Keep It On the Bench
Why do they keep coming back for more? That’s all I can think at this point, having spent/wasted/forfeited these past hours of my life trying to balance out my Pro/Con list for NBA Live 15 with enough Pros for it to actually be a Pro/Con list of any respectable sort. NBA Live used to be the best game in town back in the day, even as recently as a couple of PS2 iterations with guys like Jason Kidd (then the point guard on the NBA Finals-bound Nets) gracing the cover. What happened ? The series has become a shell of its former self, with its best recent version being the one that was canned prior to its release. I think it was going to be called NBA Elite , or some nonsense like that. In any event, I had the “opportunity” to have a go at the 2015 edition of NBA Live , and while I’d like to report that the folks over at EA have gotten their mojo back, I’d be lying to you. The truth is, I couldn’t justify telling you to purchase this over the competing NBA 2K15 for half price. So please consider the rest of what I am about to say with that in mind.
Let’s start with the component that means the most–in my opinion anyway–to sports titles: gameplay. I did my best to sample all of the various modes of play, from Quick Play, to the create a player Rising Star mode, to Franchise and what I could manage to do with Multiplayer (though to be fair, because the full release has yet to occur, this was understandably difficult to accomplish due to the lack of players in the network). And while I am certainly willing to give credit to EA for its updated graphical scans and use of the right analog stick (I did my review on the Xbox One) with new player moves, the on court part of the game just feels…weak. Whether on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, mechanics feel clunky and repetitive, ball handling is hit or miss with supposed player-specific moves not always responsive, and shooting not tight at all. Even in the paint, with the supposed “Real Time Physics” engine in play, moves felt limited and defense seemed automatic.
Truthfully, the game plays a bit more like an arcade-style hoops game than a basketball simulator of the 2K variety, which would in theory be ok if that is how it advertised itself. But since it doesn’t, they have to be called flaws. Visuals are an improvement from last year’s edition of Live , not that that is saying much, but the players always seem to feel like filled in stick figures as they move, and lack the smoothness and fluidity required for a sports game to feel realistic. With the all new “scanning and lighting techniques” being promoted by EA all over the place for this one, you would think at least that part of the game would be solid. Sadly, however, it isn’t that great. Even up close, when I had the chance to create a character and get him going in the Rising Star mode, the options for modifying my guy graphically were extremely limited, especially compared to the extensive character modeling that can be accomplished in the similar mode in 2K15 . The only bright side of this is that it takes perhaps a quarter of the time to create your player and hit the court, but if you’re like me and have any interest in making your player look like something other than the ten or fifteen canned models, you will almost certainly be left disappointed.
Audio is a bit of a mixed bag in Live , as the soundtrack is so-so, and very rap heavy as compared to the eclectic soundtrack of its competitor. Not that I have anything against rap or hip hop per se, but when the songs and artists sound both dated and unrecognizable in many instances, you have to wonder if this part of the game was just thrown together on the cheap. In game sounds were also lacking, no matter what setting I chose. Things as simple as hearing a ball bouncing on the court is underemphasized to a fault, and detracts from the overall gaming experience. Commentary-wise, I had higher expectations given the inclusion of what should be a solid announcing team of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy from ESPN. Unfortunately, with the exception of some decent canned material for star players, the in game broadcasting is just terrible, with unnecessary breaks in talking to the sort of slow, “and he…MAKES the shot…what a play by…Anthony…” style you would expect maybe a decade ago, but not now. And while some may think it unfair to continue to compare this game with this year’s 2K title, the fact is that it just does everything better—and audio/commentary is no exception. It is smoother, tighter, and much more realistic than anything offered here.
One potential bright spot—other than the fact that players can pick whatever Jordan brand shoe they want right off the bat in Rising Star—is the Big Moments mode. You might compare it to the old Jordan Moments feature in NBA 2K11 where players had the opportunity to carry out some of Jordan’s biggest on court moments, but this included some newer situations (Carmelo Anthony’s third quarter explosion a year ago, for example), and I had a lot of fun with it for a little while. Obviously this isn’t enough to move a game from “meh” to “great,” but having the chance to go into some of the more memorable basketball scenes in recent history and try and carry them out on your own is still a cool feature to have, especially since it is carried out relatively well and without too much of a headache along the way.
All in all, NBA Live 15 is a definite upgrade over the previous year’s edition, but again, that really isn’t saying much. I did my best to play through this game and review it without any comparison in my mind, but I realized after a little while that such a task is almost impossible. After all, we always have foundations set in our minds by other gaming experiences, and it would be foolish to pretend that something else doesn’t exist when it not only does, but exists and succeeds in ways that the game in front of us does not.
Where 2K15 overwhelms me still with its plethora of gaming modes and malleability in almost every respect, Live 15 underwhelms as a ho-hum basketball title that continues to ride the coat tails of its competitor and its past. Whether this should spell the end of hoops games from EA or not I’m not able to say here, but I do believe one thing—if people were hoping that this would be the game to strike fear into the hearts of 2K developers, they inevitably will be disappointed.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
An improvement from last year, but still arcadey and difficult to discern one player from another without numbers on the jerseys. 3.4 Control
Clumsy, but not disastrously so. Making things like hop steps and flashy passing achievable by the buttons rather than just the analog stick was a nice touch. 2.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Soundtrack is so-so, and canned commentary is fine, but in game announcing relying on the goings on of the game being played is just bad. 2.8 Play Value
I enjoyed Big Moments in a sort of Tiger Woods Masters sort of way, but I can imagine it would have kept me satisfied for too long. Multiplayer didn’t connect for me, but that could be because it is prior to launch. 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