NBA Live 14 was my personal embodiment of disappointment when it released last year. 2009 had been the last year that NBA Live had seen the light of day before NBA Live 14 came out. There was even the infamous failed “reboot” entitled NBA Elite 11 that was canned right before launch due to horrible internal reviews. So, after playing Live since its inception, how could I not be majorly disappointed that NBA Live 14 was such a flaccid “comeback”? Thankfully, NBA Live 15 takes some noticeable steps forward, but that doesn’t automatically make it a good game by any means.
Before release, EA Tiburon was touting that they’d added all kinds of new animations. Those improvements can definitely be seen (in some areas), so I can’t help but wonder why the gameplay still feels incredibly stiff. The biggest benefactor of the new animations are the actions that take place in the paint. Anything outside of the paint doesn’t feel drastically improved as clipping is still an issue. Whoever’s in charge of determining when a jump shot should be released needs to watch more NBA action, because shooting the ball in this game still feels completely unnatural. You’re not releasing the shooting button at the apex of your jump, but rather slightly before it and it just feels odd, even after you get used to it.
Perhaps little time was spent on the timing of jump shots because driving to the lane is as easy as can be. It’s like Kobe Bryant going against a freshman in high school. Why would I ever opt to shoot a three when I can layup or dunk at absolute will? Oh, wait a minute, I just knocked down five threes in a row? In ten-plus games? So I can shoot threes with an absurd percentage and dunk whenever I feel like it? NBA Live 15 might try and convince us of its realism, but it still has that signature arcade gameplay.
Playing defense is…interesting. During one game, I couldn’t alter a single shot to save my life, despite all my best efforts towards contesting every shot. It was maddening seeing the AI just drive to the lane and lay it in despite me controlling shot-blocker extraordinaire Anthony Davis. Then there were times where I was stealing and blocking like a mad man. It’s wildly inconsistent.
While I might come off as really down on the gameplay, it still is a vast improvement over last year’s crap-tastic installment. It’s just disappointing that NBA Live 15 doesn’t handle better and that the bragged-about animations and so-called physics (could you at least try and hide the canned animations better?) don’t amount to as meaningful a change as one might hope.
The game modes are standard fare and are totally what you’ve come to expect from an NBA game. Rising Star is the MyCareer of Live, and it even incorporates the performance grading aspect of the 2K series. After being spoiled with the cheesy MyCareer in NBA 2K, I can’t help but feel like Rising Star is a shallow and underdeveloped experience in comparison. EA Tiburon has added more scenarios where you can build up your performance grade but missing a wide open jump shot, like last year, still takes away from your grade.
I’m sorry, but am I just not supposed to take open jump shots? It’s a head-scratcher of a choice to have that be something that takes away from your performance and I’m disappointed that they decided to keep that in this year. Also, how am I on the bench in the fourth quarter of a nail-biter of a game when I have 36 points, 11 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and a high grade?
Dynasty mode is still, well, Dynasty mode. Unfortunately, it’s tough for this game mode to have legs when the gameplay itself isn’t that compelling. The ability to jump in the middle of a simulation is the only meaningful addition and it’s something I’d wish NBA 2K would do.
Ultimate Team rounds out the major game modes and if you’re a FIFA or NBA 2K MyTeam player, you’ll know what to expect from this card-collecting mode.
The most noticeable area of improvement comes in the game’s graphics. All you have to do is google “James Harden” then “James Harden NBA Live 14” right afterwards. Nowhere near resembling the Houston all-star, huh? NBA Live 15 actually looks next-gen at times. It’s still not as lifelike or crisp as 2K, but Tiburon has went lightyears ahead of last year’s graphics which looked like a 2008 PS3/360 game. We should all just be glad that the players at least look their real-life counterparts now. The commentary is serviceable for the most part, but there are moments of complete dullness and just flat-out radio silence.
NBA Live 15 is technically only in its sophomore year as this “new” Live franchise, so I can forgive them for the undercooked game modes. The gameplay, though? Well, I can’t bring myself to overlook that. It would be a whole lot easier to digest the undercooked modes if this year’s instalment at least had rock-solid gameplay. With its awkward shooting mechanics, inconsistent and stiff defense and offense, and less-than-realized game modes, there’s just no way I could recommend this over NBA 2K15. At least the guys at EA Tiburon have listened to the community and have shown a dedication to improving the series, so here’s to hoping NBA Live 16 becomes an actual alternative to its competitor.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
NBA Live 15 is an appreciated step forward from last year's instalment. However, thanks to stiff gameplay and undercooked game modes, you'll want to draft NBA 2K15 instead.