It’s been a long time since we had multiple sports franchises to choose from. Usually, a major AAA company (*cough cough* EA *cough cough*) simply buys up the sports licenses and makes one game a year, and we all accept that. Besides, who would want to play a football game without the NFL or a basketball game without the NBA? But the release of next-gen consoles puts basketball fans in an odd position; they can either pick up NBA 2K14 , the well-established franchise by 2K Sports, or try their luck with NBA Live 14 , a series by EA that we haven’t seen since 2009.
As I said before in my NBA 2K14 review, I’m not a huge basketball fan. In fact, I couldn’t tell you who NBA Live 14’s cover athlete is without looking it up on Wikipedia. The answer, by the way, is Kyle Irving (doing his best impression of an emotionless brick wall).
This is basically what you can expect when playing NBA Live 14 . Since I’m not the biggest B-ball fan, the first thing that stuck out to me was the game’s graphics, which flat out aren’t as good as NBA 2K14’s . All players have the same emotionless look on their faces that Irving does on the cover. Animations aren’t all that fluid, and player collisions feel jerky. Crowds are incredibly poorly rendered, and team coaches actually look blocky and polygonal. Simply put, NBA Live does not utilize next-generation graphical capabilities to their fullest extent.
Instead, Live tries to focus on gameplay. The “Live” in NBA Live’s name is specifically referring to the new Big Moments mode, which allows you to recreate outstanding moments from past NBA games. The difference between this mode and all the other “relive the classics” modes we have seen in NBA games past is that this mode isn’t about reliving the past, it’s about reliving the present. New Big Moments are uploaded as they occur in the current NBA season. Once again, I’m not a huge basketball fan, so I can’t speak to how accurate these moments are compared to their real-life counterparts, but I can appreciate any game that has a steady stream of new gameplay content offered up for free over the Internet.
Unfortunately, NBA Live 14 is just downright intimidating for a newbie like me. While the basic controls are the same controls you have come to expect from every basketball title, the intricacies of the game mechanics are completely obscured. There is no practice mode, tutorial mode, or command list. It sounds like I am listing flaws to a fighting game, but when you hop in and realize you have no idea how to pull off ball-handling maneuvers or what the heck half of these plays mean, the game starts to get frustrating. Heck, it’s even hard to make reliable shots. Shot timing seems completely random, and the ball seems to go off in whatever direction it wants no matter what you do. Once again, there’s no practice mode, so you can’t just load up an empty court and shoot till you have it down.
Most of the cool gameplay elements that I experienced in NBA Live 14 I experienced completely by accident. Just by fiddling around with the right stick I eventually learned that the AI is weak to every single ball-handling trick in the book. So just wiggle it wantonly and you’ll eventually get by defenders. Since I couldn’t get shot timing down, I just dunked on everyone with everyone. Dunking is actually pretty easy and rarely fails. It made the game feel more like NBA Jam than a serious basketball simulation. I may not be the biggest basketball fan, but I don’t think that actual NBA games transpire this way.
It’s also worth mentioning that the controls themselves feel very loose. Sometimes you’ll enter a command for the player you are currently controlling and there will be this odd delay, as if you set up your HD TV wrong. Similarly, sometimes players will take actions that appear to be of their own accord. This is because of the absurdly long input buffer the game uses for processing commands, which can be a good thing when you absolutely want to get a pass off but is a bad thing when you accidentally brush a button and end up doing something a few seconds down the line that you didn’t mean to do. In addition, it actively punishes button mashing, which, once again, sounds like a great feature for a fighting game but just makes a sports title frustrating.
NBA Live 14’s Rising Star mode is your standard create-a-player mode, and it’s somewhat fun. It’s really not all that different from create-a-player modes we have seen in the past. Just make a star, get drafted, play some games, so on so forth. The mode is pretty punishing though: It seems like you are penalized more than you are rewarded for pretty much every action you take. The game docks you points for missing shots, which is kind of a crap shoot if you are doing anything but dunking. It also doesn’t reward you for good defense or other smart play outside of all-star highlight moments.
That’s not to say that the game can’t be fun at times. Granted, it’s not exactly the best simulation out there, but playing an insanely aggressive dunktastic game of basketball does bring back nostalgic memories of early-day NBA games on the SNES. In fact, NBA Live 14 does a lot better if you look at it as an arcade-style basketball game. The AI isn’t so great, but as a multiplayer game, you can squeeze a bit of enjoyment out of it.
The problem is justifying an NBA Live 14 purchase when NBA 2K14 is on store shelves. As a newbie, I had fun with NBA 2k14 , but I didn’t have nearly as much fun with NBA Live 14 . I felt like it assumed I knew more about basketball and basketball video games than I actually did. It just dropped me into the deep end and asked me to figure it all out, and all I could really do was button mash and hope for the best. It’s a good foundation for a franchise that could prosper in the future–after all, I’ve been saying that sports games should use live updating stats via the Internet for years now–but at this very moment, it just pales in comparison to its competition.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
NBA Live’s graphics are passable, but they are easily some of the worst we have seen on next-gen systems yet. 2.0 Control
It’s not that the controls themselves are bad, it’s that the game does nothing to teach you them. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The announcers talk with very generic voice quips, which can get annoying, but the rest of the sound design is competent enough. 4.0 Play Value
The idea of a sport game that uses live stat updates is thrilling. If only the rest of the game lived up to this promise. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|