I have the ball at the top of the key — I’m James Harden. I have a breadth of options at my disposal. Do I alley-oop it to Dwight Howard? Do I unleash a spin move and take it to the hole? Oh, I know! I’m going to do a crossover followed by a step-back J’ so I can revel in the glory of hearing nothing but net! Okay, so all I have to do is swing the right stick in the correct motions to pull off the moves a la BounceTek. Hm, the defense is going to be tough…wait, the defenders are just standing around? Okay, I guess my teammates and I will take advan — oh, they’re idle, too? Maybe the AI — and hopefully the graphics — will improve on the next-gen version. Oh, this is the next-gen version? Welcome to NBA Live 14.
As a massive fan of hardwood action (erm, basketball, that is), I was ecstatic beyond belief when NBA Live was announced to make its return this fall. The NBA 2K series has been so dominant for so long now that there’s always been the risk of the franchise resting on its laurels. Live‘s comeback was to be a legitimate contender for the throne, challenging the NBA 2K franchise and itself, making both games better through competition. Well, talk about falling flat on your face, tripping yourself and the entire team as it tries to make its entrance. This comeback has literally done nothing but show us how supreme NBA 2K14 is. At least the menu has pretty pictures though.
Speaking of pretty pictures, NBA Live is the antithesis of anything pretty. Actually, I take that back. As a hypothetical PS3/360 game, it looks pretty good. The problem is that this decent-on-current-gen version doesn’t exist. So, as a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game, the graphics are overwhelmingly lacklustre and undeniably disappointing. Player models look far too plastic, lacking textures on both their skins and jerseys. Then there’s the animation that’s stiffer than James Deen on a good night. Dunks haven’t been this lifeless since the PS1. They lack any power whatsoever. Replays are also big fat duds with cameras set way too far from the action, almost as if they knew how just un-sexy NBA Live 14 is. As mentioned before, the menus are actually pretty thanks to high-res photos of your favorite team, but that’s literally the only area where it trumps NBA 2K14. Round of applause, please.
The commentary and analysis by Jeff Van Gundy, Mike Been, and Jalen Rose are on the same level as the graphics, if not worse. I’ve never heard more flatly delivered, bare-bones written commentary in a long-ass time. It’s painfully obvious when analysis is triggered, especially when taking into account how much more colorful and natural NBA 2K14 sounds. Don’t be surprised by the frequency in which the team with the ball turns it over and the commentators praise your so-called defense when all you did was watch the ball handler walk out of bounds right in front of you as you did nothing. Not even the ESPN touches save the game’s presentation — not in the least bit.
The gameplay boils down to functional boredom. By that I mean the gameplay is, for the most part, solid, but man it’s just not fun to play. The weak presentation definitely makes it harder to have a long session but the main reason why it’s a drag is the on-court action. The Live-signature dribbling stick (the right analog stick) works as well as I remember from the franchise’s heyday, and with a modifier button it’s more flexible than it ever has been. Unfortunately, opponent AI and shot timing cancel out the good that the dribble stick brings. Jump shots seem to go in or out at random due to confounding timing too. You’ll have no idea if the release was too late or early and that’s if you can even get a shot off.
Guards like Stephen Curry or Jose Calderon, who have no business blocking jumpers when playing face defense, will average about 4 blocks a game. Blocking jump shots is stupidly easy and getting your jumper blocked is even more ludicrously frequent. Teammate and opposition AI all act the same — they don’t. Go ahead and dribble the ball up the court as Mario Chalmers and stop at the top of the key. Everything just freezes, huh? Why Lebron James and Dwayne Wade move around as much as an ice sculpture is beyond me. It doesn’t help that controlling the players doesn’t feel good either. I just can’t let go as to how archaic NBA Live 14 animates. At least calling plays on offense and defense is a breeze, so there’s that for what it’s worth.
Rounding out the poor package are the surprisingly well-rounded game modes that have all been lifted from the 2K series. You have the MyCAREER, MyTEAM, and MyGM modes from 2K that have been renamed Rising Star, Ultimate Team, and Dynasty mode, respectively. Rising Star is essentially the NBA 2K12 edition of MyPlayer. Not a terrible thing but after seeing a more innovative MyCAREER in 2K14, it feels lacking. My biggest gripe with the mode is that you get docked performance points for missing shots. Like, what the fuck, am I supposed to go 100% from the field? Not even Jordan or Chamberlain accomplished that.
Dynasty mode is pretty much on par with MyGM but falls short due to shitty presentation and lifeless gameplay. Ultimate Team seems to actually be a little more fair and intuitive than 2K‘s MyTEAM but, again, it’s hard to find reason to come back to this mode when you’ll want to play the other two more. The only game mode I found somewhat exciting were the Big Moments challenges. Those take key moments in daily NBA games (like drilling Russell Westbrook’s game-winner against the Warriors) and puts you in control, tasking you to meet the feat. The biggest drawback of this mode is that as soon as I actually started playing a Big Moment, I would keep wishing that NBA 2K14 was in possession of the really neat mode.
NBA Live 14 is a huge disappointment for hoop fans and an even bigger letdown when you take into consideration that the game had more than enough time to develop. I may seem harsh on the game but it’s kind of hard to be nice to a title where the producer, Sean O’Brien, issued an official apology for the game’s far less than stellar quality. I was one of those hopefuls who thought EA Sports was really dedicated to putting out a 2K-killer when they kept cancelling their comebacks in order to make a high-quality title. Clearly I was dead wrong. At best, this game is mediocre and like its cover athlete and his team, it’s nothing but disappointment.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided.
NBA Live 14 muscles its way to the top of the list as the worst next-gen launch title. The competition has nothing on its significantly subpar visuals, paltry commentary and incredibly stiff gameplay.