So. Basketball. I have to be honest it’s never been my first choice of sport to watch on TV, or my second or tenth. In fact other than play NBA 2K14 last year my experience of basketball is well, let’s say limited. For those here today that are in a similar situation the best way to explain it is that it’s a bit like Netball but without the short skirts.
Last year wasn’t a good year for the NBA Live franchise. A weak opening effort in the new generation coupled with an immense and in-depth NBA 2K14 meant that NBA Live 14 was quickly forgotten. As such EA have put a lot of effort into this years iteration but does it do enough?
Where the 2K franchise goes for almost strategic basketball simulator styled version of the game, where you have a dozen things to consider all at the same time in order to score in those remaining five seconds, NBA Live leans towards a more newbie friendly, fast paced arcade style. It’s very easy to pick up and play a few games but it soon becomes apparent that the arcade style may not be meant and instead it is down to a lack of depth when you actually start playing ball.
Dunks (jumping and smashing the ball into the hoop) and layups (jumping and rebounding the ball off the backboard into the hoop) are the easiest way to score but are also the easiest thing to exploit when desperate for points or for building a lead. As per other EA Sports games this year, defending against an opponent (AI or human) charging through the court to the score zone is incredibly difficult to defend against. It may just be me but I also randomly would activate animations and movements that meant my ball carrier would be rooted to the spot instead of passing resulting in attempting a shot that has about 0.0000056% chance of going through the hoop. This makes the whole teamwork aspect null and void in the matches.
Maybe it’s just me coming from a FIFA background in my time with EA Sports titles but fouls felt random. I’m not expecting my 7foot 10 giant to come in for a sliding tackle but on many occasions I spammed the steal button for nothing other a short animation of my controlled player leaning towards the ball carrier a couple of times whereas occasionally I would run past the ball carrier and a foul be called. When the AI “drives to the hoop” seems to create an abnormal amount of fouls. Stand in the attackers way – FOUL. Try to stop the ball from getting to the hoop – FOUL. Do nothing and let the attacker run into you – FOUL. Get out of the way and let the other team score – no foul, but isn’t the idea to stop them when you are defending. It’s not all bad as the same things happen when you are attacking as well.
Shooting mechanics however are timing based and every player has the exact same release point so it is very easy to get a feel for when you should be releasing the ball into the air. The main problem with the shooting is you never have to use it due to the difference between shots and dunks. Why make things harder for yourself by attempting a skilful shot when you could just run into the hoop and either dunk or be fouled?
This is the story of the online game, whether the timing of shots is harder due to lag (not that I saw any lag running a 5meg connection) but in over 10 online games not once did my opponents attempt a shot preferring to run in and get fouled. When I attempted a shot I am assuming that the steal button was spammed continuously by the amount of sudden leaning the defenders were doing. Either this or I am just really bad at this game online. Online can also be entertaining listening to your opponent taunt you. Where I normally play Call of Duty to mind out what my mum has been up to since the last time I saw her, NBA Live players seem more caring about their opponents. One player continuously asked “you mad bro?” every time he scored a dunk in his pre-pubescent tone. It wasn’t even annoying after the 40th dunk of the game.
Outside the standard season mode there is “Rising Star” where you create a player and attempt to rise up from a nobody to the biggest superstar in the world. There are 13 different styles you can adopt and after you play each game you are graded on your chosen style; you are then given points to spend on various skills dependent on how well you were graded. This is fun as you can build your player to suit your own strengths, or weaknesses. The problem is that it never feels THAT rewarding. Simple text messages announce milestones such as becoming an all-star player and winning the championship felt anti-climatic at best.
Like most EA Sports titles, Ultimate Team makes an appearance and is a nice distraction form playing the other modes but I never truly got into it in NBA Live. FIFA and Madden I spent at least £30 on purchasing packs for this mode but the thought of buying packs in NBA Live never even crossed my mind. The more I think about it though, maybe it was the lack of true understanding of the game or its history which caused me to feel like this. Would I have spent that amount in FIFA if I had no knowledge of the game? Would I be delighted to get a David Luiz card in a pack? (Actually I probably would as he looks like sideshow bob) in which case I would recommend this section to NBA fans but very few others.
Dynasty Mode is the managerial version of Rising Star and again suffers from the same negatives in that achievements lack the fanfare of the actual situation. There are a few other modes that coincide with the NBA season, this ranges from challenges such as changing history or emulating a result from the previous night but as a non-fan of the sport this took on the role of weekly challenge rather me feeling part of the NBA.
The stadiums look nice, however the same can’t be said for the crowd with repetition of models clearly seen often. We know that dynamic crowds are possible in this generation as it has been done multiple times by multiple developers so there really isn’t any excuse for this these days. However this isn’t game breaking by a long shot. What does take you out of the immersion fully is the commentary, it feels lucklustre, drab and pretty much phoned in. Hell at times I thought certain words were pasted into multiple sentences ala poor voice recognition software.
Is NBA Live 15 up to the challenge of other basketball games? I think it is clear from the above that it is not. However damning I have been in this review it’s not a bad game it just has lots of niggles and nuances that takes away that immersion of being in the game. One aspect of the game being over powered is not a hard fix and could easily be patched out of this iteration let alone wait until the next. Making the career modes more worthwhile and rewarding isn’t a hard aspect to implement either and neither is dynamic arenas and commentary for that matter.
I have mentioned FIFA a few times in this review but NBA Live seems to be in a similar situation FIFA was in a few years ago when PES was the far superior game. It wasn’t that FIFA was a bad game, it was just PES was much much better. EA Sports focussed on what was wrong and turned it around about five years ago. If they do the same with the NBA Live franchise next year 2K will certainly have a battle on their hands.
MLG Rating: 5/10 Format: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One Release Date: 28/10/2014
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of NBA Live 15 by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 1 week on a PlayStation 4. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.