise of Apocalypse is an action role-playing game. Players control teams of four mutants through an isometric camera view as they explore intricate environments, solve puzzles and complete various missions. Even though players can only control one character at a time, switching between characters is done with the simple push of a button. The improved artificial intelligence of your teammates is a welcome change. Now players don't have to baby-sit their fellow mutants, who can pretty much fend for themselves when they're not being controlled.
Combat is a big part of the game play, and Rise of Apocalypse delivers in spades. Not only do players have the various powers of the X-Men, but they also have access to the classic Brotherhood villains. Each character has a set number of skills and super abilities -- all of which can be upgraded as players progress through battles.
Although it may feel weird having bad guys and good guys fighting on the same team, it actually works quite well. And with 16 mutants to choose from, players will be able create their dream team.
While the single-player game is rock solid, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse truly shines in the multiplayer department. All console versions support cooperative play with up to three friends. The PS2, Xbox and PC versions all have online multiplayer as well -- with support of up to four players.
-- Tom Ham
PS2, Xbox, GameCube, $50; Win 98 or better, $40