NBA Live 14 is back and looking to steal the baketball crown from 2K Sports. Does it sink a three and produce the goods, or does it hit the rim and come up short? Read on to find out.
Game: NBA Live 14
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: Electronic Arts
The last time the NBA 2K series had some competition was way back in 2009 when EA released NBA Live 10 on the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. Since then, the series has had many off-the-court problems, with the once touted “2K killer” NBA Elite 11 being shown off and then being banished into a dark hole. Four years on, EA Tiburon has taken over the reigns, charged with breathing new life back into the once respectable series.
One thing the NBA Live 14 had to get right from the off was the foundations, replicating the essence of the basketball in the best way possible through the gameplay. It’s disappointing then that NBA Live 14 falls very hard at the first hurdle. When I sampled a small portion of the game (half court and taking control of one player) at E3 this year I came away with high hopes that the series could get back to its best. The final product seems to have gone backwards in a big way. With factors like 10 players, the crowd, lighting and AI thrown into the mix, it seems like EA just weren’t able to deliver.
NBA Live 14’s gameplay is a complete disaster. A total mess. Player movement is sluggish, making even the most nimble playing like Dwayne Wade feel like a complete chore to control. The superstars in the NBA are pure athletes, yet in NBA Live 14 they feel about as agile as an oil tanker on an ice rink. You can make space by using the right stick to do tricks, but because the players feel so unresponsive it feels like you’re fighting with the game rather than actually enjoying what is in front of you. Not only are the user controlled players on court a mess but the AI ones too. On more than one occasion I noticed players just randomly standing off the court. The constant blocks and turnovers was another issue I came across, ruining the flow of the game. Yes, blocks and turnovers happen in the NBA, but not at the frequency that I saw in Live 14. The shooting and passing mechanics aren’t too bad, but both felt very basic when compared to 2K’s right stick control method. There’s no real variation and the feedback you get is weak at best.
From a graphical and audio standpoint, I’m afraid to say that NBA Live 14 is very hit and miss. It’s is a very poor looking game when you consider that it’s running on the console powerhouses that are the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox One. When compared to NBA 2K14 on the latest hardware, it’s like night and day in favour of 2K14. NBA Live 14 is meant to be showing off its technical prowess, but it’s just bland, filled with bugs that include clipping and frame rate problems tied together with extremely poor animations. The arenas that feature in the NBA are replicated well, but lack that “next-gen” polish. Player models are very basic and the crowd looks particularly poor when the camera zooms into them. What’s present seems more suited to the PS3 and Xbox 360; it doesn’t do the PS4 and Xbox One justice at all. This should have been one of EA’s standout titles in the graphics department, but in reality it looks like an upscaled previous gen title. The lack of polish and graphical impact is absent in such a huge way that it would be completely understandable if you thought you were looking at a five year old game.
The audio featured in NBA Live 14 is one of the game’s strong points. While the commentary duo of Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen can become repetitive, their chatter is quite enjoyable and decent enough to bring an authentic vibe to the game. Crowd audio is fantastic for the most part, even if I noticed a few instances where the noise from the crowd stopped completely. Complimenting the in-game audio is a great soundtrack that gives NBA Live 14 an edgy and urban feel. EA are normally very strong when it comes to the soundtracks used in their sports titles and nothing has changed here. The other compliment I can give NBA Live 14 is related to its “tile-like” menu system. Clean, modern, a great visual look and easy to navigate, it’s one of the game’s few positives. The one thing that I’ve never really grown fond of in NBA 2K series is its somewhat confusing menu system, so this is one area that EA Tiburon has nailed here.
NBA Live 14 has a raft of options and modes for you to get involved in, but each one becomes stale very quickly due to the poor gameplay. The NBA Ultimate Team mode could have been such a huge success like its counterpart FIFA, but it’s so stripped back that it feels unfinished. There’s no auction house and no way of buying/selling players, so you’re just left to gamble with card packs. Really EA? Other modes like NBA Rewind (lets you replay every game of the current NBA season) and Big Moments (challenge mode that asks you to complete a task like scoring 60% or more 3 pointers in a 5 minute period) are just downright boring. You can’t help but think EA should’ve focused on getting the gameplay right first rather introduce these modes. Anyway, the main mode within NBA Live 14 is the Rising Star mode. It’s essentially following the formula of FIFA’s Be A Pro mode and is decent enough, but lacks the depth to keep you engaged for multiple hours.
I’ll break it down a little, the Rising Star mode sees you create a player from a very limited database. Once you have chosen your position in the team and the playing style you want to adopt, you’re then randomly drafted to a fully developed NBA franchise. After being selected you embark on your journey to become a star of the NBA. You performance are rated via an on-court grading system, with points you earn being used to upgrade skills and abilities. In my case, I was drafted for the Indiana Pacers and after selected pretty much immediately. What surprised me next was the fact that I was selected as a first choice SF ahead of the established Paul George. It’s like a rookie coming in for Barcelona and replacing Messi. Weird. Once you are out on court the frustration levels rise dramatically as the grading system heavily criticises everything you do. The systems seems to be more interested in punishing you than anything else. That’s not even the biggest issue because on the whole the mode just feel extremely detached from everything else in NBA Live 14. It’s all over the place and, much like the rest of the game, feels incredibly rushed.
With so many issues hampering NB Live 14’s showcase modes, the enjoyment and realism factors go out of the window pretty early on. Even exhibition matches are a chore to play thanks to the poor gameplay. It doesn’t get any better with the online side of things as matches are filled with lag and, for the most part, unresponsive. I tried several times to find a smooth and somewhat enjoyable online match, but gave up in the end after getting frustrated.
NBA Live 14 could’ve been one of the biggest combacks in sporting video game history, but due to a lack of polish, horrid gameplay mechanics and poor visuals (arguably the worst looking launch title) it falls flat on the court gasping for breath. I had such high hopes for it, but it seems like NBA Live 14 was released a year too early. If EA want to revive the series then they need to act fast as it’s very much on its last legs.