The NBA Live series has gone through several yearly revisions on the original PlayStation. Each year, EA Sports has found a way to improve on the series that has easily become the reigning champion of pro hoops simulations on console platforms. So naturally, big things are expected from its transition to Sony's powerful next-generation PlayStation 2 console. Unsurprisingly, NBA Live 2001 for the PS2 comes wrapped in a brilliant visual package. But while it's still a fun game, several annoying gameplay flaws keep it from truly advancing the considerable lineage of the Live series.
The primary strength of Live for the PS2 is its spectacular graphics. The on-court player models, the benchwarmers, the crowd, and the NBA arenas are rendered with an unprecedented level of detail and realism - this is easily the most visually impressive basketball game on the market. The high poly-count player models have detailed jerseys and lifelike skin textures. On the other hand, the facial textures can be hit or miss in Live 2001. Some players are easily recognizable, while most are hardly recognizable from their facial features alone. Complementing the detailed textures and player models, the remarkable player animations feature subtle touches such as proper body lean on drives to the basket and realistic movement on dunks and swat blocks. Even the players' facial expressions and mouth movements are synched to their respective reactions to in-game situations and taunts. Players arguing calls, celebrating during bench sequences and after dunks, encouraging other teammates during the course of the game, and other such ambient animations help make the game come alive and feel truly realistic.
On the court, EA Sports has further tweaked the post-up game. Players can post up and perform such moves as jump hooks, fadeaways, turnaround jumpers, and up-and-under moves. Players can also roll either left or right from a post-up situation to perform moves going to the basket. On defense, the human-controlled player automatically faces up the offensive player, which is very useful because it lets you concentrate on staying with your man using either the analog stick or the D-pad. The control scheme in NBA Live 2001 for the PlayStation 2 is virtually identical to that of its PlayStation cousin. The same buttons control shooting, passing, jumping, turbo, and so on. If you're familiar with the PlayStation control scheme, you know that along with the basic controls, players can switch on the ball, call for a pick, stutter-step, and call up icon passing. But all these options don't make up for the annoying gameplay flaws in Live 2001 for the PS2.
The Live series is known for its tight, responsive controls. Previous versions of the game are packed with a multitude of moves that are innate to the NBA, and player actions on the court are highly responsive to button commands. In the PlayStation 2 incarnation of Live, the game has lost some of its precise control traits. In several instances, the player simply would not respond to button commands. For example, there were times when players would not execute a quick wing jumper off a fast break or jump to block a shot, even with the corresponding buttons firmly pressed. This lack of response is not a common occurrence, but it does detract from the overall gameplay experience. In the paint, Live doesn't give you total control of the rebounding game. It is very difficult to box out, and that leads to a lot of offensive rebounds for the opposing team, particularly when you're playing against the computer in the toughest difficulty setting. Additionally, it's impossible to assume complete control of dribble moves. There are three primary dribble moves in the game: behind-the-back crossovers, between-the-leg crossovers, and the spin move. Pressing a button will execute the corresponding move, but you won't be able to control the direction. So shaking your defender becomes a random event, rather than a result of a well-executed and controlled movement.
The PS2 version of NBA Live 2001 has four primary modes of play: exhibition, season, playoffs, and one-on-one. Conspicuously missing from this next-generation version of the game are the three-point shootout, NBA challenge, and franchise modes. Despite the lack of a franchise mode, the meat of the gameplay is in playing a full season. Here you have complete control over your selected team(s), with the ability to make and reject player trades, sign and release players, and play as any team on any day of the NBA season. Additionally, following the finish of the regular season and before the start of the playoffs, there is an awards screen with winners in categories such as MVP, defensive player of the year, all-NBA and all-defensive teams, and more.