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May 14, 2004 - NBA Live upped its graphics engine to get in the game. ESPN NBA improved its graphics engine again to simply wow the crowd.

And wow the crowd they did as everything from the reflections on the floor to the best player models this side of NBA Ballers are being displayed in the Sega booth for hoop fans to drool over.

The gameplay also seems to be on the right track to improving some of the ills and complaints of last year, improving IsoMotion to the point where there wasn't a charging call every two seconds when you first pick up and play, improve the spacing to give players more room to dribble, and up the defensive pressure and double teams to harass players as they drive to the hole.

There also seems to be an added variety of animations this season, as players performed more flip passes, there were more runners, fade-aways, and reverses, players under the basket fought for position and boxed out for rebounds, and the blocks had the added punch to send them flying into the crowd.

And to help capture these highlight moments, the camera is closer to the action than last year, but not so close that you can't see the floor.

ESPN NBA 2005 seems to be walking that line between big plays and simulation, and so far, the ratio, the flow, and feel all seem to be working.

The game is still extremely early in development, but at the same time, it already has the look of a title set to make a run. Throw in online leagues with living rosters, a secret franchise mode, and an improved 24/7 mode, and this could be the year where the series returns to its glory days.

-- Jon Robinson