NBA 2K14 Review: Gameplay Impressions and Features of Hit Basketball Video Game

Brian MaziqueCorrespondent IIISeptember 24, 2013

NBA 2K14 Review: Gameplay Impressions and Features of Hit Basketball Video Game

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    Image from NBA 2K14
    Image from NBA 2K14

    With the next-generation version of NBA 2K14 due to release in just over a month, I was curious to see just how much would be put into the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game.

    Would 2K Sports hold back to show a clear difference between the current-gen and next-gen? Would it empty the toolbox and give the 2K community a monumental achievement that pushes the current-gen consoles to their limit?

    This is a tough balancing act, indeed. 

    I’ve been putting the game through the paces for a week and I’ve formed my own opinion about nearly every aspect of it.

    I say nearly because this early in the game, most of the online components haven’t been testable with so few people online. These aspects of the game (Crews, portions of My Team and Association Online) will be evaluated conceptually. Without further ado, here is my take on the current-gen version of NBA 2K14.

Graphics and Animation

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    image from NBA 2K14
    image from NBA 2K14

    We’re about a month-and-a-half away from the release of the next-gen consoles. The Xbox 360 and PS3 have already shown us the best visuals they can muster. With that established, expecting any major graphical jump is simply unrealistic. Let’s break down the overall visual package.

     

    Facial Renders and Player Models

    There is some good and bad here. Let’s switch things up and talk about something I think is an area of opportunity.

    There are very few changes done to any of the facial renders for the players. A few players like the New York Knicks Iman Shumpert and the San Antonio Spurs Manu Ginobili received hairstyle changes—in Ginobili’s case, hair loss—but overall, not much has changed on this front.

    I’m not sure how the decision was made which players would receive a makeover, but there are a number of them who should have been rescanned.

    It stands out particularly in cases like the Chicago Bulls Jimmy Butler. The Bulls' new starting shooting guard’s facial render was off last year, which was somewhat understandable because he hadn’t made much of a mark.

    After a strong second half of the NBA season and solid performance in the playoffs, Butler is a well-known player now. He should have a new face in the game, but he doesn’t.

    His unkept afro isn't reflected, despite sporting a version of it in the official picture used in the game. These types of changes could possibly be added via a DLC pack, though I can’t recall a time where this kind of alteration happened post-release. Now for the good.

    Almost every single rookie in the game is nailed with stunning accuracy. These facial renders are near flawless. From the Sacramento Kings' Ben McLemore (pictured above) to the Charlotte Bobcats' Cody Zeller, the new guys are done exceptionally well.

    Even though I made a point of calling out the misses with the veterans, in my eyes, the renders of the rookies were most important. Fans will always look for how the first-year players appear in the game. This season, I can’t imagine anyone being reasonably dissatisfied.

     

    Tons of New Animations 

    Throughout the pre-release hype, you may have heard community manager Ronnie Singh mentioning the game's 3,000-plus new animations. I haven’t exactly counted, but thus far, I can easily see that number being spot on.

    There are too many new occurrences to point them all out, and that’s a good thing. It looks almost as if the physical interaction possibilities are endless. NBA 2K14 looks as real as the series ever has, and the additions to the animation are the main reason why.

    It’s very pretty.

Gameplay and Realism

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    NBA 2K14 has always played a fairly realistic game of basketball, but this year’s version takes things to a whole new level. Let me put this in the most plain way possible: I’m absolutely in love with the gameplay in NBA 2K14. Here’s why:

     

    Defense, Defense, Defense

    Though I really liked last year’s game, one of the things that kept it from perfection was the super-charged offenses. Playing defense was a heck of a task. At times, the difficulty getting a stop made games a bit unrealistic. That is not a problem in NBA 2K14.

    Good-to-great defenders and defensive teams will shine, as they should. It is easier to body up on players attempting to get to the basket, and scoring on the inside is no longer a cinch. In previous versions, most players could pull a couple moves with the right stick and beat defenders off the dribble 80 percent of the time.

    This year, those instances have been tweaked dramatically, and while breaking ankles is still a part of the game, blowing by a defender occurs about as frequently as it does in a real NBA game. Unless someone just sucks on defense, you won’t see as many dunks. That’s a beautiful thing. It makes the game’s most exciting play carry the excitement and thrill that it does in a real contest.

    The new shot-blocking system also plays a major role in the enhancements on the defensive end. There are more blocked shots, but every game isn’t a block party. The ball is live and players are able to interact with it on shot attempts, passes and dribbles.

    It used to feel as if the ball was off limits at times—at least until the player completed his full animation. That isn’t the case this year, and the results are stunning.

     

    Adjusted Shot Percentages

    Aside from making it more difficult to beat players off the bounce and improving the shot-blocking, the shot percentages also appear to be adjusted. This is also great for those that love simulation-style experiences.

    Even Ray Allen and Kyle Korver miss open shots sometimes. In NBA 2K13, good-to-great shooters were nearly automatic when they were left open. If you missed an open three, it was probably because you misjudged the release point.

    In NBA 2K14, great shooters will still kill you if left open, but they aren’t automatic. The same goes for players of all skill levels anywhere on the floor. Each of them plays true to their ratings, but no one is infallible—not even LeBron.

     

    Incidental and Not-So Incidental Contact

    NBA 2K14’s gameplay is all about creating the balance between offense and defense. The aforementioned points concentrate on reining in the over-powered offense, but the new collision-detection system is perhaps the biggest reason the game plays as well as it does.

    From the lightest touch to the low-bridges and hard fouls after up-and-under moves, the players in NBA 2K14 interact with each other more than they ever have.

    When a pick is being set, there are several factors that dictate the outcome. Even if the defender isn’t caught with the pick-setter’s entire body, a slight collision will throw him off course appropriately. How much he is detoured depends on the size of the player setting the screen, the man picked and how much of a collision took place.

    It’s pretty awesome to see and even more impressive when you notice it during gameplay.

    There are hard fouls and dynamic spills after contact near the basket. I haven’t seen any injuries, which is something I’d like to see more of considering collisions are such a big part of the game this year. However, you can adjust the injury sliders for frequency and severity to add realism.

    There simply isn’t much to dislike in this area of the game.

Sound and Presentation

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    image from NBA 2K!4
    image from NBA 2K!4

    Presentation continues to be a strong suit for the entire 2K Sports brand. Check out the changes made to NBA 2K14.

     

    Commentary Team is Still Excellent

    There are few sports games that use commentary as well as the NBA 2K series. Generally, repetition is a major issue for sports games in this area—and there are some repeat lines—but it is amazing to hear how much new audio has been added.

    Clark Kellog, Kevin Harlan and Steve Kerr have the best chemistry you’ll find in a cyber announce team. I’d like to see Doris Burke’s lines improved and become more relevant to the action in the game, but this is still a strong area overall.

     

    More Traditional Menus

    Some may have liked the Jay-Z influence with the menus and overall presentation in NBA 2K13. But one gamer actually told me he felt like he was playing Saint’s Row basketball because of the street feel in last year’s game.

    Those elements are gone from the presentation package this year. The game’s menus and such have more of a true broadcast feel.

    I like it.

     

    On-Court Sound Effects and Chatter

    Carlos Boozer is one of the loudest players on the court in the real NBA. If you watch a lot of Chicago Bulls games, you can usually hear him yelling out at different points during the game. Although Boozer is one of the more frequent yellers, this can be heard in almost any real NBA broadcast.

    Because of that, NBA 2K has incorporated this small but cool audio detail in its presentation package. Physical play near the basket may precipitate an “ohh!!” A double-clutch layup may cause a player to have a different outburst. With all the crowd noise, commentator voices and other in-game sound effects, this subtle details melds in well to the virtual basketball symphony.

     

    Hot Soundtrack

    LeBron James handpicked the songs included in the soundtrack, and apparently his musical tastes are nearly as diverse as his game. Tracks by the Black Keys, Phil Collins, Nas and others will keep you bobbing your head during the menus and postgame presentations.

Game Modes and Options

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    image from NBA 2K14
    image from NBA 2K14

    Though some modes have been subtracted, the impact of what has been added fills the void.

     

    Path to Greatness is Stellar

    This mode easily trumps the Michael Jordan Challenge from NBA 2K12. Taking control of James’ future is just far more compelling than playing through Jordan’s past. Being able to choose two different paths introduces a role-playing element that really pushes the mode to new heights.

    When you begin, you can choose to try and continue the Miami Heat dynasty or leave the team as a free agent after the 2013-14 season. A large part of the fun in this mode is seeing the over-the-top rosters that form in 2K’s take on the future NBA.

    In one scenario, LeBron, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul team up in New York. In another, Kobe Bryant retires and then returns to challenge LeBron’s reign, as does Allen Iverson. 

    Unlike the Jordan Challenge, gamers don’t just control LeBron, a la a My Player experience. You’ll have full control of LeBron’s entire team. You’re also not playing through long, drawn-out seasons that’ll have you losing interest.

    Playing only the key games in the regular season and postseason keeps things interesting at a rapid pace. 

    The mode also has excellent presentation. Each challenge is set up with intriguing narration from LeBron and a guy who sounds like the basketball version of John Facenda. The in-game commentary is relevant to the fictitious world created by the mode, and it adds to the experience.

    This is an awesome ride.

     

    My Team Improvements

    There were a few issues with matchmaking in My Team in NBA 2K13. It is early, but things seem to have improved. Namely, you’re now able to challenge and play with friends, which is a major addition to the mode.

    Adding leaderboards ups the ante on competition. When you can see where you stand amongst others, gamers take things more seriously. This was a smart move that will add to the longevity of My Team.

    Last year, gamers could only play My Team through the Road to the Playoffs mode, and it got a little boring after a while for me. Also, if you hadn’t allocated a good percentage of your earned virtual currency (VC) toward your My Team, you weren’t going to be able to compete against the superteams built by My Team lifers.

    In NBA 2K14, both of those issues have been addressed. The inclusion of color-coordinated tournaments helps to ensure there is variety and parity, no matter how much time you put into the game.

    Tournaments arranged in an ascending order from bronze to gold gives gamers a wide variety of events to compete in. Bronze tournaments will allow only bronze-level players from the crates you purchase with VC. Silver would allow only silver-level players, etc.

    The elite stars are sapphire players and can be acquired by simply playing My Team.

    Even if you don’t have enough gold players to compete in a gold tournament, you can still try your hand at a bronze or silver tournament. In addition to the variety provided by the different tournament types, each of these competitions can be played offline against the CPU or online against a human opponent.

    Giving each tournament specific parameters adds needed direction. If that wasn’t enough, My Team adds even more depth by allowing you to play your favorite team’s real-life schedule with your My Team roster.

    Each game on the schedule carries a different VC reward. This is a great way to link the real NBA with your My Team experience and yet another way to earn VC.

    If there is any downside to My Team, it lies in customization. In the buildup, we’re told that gamers can customize their teams’ logos, uniforms, etc. This is true to a point. Essentially, you’re able to pick from existing NBA logos and uniforms.

    It would have been ideal if gamers could actually design logos and arenas. Earning creation tools in the same manner that you earn existing NBA unis and stadiums would maintain the win/reward concept while allowing gamers to further individualize their teams.

    Maybe we’ll get that functionality next year. Still, this is like having a dent in a Rolls Royce. It’s just a small blemish and doesn’t change the fact that with this mode, you’re still rolling with style. 

     

    Crew Love

    I didn’t get an opportunity to try Crews. Receiving a copy of the game so early didn’t allow me to test the mode out because there was never more than five people online. Assuming there are no major server issues, the pick-up game concept detailed in the video above can be fun.

    It is different than the mode many fans grew to love, but that doesn’t mean the new experience will be bad. There is still room for growth in the coming years on the next-generation consoles.

    Look for an article revisiting Crew once the servers begin to take on a larger load.

     

    Limited Changes to My Career and Association

    My Career is a huge part of the NBA 2K package, but the mode saw little to no changes this year. The creation and ascension of your My Player will take place exactly as it did in NBA 2K13. I was hoping for a few new customization options with this mode, but it wasn’t in the cards.

    The good thing is that the gameplay enhancements shine through in this mode as well. Your teammates react smarter and because of the improved collision detection, it is easier and more appealing to make your My Player a center or power forward.

    The inside game is more realistic, thus you're not left feeling detached from the action as a big man.

    The Association mode is also largely unchanged, with the exception of improvements to free-agent logic from CPU-controlled teams and a more realistic way to handle injuries and recovery.

    Players will be forced to play limited minutes upon their return to the lineup while they recover from more serious injuries.

    I simulated an entire season and saw much more plausible decisions being made on free agents during the offseason.

     

    What’s Missing?

    If you were a fan of the Create a Legend mode, you may be a little disappointed to see that it is no longer included. Essentially, it was My Career without a bulk of the presentation value where you could choose any current player in the NBA to control.

    I did play it a bit with NBA 2K13, but there is more than enough variety here to keep me from missing it too much.

Overall

5 of 5

    image from NBA 2K14
    image from NBA 2K14

    NBA 2K14's gameplay is so good, it could have afforded to drop the ball in other areas. Thankfully, the few slight missteps don't detract from it too much. Prepare yourself for the best simulation basketball game ever made.

    Here is my take by the numbers:

     

    Graphics and Animation: nine out of 10

     

    Gameplay and Realism: 9.75 out of 10

     

    Sound and Presentation: nine out of 10

     

    Game Modes and Options: nine out of 10

      

    Overall: 9.2 out of 10

     

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