The last NBA Live game that I played was NBA Live 2005 for my Xbox. The reason why I haven’t touched an NBA Live game since (other than EA Sports’ recent hiatus from video game basketball) was the fact that the same year, I also discovered ESPN NBA 2K5. Bringing a level of polish and sim-styled realism to basketball was one of the key reasons I haven’t missed an NBA 2K game since, and all but abandoned the Live series.
NBA Live is now making its return as a next-gen launch title (or is it current-gen now?), fighting an uphill battle against their 2K rivals. Since NBA Live 10 (which then saw a multi-year hiatus), EA has had to sit back and watch as 2K pulled ahead to become the dominant pro basketball game, building on an already solid foundation. Now that it’s back, does Live 14 announce the triumphant return of EA to the world of NBA games, or is Live 14 more of an eye poke than a haymaker?
Let’s get one thing out of the way; as much as I preferred the 2K series over the Live series since 2005, I by no means dislike the Live series. It’s good to see the old contender return, and as we all probably agree with, competition can only bring out the best in both games. I want to welcome the Live series back, and hope that despite the fact that NBA 2K14 is also launching on current-gen consoles (which is what I probably should begin referring to the PS4 and Xbox One from now on), I’m hoping that the game at least gets a fighting chance. It’s not a particularly good game, but it could potentially be easier to pick up for those who aren’t diehard basketball sim gamers, and it also includes EA’s hugely successful Ultimate Team mode. There are some things to like about Live 14, but as you may have suspected, being out of the game for so many years makes for an effort that could probably use a lot more work in the next installment.
That, and also the fact that some people just prefer 2K’s more “sim” gameplay to EA’s more “arcade” style. It’s the same when comparing FIFA and PES; you’re going to get two different camps that will prefer one game to the other. It is what it is.
With that being said, let’s dive into Live 14’s biggest new features; the visuals and the implementation of the Ignite Engine. As far as the visuals are concerned, there are certain things that are impressive, but overall (especially during gameplay), the game looks like it could have handled being a last-gen release. It’s not terrible looking, but it certainly isn’t the next-gen “pop” that I was hoping for. It’s cool seeing the players’ jersey and shorts billow about as they run down the court, and the arenas look fantastic, but player models, especially the faces, look a bit lifeless. I’m not saying they need to blow me away, Emily-styled, but what I’m seeing seems to be possible on the 360 and PS3.
The Ignite Engine is present here, but I honestly have to say that it’s not very noticeable outside of some new dribbling physics. BounceTek is a new physic-based dribbling system that allows for the ball to exist as a separate entity. In previous games, the ball always served as an extension of the player’s hands. This often led to moves that should not have been possible due to the ball’s placement in relation to the player.
BounceTek attempts to rectify this by releasing the ball to physics every time it leaves the player’s hands. By implementing a system like this, players can only perform certain moves if the ball is in their hands. Gone are the days where you can simply link move after move in a non-stop ballet of impossibility…or so it says on paper. You see, the problem with BounceTek is that I can still do whatever move I want whenever I want. I will admit that the animations look pretty decent when players are moving about, but outside of that, BounceTek does not appear to have any huge impact on the way the game is played. The in-game players tend to move around more like their real-life counterparts, which is in part due to BounceTek’s dribbling, but while I appreciate the attempt at additional authenticity, then effect just isn’t very noticeable.
NBA Live 14 has also partnered with Synergy Sports to bring you CourtQ, a new method of providing player ratings, tendencies, new content, and even game modes. By making use of Synergy Sports’ data collection and conversion capabilities, Live 14 is able to bring updates to the player within hours of the completion of every NBA game that you see on TV throughout the entire season. Things like an injury in real-life will be reflected asap in-game. If a coach starts to switch up his team’s strategy, that will be reflected in-game as well. This is probably my favorite thing about the game, as EA is at least trying to make this as closely mirrored to the real NBA as possible.
CourtQ also provides players with BIG Moments and NBA Rewind, a play on the Madden Moments concept. BIG Moments consists of short challenges that replicated performances from recent NBA games, anything from getting three steals with a certain player in the first quarter to hitting a buzzer beater to win a game. With NBA Rewind, this concept is taken a bit further by recreating situations from recent game down to the smallest detail. You will then be asked to recreate or surpass the game’s top performances. These challenges are dynamically created based on the real players’ performance in each game, creating wealth of opportunities throughout the season.
If there was anything that EA brought to the table in Live 14 that I would like to see continued in the future, it’s this partnership with Syngery Sports. I’m a sports fan and I love recreating the OMG!! moments that I saw on TV the night before in the game. With CourtQ, this is possible.
The rest of the game is populated by game modes that any sports fan should be familiar with. Modes like Play Now, Dynasty, and Rising Star (Live 14’s version of Be a Pro) are scattered about a menu UI that replicates the tile based format that was introduced in last year’s Madden. In addition to these game modes, there is also a Season Showdown-seque mode called HoopsNet that rewards players simply for playing Live 14. Everything from playing games and completing BIG Moments nets the player HoopsNet XP, which leads to leveling up your profile. The more you level up, the more you can earn Ultimate Team rewards. HoopsNet also serves as an in-game social network so you can keep track of what your buddies are doing in the game. I didn’t really get a chance to check out the social features since A) the game wasn’t released yet when I did my playthrough, and B) even if it was, none of my friends play basketball games. Maybe I should find some more friends…
The final thing I want to touch on is the addition of off the court updates. While CourtQ can dynamically change the way teams and players act in the game, certain facets of their appearance wil also stay up to date. Say a player gets a new set of shoes or a new tattoo; these will be updated in the game as well. In addition, ESPN analyst and in-game studio host Jalen Rose will also be recording new commentary on a weekly basis, discussing not only the newest NBA news, but also the most impressive Live 14 online performances. Who knows, maybe you’ll even get a shout out?
All these CourtQ features are probably NBA Live 14’s biggest and only strengths. It’s great to have a game that will keep up with the comings and goings of the actual NBA season, but all that can’t make up for what is fundamentally a poor game. The visuals aren’t that impressive, the highly touted Ignite Engine is vistually unnoticeable, and the gameplay just seems too rushed and basic. Despite their efforts, Live 14 still ended up playing like “fast break, fast break, dunk, dunk.” That would be great if this was NBA Jam, but for something that’s supposed to be more sim than arcade, it doesn’t really fly.
Look, I can be snarky and write a review with a bunch of attitude (which I hope I avoided here). I know that’s what gets hits, and that’s what the internet likes, but the fact of the matter is, no matter how poorly made NBA Live 14 is, it is still the result of dozens of developers, programmers, artists, animators, etc. putting their time and effort into the game. Whether or not MORE effort should have been given is not up to me to judge; I don’t know the circumstances that led to Live 14 being the way it turned out. The most I can do is hope that EA Sports realizes that for a return to video game basketball, Live 14 experienced a pretty nasty stumble. NBA 2K is in no danger of losing their crown as the top basketball game, but things can change as quickly as next year. Let’s see what Live 15 brings to the table; maybe Live 14 was simply an anomaly due to being away from the business too long.
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