The NBA 2K series did something very few series could even contemplate – call it like how you want, but the 2K series pretty much drove EA’s basketball series into a sabbatical. EA is bringing LIVE back, but it has an Everest to climb if it is going to succeed. Sport games seemed to have mostly gone in the ‘sim’ direction, and this is where the NBA 2K series shines, offering such a realistic depiction of the sport. NBA 2K14 does so better than the previous games in so many ways; delivering the smoothest, most fluid and realistic gameplay the series has seen to date.Developer: 2K Games Publisher: 2K Distributor: Megarom Reviewed on: Xbox 360 Also available on: Playstation 3, Playstation 4 (forthcoming), Xbox One (forthcoming) If we had to give it a numerical score: 9.6/10
What I liked
- New animations
- Pro-Stick better than ever
- Gameplay smoother than ever
- Euro League
Not so much
- I miss the music videos
Gameplay and Features
How do you make something close to perfect even better? Ask 2K. I am talking strictly about the gameplay here, and I use the term “perfect” a little loosely. I have adored the NBA 2K series since coming across it a few short years ago. NBA 2K13 was officially my favourite sport game in three decades of sport-game fanaticism. I enjoyed EA basketball games which tended to focus on the sexier side of basketball. The EA basketball games played easy and were full of flashy dunks and blocks. The 2K series is more for the sim fan, and represents a “basketball match” more realistically.
When 2K introduced the dribbling to the Pro-Stick, it was like the heavens opened up for me. The gameplay felt smoother, more technical than ever before – technical being the series’ calling card. So last year’s game was just about perfect. I say “just about”
I was really expecting just a re-skin this year, as the series bows out from this generation. I mean us basketball fans would’ve been happy enough just getting Howard and Harden at the Rockets and the Pierce, Garnett combo at the Nets, with Jason Kidd coaching. But the new rosters is not all 2K is offering this year, not by a long shot. As a matter of fact, I needed to go into the tutorial after 15 minutes of my first game. The Pro-Stick was doing new things, and the old pick-and-roll mechanics (hit the LB to call the screen) was bringing up new options. NBA 2K14 actually features a hell of lot of new gameplay elements. The Alley has changed as well as few others.
Firstly the Pro-Stick has received tweaking in many departments, from shooting to defending to passing. Everything feels a little more accurate, a little more intuitive. Another major improvement I noticed as I played with my favourites was the defence. Blocking and stealing has been improved upon, if you playing with the correct players that is. So Howard blocks like a mad-man and I got more clean steals with Lin this year than with 2K13. There’s more to the defence now, helping you hustle a little closer of defence.
The only major adjustment I needed to make was the basic pick-and-roll. I must admit, I did like just simply holding in the bumper-button to call for a screen with 2K13. The LB button now brings up the ‘Smart Play’ system, and calling for a screen is done with B. This took a bit of getting used to, as did a few other changes. The Smart Play lets 2K’s decide what play would best suit that situation, and guides you on how to pull it off. So players will be guided by where to position themselves, and run the play, highlighting who you should pass to and so on. This took me some time to get used to because my basketball “language” is just not that comprehensive, I often keep things simple – simple post up moves, give and go moves and so on. I did notice that the AI is sharper than before, and that’s in a series which I believe has the best AI in sport games. The AI could often work out that I was positioning a player for a screen or looking for space etc. The AI is simply staggering, which makes the offline modes totally enjoyable. It challenges you. If you drop a few buckets, you can find the match slipping away. You could have a decent game and still loose. This for me is very unlike my experience with other sport games where I usually find a way to exploit and dominate against the AI.
The fans asked and 2K delivered – Crews is back. You can face off against other crews online using your MyPLAYER. I never played the NBA 2K games that featured this mode, but it has given me a reason to develop MyPLAYER, which I was never really interested in doing so before. The Crew mode is awesome really. You can get a crew together or get invited into crews for 5v5 battles, competing on leaderboards. The only problem is that it is proving to be a bit of a mission from my spot in the world. I am the only one on my friends list playing NBA 2K14 (sadly) so I’m not exactly hot in demand.
Also new, whilst connected to 2K servers, is the Dynamic Living Rosters which affects your in-game players’ performance as their stats are modified according to their real-life performance. The only problem I can foresee with this for me is that I have certain favourites, and I will be depending on their non-virtual halves to perform.
Other modes include the regular vast line-up of offline and online modes that featured in the previous game, with the exception of the Euroleague and the special LeBron career mode. The Euroleague is actually a pretty skilled league and it offers some different styles of playing, to a certain degree. Besides, the Euroleague has actually been a happy hunting ground for NBA teams for some time now. I am more than happy to give a few seasons to the Euroleague, a mode that I hope returns in future games. The LeBron career is another worthy offline mode, where you can play as him through his career, much like the Jordan one of two years ago. You will need to decide and influence whether he stays with the Heat, or make some surprise team changes. Like the Jordan offering, this is interesting and should grip you for awhile.
Sound and Visuals
There is only one aspect of last year’s game that was better than this year’s. It was Executive Produced by Jay Z which meant a sublime soundtrack, and those awesome music videos during the loading screens. I’m not even a Rap or Rn’B fan, yet I could appreciate that the selected tracks were the best of the best. This year King James got to pick the track-list. It is nice, very nice, including some of the year’s biggest tracks from the biggest of artists, but man, I miss those music videos.
In terms of gameplay, the visual Improvements are considerable. The players’ animations and motions are quite a bit more realistic, smoother, flowing more naturally or true to reality. 2K is actually boasting the implementation of 3000 new animations, and after a few hours, it is noticeable that a lot has been improved on. There’s more player likeliness in dunks for example, where certain players dunk with their unique certain style, more so than with the previous game. There’s more dunks, lay-up and shot types in general with 2K14. I can think of few other games that portray their real-life sports as realistically. It’s only with close-ups on players where you notice its pixels and not actual footage. Even the presentation and commentary heavily contribute in fine detail to the authenticity of it all.
To sum up for the NBA 2K fan, the only thing I disliked about last year’s game was those odd moments with the gameplay – an example I can think of is driving towards the basket, clearly thinking of a lay-up, and if I picked the “wrong” direction on the pro-stick, the player would go into an awkward jump-shot, unnaturally so because the player was too close to the basket. With NBA 2K14 this has all been smoothed out, the player in that situation would get his footwork down correctly, more smoothly, and probably go into a lay-up. The players’ animations in general have been vastly improved and the gameplay is more crisp, more true-to-life and ultimately rewarding.
For the casual sport game fan, if you are looking for a 5-on-5 NBA JAM, this is not it. NBA 2K14 makes you work for dunks and blocks. However it also makes poetry of the more simple things – going around the rim to lay-up, a perfectly executed post move. It is about basketball in its entirety, and it does so better than any before it. If you have had any love for the sport, I encourage you to pick up a copy, go straight into the tutorial, learn and learn some more… and then, enjoy THE most convincing sport simulation available.
Read about our ratings here.