Taking it to the video hoop

Basketball: Like cover boy Vince Carter, the retooled, more realistic `NBA Live 2004' has plenty of game.

October 30, 2003|By Chip Carter and Jonathan Carter | Chip Carter and Jonathan Carter,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Three-time NBA All-Star Vince Carter shoots hoops for the Toronto Raptors. But when it comes to video games, he's a Madden man.

When he's on the road with the Raptors, Vince always drags along a PlayStation 2.

"I mostly play sports games," Carter says. That means Madden NFL Football and NBA Live 2004, the latter of which sports his mug on the cover. "I'm really good at football, less so at the basketball."

Isn't that kind of ironic? Maybe not as much as you'd think.

"I play as the [Miami] Dolphins in Madden. And I'm not a Dolphins fan, either," he says.

Even star athletes use video games as an escape. "One on one after practice," Carter says, "trash-talking, guys having a good time, lots of betting and all that good stuff. It's competitive!"

So is he any good?

"I can play a little bit, [but teammate] Alvin [Williams] is pretty tough."

We'd pay good money to see to see those two go head to head in NBA Live. Then again, this year's version of the game is so good that we'd almost pay to see any two gamers play it.

This is the best Live yet. Last year's edition was a little out of control, especially for those who want to keep it real when it comes to sports games. Its breakneck arcade style of play left some gamers panting.

This year's model is a little slower, a little closer to the real game. There are still arcade elements, of course, but the pace is much more realistic.

The graphics are better, too. Every player is motion-captured this year, and you can tell the difference in the way they move and react without the ball. Instead of standing still or simply jogging from spot to spot, they're in the game, via a ton of new animation. Electronic Arts also tweaked the player models to get as close as possible to real life.

Carter says that when it comes to the NBA action, EA got it right.

"The things that I do are pretty easy to capture," he says. "I'm definitely happy with the way the game has come out and how real it looks. That's what fans and video game players look for now - how real the game can be. If you're a Jason Kidd fan, is that Jason Kidd going to be the same Jason Kidd you see on TV every night?"

So what does this year's NBA Live cover boy think about his look in the game?

"When I first saw it, I said, `That looks like me?' The real one is better looking."

But both Vinces are equally well-dressed - this year's version of Live even features each player's signature shoes.

Carter says he's rehabbed from the injuries that have taken away from his game the past two seasons. (He missed 39 games last year.)

"I knew it would just be a matter of time," he says. "It doesn't take away my ability to play basketball and be effective. EA giving me the opportunity to be on the cover shows that they have confidence in me as a player to deliver."

He's also not afraid of a potential EA Sports cover curse. The last four NFL players to appear on the front of the Madden box - Eddie George, Daunte Culpepper, Marshall Faulk and Michael Vick - were all injured or had off years after their cover appearances.

We asked Vince if he was worried about that carrying over to other sports as well (and we have to report that he didn't think the question was anywhere near as funny as we did).

"I don't believe in that - they're football players," he says, bristling. "I just was fortunate enough to be on the cover. I definitely want to go out there and represent this game and myself in the proper manner. I definitely think it gives me a higher profile. I'm just going to take advantage of it, and hopefully it helps me play better."

Rating the game

Jon says: I hope when people read this they think we're related to Vince. Like maybe he's my uncle or something. That would be outstanding! - A

Chip says: Sorry about the cover question, Vince - somebody had to ask. - A

Overall rating: A - Buy it for basketball fans.

Got a question? An inside tip you'd like to share? E-mail Chip and Jonathan Carter at vidchip@aol.com. They will answer questions of general interest in their column.

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