NBA Live 15 Review – Taking It to the Rim With Authority (PS4)

The NBA Live franchise stumbled back onto the scene last year and really wasn’t ready for prime time. EA could have taken that criticism and done one of two things: Ignore it and just keep turning out a mediocre game (all the while still raking in some dough) or they could have taken it to heart and rebuilt the franchise from the ground up. Lucky for us they took the latter approach.

Learn the Game Quickly

Upon starting the game for the the first time, you’ll be introduced to the game’s tutorial mode called “Learn Live.” This will load up while the game is still installing so you won’t have to wait long to get started on your drills. This is spread out across five areas of gameplay and, if you are accustomed to playing another NBA game, you’ll want to go through all of these drills to make the transition to NBA Live successful. The cover athlete Damian Lillard is there to talk you through the different tutorials and is very informative and helpful with his commentary.

Starting out with the basics of a shot not only introduces you to the shooting mechanics, but also to the round meter that is on the floor by your feet and provides useful information. Here you’ll see your fatigue level, shot quality meter, and how well you are defended, all color coded to help assist you in making a decision to shoot or pass. Timing your shot release is key to getting those balls to swish, and being early or late can turn that rock into a brick. I did notice that the timing for free-throws is a little faster, and requires an earlier release than say a three-ball, but after some practice those free-throws started dropping in a manner that seemed appropriate.

Dribbling, passing, scoring, and your Post game are all taught using these tutorials, and I spent quite a bit of time learning those post moves. If you want to play as a big man in the NBA, you’ll need to master the art of the post and these tutorials really help in that regard. Clicking R3 when covered will have your guy turn his back to the defender and start your post situation. You can bump and shoot if you are close enough to the hoop for an easy jumper, or pull a spin move and drive to the hoop and go for the dunk or lay-up. I found myself doing quite a few hook shots as that is an effective move for when a defender is taller than you.

As a point guard you’ll probably find the offensive screen to be an effective tool. While at the perimeter, press L2 and one of your guys will come up and create a screen for you. From here you can either use that screen to drive to the hoop or go for the alley-oop with the guy that was creating your screen. He’ll make a mad dash to the hoop once you left off of L2 and if you press circle, you’ll make a lob pass in the air for him to jam. Either way it’s an effective way to get a bucket for two points. All in all, the hands-on tutorial is the place to start your NBA Live experience and skipping it should not be an option. Once completed you can also start a scrimmage with a full squad or just do some solo shoot around practice to get a feel for your release timing.


Stepping Up the Graphics, Animations, and Contact

Once the game is finished installing, and you’ve finished the tutorials, you’ll get to play an NBA Finals preview between the Cavaliers, now guided by Lebron James, and the OKC Thunder. Here you’ll get to see the improved graphics, improved animations, and improved player models. EA spent a large amount of time scanning player’s head across the league, and they are going to continue scanning as the season progresses. The facial and player animations for each player are so lifelike that several people thought I was watching an NBA pre-season game on TV. Only after they saw a controller in my hand did they realize it was a video game.

Player collisions are frequent in the NBA and EA focused quite a bit on that area. Driving to the hoop might get you a charging foul, but it can also send the defender sprawling to the floor and being called for flopping. Watching the replays between a drive where you are called for charging and then watching a drive where the defender gets called for flopping highlights the actual collision model and one can see the difference in contact and non-contact. They should have had Vlade Divac in the game just to show off this new rule as he was one of the greatest floppers ever.

The players aren’t the only things upgraded as the arenas and fans in the stands look lifelike as well. The hardwood is polished to a fine shine and the reflection of the bright lights highlights the action on the floor. The fans were created using many different models, and then spread out so as not to have duplicates too close together and their animations never feel like you’re watching synchronous crowd dancers. That might not be something you really care about, but for me I’ve never liked seeing two guys a few feet apart doing the exact same thing, and having them be twins makes the disconnect that much worse.


Jordan Rising Star

For those of you ready to start a virtual career in the NBA, Jordan Rising Star is ready and waiting.You can choose between five different main positions, each with its own sub-play styles to fit your own preferences. I like to stay in the action on every possession so being a point guard with a Slasher play style fits me well. Each play type changes your overall skill set and spreads your ratings out slightly differently so you might want to pay attention to the specific skills for each type and choose the one that fits your own personal style the best.

EA could have used their game Face 2.0 software for this mode but decided to wait until next year to possibly add that in. This is something I asked Sean O’Brian about previously and he couldn’t say if it would make it in next year but didn’t rule it out either. There are twenty different heads to choose from, though, so you can at least find one that you’ll feel comfortable with. The position you choose to play will determine what basic size your player will be. You wouldn’t see a seven-foot tall point guard so the game adjusts your options accordingly. You also have the option to choose shoes for home and away games. There are a whole slew of Jordans to choose from so picking your two favorites might be a tough proposition. Tattoos are keyed way down this time around as arm and shoulder tattoos are your only options.

Rising Star Gets You on the Floor Quickly

Once you have your guy ready to ball, you’ll be tossed into the Jordan Take Flight Showcase. Here you’ll showcase your skills and show the teams what you have to offer for the upcoming draft. You’ll be graded live as the game progresses so pay close attention to shot selection, your man on defense, and keep an eye out for teammates with open looks. An assist can help you just as much as a lay-up and might make you look even smarter to the teams that are evaluating you. Do well and you should be drafter as an early first rounder. Don’t feel bad if you are drafted by a non-contender though, as you’ll at least get inserted into the starting line-up right off with a team that needs help now versus a team that’s already stacked with super stars.

I was drafted tenth overall by Orlando and while they aren’t exactly a powerhouse in the East, they do need help at the point guard position. I was penciled in as a starter right off so warming the bench as a rookie was of no concern to me. If I wanted to watch the game I would have just bought a ticket and sat in the stands, instead I’m standing on the hardwood waiting for Vucevic to tap that tip-off in my direction. Now that’s how I want to start my NBA career. You’ll earn more and more minutes per game as you progress and do well, so if your game time is still under 35 minutes after a few games, maybe you need to focus on another area of your game play.

The same in-game grading system used in your showcase is also used in every game after. Your grade is reset to fifty at the start of each game and progresses depending on how you play. The grade can go in either direction, so allowing your man to score is not a good thing and costs you grade points. The game emphasizes making smart choices and rewards you accordingly. Assists are just as important as buckets, and knowing that helps you and your team in the long run. You’ll earn skill points based on how well you did in the previous game and then you can apply these points to areas that you need improved. While there’s really not much of a storyline to follow, there’s also no drama surrounding you and your team. There are news-bites you can read through that highlight you as you achieve major accomplishments, as well as news-bites about things happening around the league.


Plenty of Game Modes to Choose From

Rising Star is a great way to spend your time, and always adds a lot of replayability, but some folks like to get their hands dirty at every level of a team’s management. Dynasty mode gives you that as you’ll take over as the general manager of the team of your choice. You can choose a powerhouse that’s ready to compete or a lowly team that is in dire need of rebuilding. Scouting and draft choices become your best hope for rebuilding, while dealing with super-star contracts are for players on a powerhouse team is the key to continued success.

NBA Live Ultimate Team is a card based fantasy style mode where you can collect player cards from many different eras of the NBA and try to create the greatest team ever. Players are limited by games played so collecting contract extension cards become key to keeping your best team on the court. There are challenges to complete that unlock more card packs or you can purchase more packs either through credits earned in-game through fantasy match-ups or purchased through the PlayStation Store for as little as 99 cents for 100 points.

Live Seasons look to help keep you up to date with what’s going on in the real NBA by letting you replay recent key match-ups  in NBA Rewind or by repeating a players big time performance in Big Moments. Can you beat the Spurs with an overheated Lebron on the bench in the NBA Finals? This is an interesting mode that takes real time situations and lets you decide the outcome using your own skills.

Overall Gameplay is Great But Not Perfect

Gameplay on defense seemed a little lopsided as stealing or wasn’t too hard to pull off successfully. Some of that is based off of ratings and skill, but it still seemed a little too easy to pick someone’s pocket at the top of the key when they were just letting the shot clock run down. Blocking shots when you had a big man under the rim wasn’t too hard to pull off either against the CPU and both areas probably need to be tweaked with a patch. EA has already shown that they listen to their community and I’m sure will address our concerns pretty quick.


Transitioning between defense and offense happens quick in the NBA and NBA Live reflects that, but sometimes your guys will get to the other end of the court too fast. I have found myself in a full court press situation where I had no help on the wrong end of the court as all of my guys were waiting at the opposite end. Double teamed and no longer able to dribble, I tried a long pass that was easily picked off. On another occasion, the full court press and double team caused me to take too long to get across half court because no one came to help. This has been a rare occurrence but still is something that shouldn’t happen in any NBA game.

EA accepted the fact that NBA Live 14 was not a good game at launch but addressed many of the issues along its journey through that NBA season. The developer paid close attention to the complaints from the fans and took notes along the way, tweaking the game the best they could. It’s obvious that rebuilding from the ground up was not only the right thing to do, but the best thing to do for the franchise as a whole.

NBA Live 15 brings the franchise back onto the court with authority and takes the game successfully into the next generation of gaming. While the game isn’t perfect, it is clearly ready to take on all comers and creates a firm foundation for EA to build upon for years to come.

 Review copy was provided by the publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.

  • Improved graphics and player models
  • Player animations are top notch
  • Your Rising Star gets into the starting rotation quickly
  • If you like hip-hop, the soundtrack is great
  • Offensive spacing seems a bit cramped at times
  • Steals and blocks are fairly easy
  • Transitions can be a little too quick
  • If you don't like hip-hop, you'll turn off most of the songs