As one of America’s favourite sports, basketball holds an important spot in the hearts of many. It’s a game of finesse, and one that requires a lot of athleticism at its highest level, where superstars like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant aim to make opponents’ nightmares a reality.
The beginning of each NBA preseason is marked by the release of not one, but two different games. Each year is the same story, too, with 2K’s NBA 2K dynasty ending up on top, ahead of EA’s troubled NBA Live franchise. That’s something that EA Tiburon hopes will change this season, although it’s unlikely given that NBA Live 16 is a cumbersome and middling sports game that regularly feels like it’s a step behind.
As soon as NBA Live 16 loads, it asks you to download an app, scan your facial features and then import your visage into the game so that it can create a player based on your likeness using its GameFace HD functionality. Then, once all of the finer details have been ironed out, it unleashes you upon the community at large. In doing so, it stresses playing online, and promotes the return of the fan favourite Live Run mode, which allows five human players to team up on digitized versions of real world courts, including Harlem’s Rucker Park, Toronto’s Hoop Dome and Manhattan’s Terminal 23.
Live Run is a relaxed and teamwork-oriented mode, which supports up to ten players and could become a go-to for fans of this series. It’s not alone, though, because EA Tiburon has expanded the cooperative side of its latest with the introduction of Summer Circuit.
The best way to describe Summer Circuit would be to call it a cooperative and challenged-based 5-on-5 experience, as that’s what it is at heart. There’s more to it, though, because it’s a mode that pits human players against computer-controlled NBA competition, with boss battles against superstars occurring at different plateaus. Your goal is to win, but you’ll also want to do your best to complete every match’s unique challenges (get an assist, win the game, etc.) in order to earn bonuses for your created pro.
Both Live Run and Summer Circuit exist as ways to play as, test and improve your created pro prior to sending him into the annals of Rising Star’s NBA prospects pool. They’re generally solid modes, too, and are only held back by NBA Live 16‘s middling core gameplay. Once again, the problems lay on the court, as opposed to in the menus, where a solid amount of modes and an impressively streamlined and robust character creation suite beckon players to visit.
From one net to another, NBA Live 16 struggles with fluidity. Its graphics are flashy, its players get appropriately sweaty and its arenas look quite lifelike, but it plays as if it’s stuck in limbo. That, and a step behind.
The best word I can think to use while describing Live’s gameplay is “clunky.” It’s simply not as fluid or user-friendly as other major sports games, many of which come from the same company. Offence can be frustrating to play, due to questionable shot mechanics that allow two similar shots to have different outcomes, and defence is a chore because you never fully feel in control. It often seemed as if I was a step ahead of my controlled players, especially while attempting to defend the paint, because some sort of input lag resulted in them responding to my commands later than they should’ve.
It also doesn’t help that the allied AI is hit and miss, and that the game seems to be confused as to what constitutes a foul.
During my first few games, I hardly ever got called for fouls, even though I’d often attempt to swat the ball out of an opponent’s hand for a steal. Then, something changed, even though I played on the same difficulty level and didn’t touch any sliders. I don’t know what happened, but it resulted in me being called for fouls a lot more often. Still, even when I did successfully knock the ball out of a player’s hand, it wouldn’t go too far and he’d often end up picking it up again. That, or my player would struggle for it and pick it up with less grace than a football player on figure skates. Hell, sometimes my teammates would be right in front of the ball and would barely put forth an attempt at it.
What good is having a bunch of solid modes when your game’s core gameplay isn’t up to snuff? Basketball games are expected to be fluid and fun, but this one is not. You’re supposed to feel like a superstar, but you don’t, and it’s frustrating.
Still, while this game stumbles on the court, its presentation doesn’t fare the same way. It may not be up to par with some of the industry’s top-tier sports titles, but it looks quite good and animates pretty well, outside of some occasionally stiff attempts. The licensed, rap-heavy soundtrack is also solid, and ESPN’s commentary is alright. Eric Breen and Jeff Van Gundy do a decent job of covering the action, but their announcing lacks colour, and I was shocked when they didn’t say a thing after I won the NBA championship. Seriously, all they did was conclude their broadcast and then go silent.
As a longtime sports gamer and someone who’s enjoyed playing basketball games since the N64 era, I truly wanted to like NBA Live 16, yet I find myself unable to recommend it. There are some good building blocks to be found here, but the core gameplay is simply too cumbersome to wholeheartedly enjoy.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which EA sent us.
NBA Live 16 is nice-looking and features some interesting modes, but sluggish and problematic gameplay prevents it from being up to par.