The NBA 2K series has been the best NBA experience every year for over half a decade now, if not a whole decade (arguably so, of course). It has nothing to do with NBA Live being benched since the ’09-’10 season, but rather Visual Concept’s fiery and unwavering passion for NBA basketball that never seems to fizzle out. Like a lot of self-motivated people will tell you, their biggest critic and competition comes from within and Visual Concept embraces this mentality year in, year out. However, NBA 2K14 has a different seven-foot colossus guarding the rim this year — next-generation console development. While it would have been easy to drop the ball (pun intended) the company took the challenge head-friggin’-on and made a Blake Griffin-esque statement.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way — this game is a drop-dead gorgeous graphical showcase and might just be enough justification for spending $400 on a launch console. You know how your Pixar Blu-Rays are what you put on in front of your friends as a high-definition reference piece and argument for them to ditch their DVDs? NBA 2K14‘s new EcoMotion engine serves the exact same function for next-gen consoles. The second you see LeBron in the intro video, you’ll be in utter disbelief as to how pristine this game looks. If the intricate mesh textures on the jerseys scream next-gen, then the jaw-dropping face rendering bellows out a powerful, guttural metal scream that lets you know you’re definitely playing something that can’t be done on our PS3s and 360s.
Players look incredibly life-like and are animated to such pain-staking detail that I don’t even want to think about all the hours of life that the game’s artists have lost. Hell, not even the smallest tattoo on a player is left out and it’s simply mind-boggling. While it’s easy to be wooed by the wrinkle’s on a player’s head as they’re frustrated or the signature “this isn’t the next-generation of sports games without shiny sweat!” factor, it’s all of the little things that add up to an astounding visual package.
Players no longer take a noticeable dip in graphical quality as they’re called to the bench, the coaches actually look like their counterparts (a lot of them were plain ass-ugly last-gen), and crowds are as lively and more varied than you could imagine. Then there are the courts that are glossed to a fine sheen, reflecting advertisements from the screens all around the arena. I kid you not, when I was in the kitchen of my apartment scrambling some eggs, I was hard-pressed to tell if the action on-screen was actual live NBA broadcasting or NBA 2K14. Aside from the obvious video game-y icons, it was Doris Burke’s facial animation that reminded me I was looking at a game. Talk about being rock bottom in the uncanny valley.
Not complacent with letting all the visuals take all the glory, the audio stands just as tall as the graphics. While the commentating is recycled from the current-gen games, it still breathes life into the realism of it all as the commentators come off as completely natural, reacting to on-court plays snappily or talking about a player’s backstory when things are going slow. The crowd seems louder and more explosive than ever before and dunks have a satisfying boom upon impact. The only negative I have towards audio is the soundtrack and I know that’s entirely personal. LeBron James picked the setlist and apparently he likes overplayed radio hits such as “Blurred Lines”, “Get Lucky”, and so-help-me-god-if-I-hear-it-one-more-time “Radioactive”. Other than that, top-notch audio/video presentation throughout.
I wouldn’t put it past you to presume that the next-gen installment of 2K14 plays the same as the PS3/360 version and is simply just sexier. Well, you’d be wrong for thinking that as it’s almost an entirely new game. Gone is the Path to Greatness mode that allowed you to pave LeBron’s future (which was lackluster if you weren’t a LeBron fan). It’s been replaced, thankfully, by a revamped MyCareer mode and a robust MyGM mode.
The new MyCareer mode introduces an ambitious (for sports game standards) storyline that is predictably full of awkward acting and subpar writing. Yes, there are cutscenes that are acted by a racially ambiguous but totally urban voice actor. Unfortunately, you’re the only one that’s voiced. It’s definitely a strange as hell occurrence when your character says something then your teammate responds with lines of text that you have to read and his mouth doesn’t even move. It’s probable that they decided to go down this way as to avoid players not having their voices used but even if that were true, it’s still a pretty glaring flaw.
My favorite tweak to MyCareer is how much cheaper it is to upgrade your character with 2K’s Virtual Currency (think experience points). In 2K13, I felt that the mode’s progress was akin to JRPG-like grinding. You had to play pretty much 3 full games just to upgrade a trait such as 3-point shooting by 2 points. So it’s nice to see that upgrading a skill by 10 points only costs around 750-900 VC as opposed to having to accumulate 1,800 VC to put dunking up by 2 points. How you earn VC remains the same though. It’s still based around how well you do all the little and big things on the court, and it’s still as addicting as ever. Aside from the so-so story (but weirdly entertaining one at that), MyCareer is the same mode at its core. You play an NBA showcase game, get interviewed by a couple GMs, get drafted by a team not of your choosing, and so on.
MyGM replaces the Association mode and NBA 2K is better for it. There seems to be a lot more of aspects that you can control. While some things such as coaching and staff management are arbitrarily and questionably locked (not being able to adjust your lineup from the get-go is beyond me) until you spent the required VC, it’s still satisfying beefing up your portfolio. You not only have to manage your team’s chemistry and morale, but you have to be aware of the entire organization. That means setting ticket and concessionaire prices in order to bring in as much profit as possible, negotiating contract extensions and free agent signings, and even scouting. The main core of MyGM (ex-Association) remains rather untouched but is injected with a wealth of options that hardcore NBA’ers are bound to eat up.
Rounding out the modes are MyTeam and NBA Today. MyTeam is the card-based MyGM mode, if you will, and I have never really gotten into it. I just personally found acquiring star players ,or at least decent players, too time-taxing. I guess if you like having a shuffled up assortment of scrub players as a team, then you’d get a kick out of it but I personally never found it compelling.
NBA Today is the Play Now/Quick Play substitute. What immediately stands out is how official highlights from NBA.com play in the background and the daily scoreboard of actual NBA games is displayed via stock exchange style.
Online is still solid and provides some nail-biting excitement/frustration but I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the input lag. The only new mode introduced is the 100-player Park mode. No, it’s not 50 vs. 50 basketball. Think of it as a massive queue until it’s your turn to get in on the 5 vs. 5 streetball action. It’s neat the first time around but I won’t hold it against you to not make a return trip.
Finally, the gameplay, as it is for pretty much all sports titles, is largely untouched but finely tuned. Momentum and footing play a larger part this time around and it forces you to really cut down on bad steal attempts or poor block attempts — you don’t want Chris Paul taking advantage of your defensive impatience. Probably the biggest change, like it is every year, are the right stick adjustments. You no longer have to hold on to R2 to shoot with the stick. Doing so now enables a point guard or a good-passing 2 or 3 to execute a flashy pass. It takes a little time to hone in on in but man, it becomes a real treat to execute a sweet behind-the-back pass to Dwight Howard for the throwdown.
Just thinking about how superbly executed NBA 2K14 is this year, and on a brand new console, is scary. I can’t even fathom what this team will be able to pull off next year as more time is spent with the new behemoths that are the PS4 and Xbox One. I mean, can James Harden’s beard get more beardy than it already is? No matter what the answer to that question is, there’s no uncertainty that NBA 2K14 reigns supreme over its competitors and when I say competitors, I don’t just mean NBA Live, I mean all sports games. The near-perfected gameplay, bevy of options, and reference-quality graphics ensure that this is a must-buy when you pick up your shiny new box.
This review is based on the Playstation 4 version of the game.
NBA 2K14's reference-quality graphics, intricately animated gameplay, and massive time-sinking game modes allows Visual Concepts to posterize the competition.