The NBA Live series has been on hiatus for a few years now and the last installment, NBA Live 10, was a playable game that was on par with its rival from the 2K series, albeit slightly less appealing overall. Developer EA Tiburon took over the NBA Live reigns from EA Canada, and honestly, it doesn’t feel like they ever truly got a hold of them.
NBA Live 14 is a playable, and serviceable game, with no real issues as far as crashing or glitching. Player design and detail aren’t quite fitting of the next gen tag, but have some fluid lifelike movements that look impressive at times. The detail of the court, the refs, and even the lucky fans sitting court side aren’t too shabby (even though these fans are duplicated quite a bit), but step beyond those high-dollar seats, and the crowd becomes blurry and reminiscent of even older generations of gaming consoles.
NBA Live brings with it a Rising Star mode so you can try to create a legacy of greatness through your own NBA career. When creating your player, there’s not much you can do to make this player ‘your own’ so to speak. You have twenty heads to choose from, with no ability to attempt to make him look like you. I couldn’t even find a hair color option. Be warned, if you opt for a head band you won’t even have hair. I wasn’t aware of this, but in the NBA only bald people wear head bands. The creation mode itself feels thrown in and completely unfinished, unpolished, and uninspired. On the other hand, you can have tattoos in eight different locations, including the other hand. I’m really not sure why there was such a focus on tattoos, but no focus at all on trying to make the player at least faintly resemble you. This being next gen, why not have the ability to import an actual picture of yourself?
Once you’ve created your future super star, you’ll be strutting your stuff in the EA Sports Draft Showcase and be graded on almost every aspect of your game. You’ll also be matched up with a key rival from the opposing team who you’ll be graded alongside. Grading can be very harsh and unforgiving, as well as hit and miss. Let’s say you are driving to the bucket and draw a foul. You’ll earn no points for the foul and no points if you hit the free throws, but you’ll lose points for missing the shot in the first place because of the foul. Ball movement and team play in the NBA is the key to getting open looks, and you are rewarded for passing, but if you do miss an open look, even one you created with great team play and passing, you’ll lose points.
One positive note for the Rising Star mode is that playing time can be guaranteed. You can turn off substitutions for your rising star in the settings for that star, so you can be on the floor for every dribble and shot. Fatigue can also be turned off if you never want to get tired, but even with that turned off I’ve noticed that players seem to miss more and more the longer they are in the game. As you play through each game you’ll earn Rising Star Points (RSP) which can be spent on upgrading a wide variety of attributes like rebounding, free throw shooting, lay-ups, etc. These points spend quickly, so a well thought out plan is probably the best way to go, based on your style of play.
All of these neat little features are all dependent on one thing to make the game truly successful: the gameplay. Driving to the hoop and dunking on a big man like Tim Duncan should be the greatest feeling ever, and it felt pretty good the first time, but after five or six times in the first half alone, with several different players while playing on the Pro setting, just doesn’t seem right. It seems like the majority of the players have the exact same mechanics on a lay-up, with little to know variance in their steps. Want to get around just about anyone’s defense, regardless of who they are and who you are playing as? Use the right stick for a nice dribble behind the back and spin move and you got it. Lanes have never opened so easy.
The game has a lot of potential, but without a practice mode to jump into and try out all of the different plays and in-game features, trial and error is the only way to learn the nuances of a somewhat complex game. It’s not a difficult game to learn, but having a true practice mode would really help with the learning curve when all you’ve played for the past three years was game after game of the outstanding 2K franchise. The fancy footwork options and maneuvers are pretty cool, but trying to learn them with Tony Parker in your face makes it a little dicey. Once again the game felt unfinished, unpolished, and uninspired. Why have all of these cool little features with no tutorial or training area to teach you how to use them?
One of my personal favorite features from EA’s Madden series is the Madden Ultimate Team where you play using sports cards mixed and matched from your favorite players and teams. Everyone and everything has its own card, including coaches, uniforms, stadiums, etc. NBA Live 14 imports that feature into its own game and pulls it off nicely. I haven’t purchased any extra packs, but EA has announced that there are NBA legends included in there somewhere. There aren’t any available from the main game, though and that’s a big disappointment.
With the NBA season fresh and in full swing, we come to what is the best and the most shining feature for NBA Live 14. Let’s say you are a fan of the Kings and DeMarcus Cousins pulls off a buzzer beater three to win the game on Monday. Fire up NBA Live 14 on Tuesday morning and you just might be able to replay that buzzer beater over and over, making that last second shot yourself, in-game. These are called Big Moments and are taken directly from real world games. I’m writing this review on the 19th of November and I can already take on a challenge that happened last night in Chicago with Luol Deng icing their win with a 3 pointer against the Bobcats. The challenges are added to daily so you’ll have something new to look forward to often.
NBA Live 14 isn’t a broken or unplayable game, it’s just not in the same league as the 2K series yet. There is a lot of potential, and I can see this franchise playing catch-up and creating a comparable game in the next year or two, but it does have a ways to go. Maybe think of it as a sophomore in college that needs to learn the skills to make it in the NBA. He had a great high school career, but isn’t quite ready for the jump to the NBA.
While I haven’t had the chance to play the final release for NBA 2K14 on the PS4, I did review NBA 2K13 for the PS3 and would strongly suggest, if you are in the market for a great NBA game and haven’t bought a PS4 yet, forgo NBA Live 14 and just pick up NBA 2k13 used somewhere. NBA 2K14 released for the PS3 already, and our staff review lets you know it’s really just a season refresher without much for new bells and whistles. Stay tuned for our PS4 NBA 2K14 review as that version should feed your need for a slam dunk for the next gen.