It has to be a record. This is the third NBA game I have reviewed this year, and it is NBA Live, a series that has been non-existent for the past four years. The last released game was NBA Live 2010 back in 2009. There was a demo for the renamed franchise, NBA Elite, dropped onto Xbox Live a couple years back, but it was cancelled and the demo removed post-haste. Well NBA Live 14 is here, and only on the new consoles. After spending ample time digging into what it has to offer, I can’t help but say it still could have used four more years in the making.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. NBA 2K14 is probably the best sports game released this year. It is incredible, and likely the best looking next gen game on the market. That said, NBA Live didn’t have to best it, it just had to compete, and instead it delivers a solid air-ball.
Things start off rocky as soon I got on the court. Game play just feels stiff and player movement feels delayed from my inputs. It isn’t fluid, and oftentimes I missed defensive coverage because my guy was off doing whatever he wanted, while I was trying to get up court. The signature mechanic for Live 14 is EA’s BounceTek dribbling system, which is as convoluted as it sounds. It takes an enormous amount of time to get it down, and with a lack of explanation, most people will likely not even know it exists.
Nothing is balanced either. Almost every shot is a dunk or layup regardless of the player. Jump shots are a rare occurrence, and when I attempt them, I usually end up getting blocked. There is so much inconsistency in the AI and game play that it never feels fun or organic. Once I learned how to exploit the play mechanics, it always ended up with whoever had the ball last, won the game.
The biggest issue with the game play for me though, is the fact that everything just feels off. Player animations last way too long, and I couldn’t input my next command until it finished. There is no buffer, which makes every action feel laggy. Oftentimes the moves I was executing were never recognized because the game refuses to acknowledge them until the current animation is finished. This makes for a frustrating experience up and down the court. There is little reason to stick with it and master the timing either, as most of the modes are just as lackluster.
Franchise mode, for example, is completely bare bones. Outside of being functional, it feels like the start of a franchise, not the latest iteration of it. Rising Star mode feels like it was mimicking 2K’s MyPlayer mode, but without the enjoyment. Everything I did seemed to cost my player points. It is like a brutal teacher in your toughest class. I hated doing it, and it punished me for even trying.
There are a couple bright spots. First is the Ultimate Team mode, which is lifted from other EA Sports titles. It is a carbon copy just using NBA players. It was also quite addicting once I got into it. The other cool feature is Big Moments, which is similar to Madden Moments. These are real-life instances that players get to live out and try to duplicate. The coolest part is that these are supposed to be added in real-time as they happen in the NBA. We will see how that pans out, but the idea is great.
As with any sports game there is also the option to hop online and share your miserable experience with other players. Sadly the online is a hot mess featuring clunky menus and some truly laggy game play. Combine that with the awkward animation system, and online matches usually devolved into me and my opponent simply trying to exploit the systems. That does not make an enjoyable experience.
Visually NBA Live 14 looks like a last-gen game with a higher resolution. The crowd is redundant and lifeless, player faces are often far off the mark of their real-life counterparts and the overall presentation is just lifeless. The camera is also atrocious, sometimes not even moving down the court when the action does, requiring me to reset the camera options in the menu. Audio is equally bad with announcers Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy lending generic pronouns to characters, and rarely offering up any fresh commentary. I thought Madden had issues, but this makes it look like a real broadcast.
NBA Live 14 is a hot mess. There is simply no other way to describe it. I wanted to derive some enjoyment from the game, hell I was a fan of NBA Inside Drive back in the days of the original Xbox, but this is simply broken on so many levels. With NBA 2K14 even existing, I cannot think of a single reason to pick up EA’s offering. It doesn’t look next-gen, it plays poorly and even its bright spots are hindered by poor implementation. I hope they continue to work on this series and return it to its greatness.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.