Replay Value: 9.2
When it comes to basketball, 2K Sports has things covered. We should be seeing the return of NBA Live but at this point, b-ball fanatics are perfectly happy with the NBA 2K franchise, which has typically moved in the right direction. I still maintain that the sports genre is in dire need of the new hardware on the horizon, simply because it seems developers have hit a ceiling in terms of visuals, animation, AI, etc. That being said, developer Visual Concepts continues to impress.
The current trend in video game sports is to present the player with a highly believable presentation. Designers want the game to look as much like the TV broadcast as humanly possible, and NBA 2K14 definitely appears authentic. With the exception of a few questionable animations and some lingering hitches and jerks, this is a smooth, exceptionally detailed graphical display. The arenas are perhaps the most realistic and dynamic, as they’re jam-packed with lively fans, plenty of immersive, ambient effects, cheerleaders, and various camera angles. I still say some of the player models aren’t 100% accurate, though.
The audio faithfully reflects the NBA community and culture, as those arenas sound great, the on-court effects are just about right, and the commentary is professional and energetic. In some of the EA Sports offerings this year, I’ve heard plenty of repetitive, inaccurate commentary. But 2K’s effort doesn’t suffer from the same drawback, as the color men are usually spot-on, and they’ve got the appropriate amount of energy and excitement, too. The soundtrack is highly subjective; if you like hip-hop, you’ll enjoy the music selection. All in all, from a technical standpoint, NBA 2K14 is one of the more accomplished sports titles of the year.
In terms of gameplay, most fans will know what to expect: Yep, tons of depth and micromanagement. That’s a given in this day and age. They can also expect the aforementioned technical prowess and a wide variety of distinct modes. That’s all here in abundance but above all else, when it comes to the ceaseless, often hectic action of the NBA, control is a paramount. With sluggish, unreliable controls and crappy AI, a basketball game goes downhill fast. But despite some total brain fades on the part of the AI, and a gameplay mechanic that is somewhat demanding, this one strikes an appreciated balance between simulation and plain ol’ fun.
Those of you who remember last year’s iteration will recall the developer’s use of the right analog stick. This implementation was initially designed to add complexity and intricacy to a player’s skill set, and 2K has pushed even further this year. At first, I thought this would cause some problems, because an overcomplicated mechanic can shut down my interest level. But it really works incredibly well, as it not only increases the realism but it amps up the immersion as well. Determined by the direction and length of time you hold the right analog stick, your crowd-pleasing moves go into full effect. Crossovers, shake-and-bakes, ankle-breaking drives; it’s all here.
And it’s not too difficult to pull off, either. It takes a little practice, as it should, but a robust tutorial guide will help out. Well, it’s designed to, at any rate. Personally, I found simply playing games made me a more effective player on the court; trying the practice mode didn’t do much for me, mostly because it seemed far too sensitive. If the analog is off by a hair, you mess it up. But that frustration didn’t translate during actual game situations, as I seemed to be able to learn from my mistakes relatively quickly. Given a pretty competent athlete, you can do some amazing stuff. Obviously, controlling someone like LeBron James gives you an automatic edge.
The best part of the game is the overall feel and flow. When you head down the court and face the defense, it looks as it should: Players jogging to get into position, a few popping out for a pass, others maybe in a position to set a pick. You can issue court commands if you so desire – which also takes practice – and success relies on your basketball IQ, your patience, and your skill at creating and finishing a play. Driving the lane every time down the court won’t work and in fact, there doesn’t appear to be one approach that can be unfairly abused. You really have to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the teams on the court and then plan accordingly.
Of course, your skill is tested as well; going to the hoop isn’t about going fast, it’s about pulling off a bad-ass move that gives you a clear lane. It’s hard to do, especially because the defense is on their game, but that’s part of the appeal— the challenge. You can sense the defense adapting to what you’re doing, and your position is always key. It’s almost as important as timing; you might successfully steal the ball provided you’re in the right spot at the right time. Otherwise, it’ll probably be a reach-in foul. If you want to play clamp-down defense, you need to stick close to the ball-handlers, but not too close. The opposing AI will exploit your rashness.
The AI hasn’t been refined enough, though, and things can go haywire during frantic moments of on-court action. The ball physics don’t seem quite right, either, and there are too many instances where players react really strangely to certain situations. Breakaways can get a little funky, as can chasing after loose balls. These are technical issues that I expect will be ironed out in the new generation, so it’s nothing to get too annoyed about. Still, one definitely feels a touch a generational fatigue because the areas that need improvement are clear. I can only determine that such issues haven’t been addressed due to a lack of hardware capability.
The Path to Greatness mode lets you follow LeBron James as he climbs the NBA ladder on his way to superstardom. You can choose the realistic or the crazy option and both are worth playing for the hardcore. Honestly, given the influence James had on this game (I hear tell he picked the soundtrack, too), he should’ve had his name on the box like in the old days. As for playing with friends, that’s always fun, and playing online is a really entertaining experience, provided you’re skilled enough. Some of those people are obviously quite familiar with these games, so you had best practice before stepping on the multiplayer court.
NBA 2K14 is another top-notch installment in a highly accomplished series. It has a few technical hiccups here and there and the AI isn’t up to snuff in my opinion, but the game plays almost exactly as you’d expect. The added complexity of the move set is impressive, and mapping those awesome skills to the right analog stick seems to work beautifully. The ball physics can be iffy but the rest of the presentation is excellent and from afar, the uninitiated could definitely confuse this game with the real thing. Some silly player reactions and sliding animations would give it away, but there’s no doubt that 2K has done it again. Now, bring on the new consoles!
The Good: Fantastic, authentic presentation. Great commentary. Pulling off moves is rewarding and fluid. Plenty of depth via multiple distinct modes. Requires a high b-ball IQ for consistent success. Better defense makes gameplay more realistic.
The Bad: A few technical missteps. AI can still be lame-brained at times. Practice mode is oddly frustrating.
The Ugly: “It’s just really funny to see totally clueless players when a ball gets loose.”