Source: USA TODAY
For the past four years, NBA 2K has dominated the pro basketball video game landscape unopposed. During that stretch, the franchise has jockeyed to become one of the best sports series available.
It delivered video game players Michael Jordan in his prime, strong enhancements to its bevy of career modes and other small but important touches. But for the first time since 2009, NBA 2K gets a competitor in the form of NBA Live 14, the oft-delayed and maligned franchise from Electronic Arts.
So is this the year 2K Sports’ franchise, NBA 2K14, will finally meet stiff competition?
Here’s a breakdown of NBA 2K14 and NBA Live 14 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (and if you missed it, our review of NBA 2K14 for PS3 and Xbox 360).
Score: 3.5 out of 4
No third-party video game has benefited more from the upgrade to PS4 and Xbox One than NBA 2K14. Now, it’s silky smooth gameplay is complemented by stunning new visuals.
Developers at 2K continue to blur the line between reality and game with incredible digital renditions of pro players from LeBron James to Nerlens Noel.
It’s not enough that players look nearly identical to their real-world counterpart. They’re expressive. Kings star DeMarcus Cousins grimaces and thrusts his hands up in exasperation after a foul call, while Thunder guard Russell Westbrook roars emphatically after a monster dunk. Graphically speaking, the differences between next-generation and current-gen versions of the game are night and day.
The on-court action veterans have come to expect remains. Characters flow gracefully across the court, whether it’s to back down a defender in the post or cross them up at the top of the key. Animations string together effortlessly, capturing pro basketball games beautifully. And it’s the attention to detail that makes NBA 2K14 so fun. Like previous years, each athlete has their own unique way of shooting that players must study, so Kevin Durant’s shot will vary greatly compared to someone like Kevin Martin.
As for new features, the big one is MyGM Mode, a twist on Franchise mode dedicated toward becoming the league’s top general manager. After players create a GM and start a season, they meet with their owner to review expectations. Success or failure will sway the owner’s trust in your abilities. GMs level up as well, earning bonuses such as improved negotiating tactics on trades or the ability to tinker with lineup rotations. If a trade is in the works, virtual GMs may have to respond to questions about trade rumors.
As far as features, it’s not as robust as what’s available for the PS3 or Xbox 360, but it has the most important elements such as franchise and superstar driven modes. NBA 2K14 can sit on its throne comfortably.
NBA Live 14
Score: 2 out of 4
The fact that EA got this game on to store shelves — after numerous delays and cancellations — seems like a feat in and of itself. What has materialized is a mediocre pro basketball product that should make basketball fans appreciate the little touches delivered by NBA Live’s more competent rival.
Issues with NBA Live 14 follow one theme: flow. In this game, there is none. Players awkwardly shift between movements, appearing almost robotic. A player goes up for a dunk and you notice that subtle lift in their jump as if they’ve been artificially thrust toward the rim. When going for rebounds, the player who jumps first wields a magnetic attraction to the ball. Everything about the game feels and looks unnatural. When watching players NBA Live 14, you can clearly see them transitioning between animations instead of moving like a normal person as they usually do in NBA 2K.
The big feature this season is BounceTek, which allows for greater control of the ball. Along with standard dribble moves performed with thumbstick gestures, players can modify those dribble for signature crossovers, spins or other evasive tactics. Similar to NBA 2K, NBA Live 14 features a pick-and-roll system where players hold a button to call for the screen then release when ready. So, if you want the player to quickly slip to the basket, you may hold the button down for a shorter time than if you want them to remain near the top of the key.
For the most part, the controls feel fine, but some moves seem easy to abuse, especially the Hop Step, which can clear room in the lane pretty quickly. The bigger problem is the game fails to show players how to use these controls outside of a manual. They’re more sophisticated than they appear, but players might never know since NBA Live 14 does a poor job of illustrating how they function. Prepare to play games and repeatedly pause to pick up new tricks.
In earlier releases, NBA Live had one advantage over NBA 2K: graphics. In the earlier days, the players often looked more lifelike in NBA Live. EA has ceded ground in that department, and now, it’s not even close. As with player movement, faces look stiff and lifeless.
Most of the bells and whistles of a sports game are available, including a Franchise mode and Rising Star, where players control the path of a NBA star. There are also really interesting mini-challenges linked to the real world NBA. For example, someone hits a buzzer beater the night before, and a player can try to recreate that moment in the video game.
Sure, technically, video game players have two pro basketball games to choose from. But it’s clear there’s only one choice.
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @bam923.