The only way to start the road to redemption is to take the first step. By virtue of the fact that NBA Live 14 has actually released for PlayStation 4, the series has taken a huge step in the right direction. Now that the product exists, everyone who hasn't played it is asking the question: How good is it?
Here's the answer to that question as I break down perception and reality with NBA Live 14.
Graphics and Animation
What Was Expected
The trailer that appeared on Instagram was noticeably beneath what we saw from the NBA 2K14 trailers, but the screenshots that were released were pretty solid. It is hard to make heads or tails of sizzle trailers, so fans were still in the dark about just how good—or bad—the game would look.
What We Got
From a pure visual standpoint, NBA Live 14 doesn't look like a next-gen title. Comparably, the player models and animations aren't what most gamers would be impressed with on this level of gaming.
The players look decent, but underwhelming. The animations while a player is dribbling are great, but there appears to be an exaggerated element of gravity. It is especially noticeable when a player jumps straight up in the air.
It almost feels as though he's on a very short bungie cord. The action looks odd, and the overall movement is still a bit choppy in the game. This detracts from the visual package.
The arenas are rendered well, but the game lacks the overall clarity that the best-looking next-gen consoles deliver.
Gameplay and Realism
What Was Expected
For as much criticism as the NBA Live series has endured in recent years, gameplay was never a major issue. I didn't expect the next-gen version to suffer in this area.
What We Got
The gameplay actually exceeded my expectations. The on-court A.I. is excellent. The quality here is a product of the new CourtQ feature that enhances the way players react away from the ball on offense and defense.
A.I.-controlled players rotate on defense and cut to the basket on offense with great realism. Solid defensive teams really shine as they play as a unit to help limit the solid looks opponents get.
As usual, the dribbling is sharp. The signature dribbling skills help to add diversity to controlling perimeter players, but not as much attention is paid to post players. The low-post play lacks the overall depth that the game delivers away from the basket.
One issue I also found in extended gameplay piggybacks on that issue. It came in the contact/foul dynamics near the basket. I played three full games with five-minute quarters, and both teams shot a total of five free throws. Even if both squads ran offenses that shot a ton of jump shots, that's an oddly small number of trips to the line.
This can likely be tweaked in the sliders or with a patch, but it is one of those things that should be more realistic in the default/retail settings.
On a whole, there is a solid base here for the series moving forward, but a few improvements are still needed.
Sound and Presentation
What Was Expected
Up until a couple of days ago, the details around presentation had been kept under wraps. NBA 2K14 beat the NBA Live 14 marketing team to the punch in revealing this area of their respective games. The Real Voices trailer from NBA 2K14 was amazing and garnered tons of positive feedback. That said, the NBA Live 14 presentation is similar and quite impressive.
What We Got
The presentation is the best part of NBA Live 14. The halftime show is what most the developers of most sports games should aspire to create. If there were highlights of other games in the NBA during your Dynasty experience, it would be totally mind blowing. As it is, it is still excellent.
It features the same type of real voice effect NBA 2K14 has, but it is exclusive to coaches. The voices of NBA sideline generals appear in a segment called Wired. Their audio is spot-on, and for the most part, it is relevant to the action. It would have been cool to have player interviews or post-game press conferences, but perhaps that'll be explored down the road.
The top plays from each team are shown in a countdown-like format, and Jalen Rose's commentary during the intermission is spot-on and purely stat-based. Game designer Ryan Ferwerda really deserves a lot of credit for his work on this aspect of the game. The halftime show clearly sticks out and lays the groundwork for an even better experience in the future.
The in-game commentary is just OK from Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy. A little more conversation and storytelling between the two could have really taken things to the next level, but it isn't at a point where gamers will totally tune them out. There are some nice references to in-game stats to keep the audio relevant.
NBA Live 14 is the first EA Sports game to really use the ESPN license the way it was designed. I'm excited to see where else the team can take the presentation aspects of the game.
Game Modes and Options
What Was Expected
We knew a single-player experience called Rising Stars would be included in NBA Live 14, as well as Ultimate Team, Dynasty and other traditional features, but what other options would be added to the feature set?
What We Got
Ultimate Team works great with the NBA in its most simple form, but the NBA Live series adds a few unique features via Fantasy Showdown that make the mode shine even more.
You'll encounter challenges such as courting a team of all point guards or collegiate alma-mater-based squads to accomplish specific tasks. It is a great way to add variety to the mode.
The Rising Stars mode needs a bit more depth. It is pretty bare bones and exists almost as an obligatory mode because of the popularity of similar single-player experiences in the genre of sports video games. There are few changes that can be made to your created virtual baller, and everything lacks personality.
The Dynasty mode does have several nice features. The in-season updates between games are great. It keeps the gamer engrossed in his or her virtual season. Also, teams have identities that change as you progress through your Dynasty. Some organizations will tank, and others will spend money like it's going out of style to win every year. This is a nice way to capture the current dynamic in the NBA.
One fairly big omission is the absence of on-screen injuries.
They happen during your Dynasty, but never on-screen. That's a bit of a bummer, but hopefully it is something that will be added to later versions. It would also be nice to have the ability to control more than one squad. Playing as just one team can get a little boring for some. Aside from those issues, Dynasty mode delivers as well as one would expect.
One of the best aspects of the feature set for Live 14 is the Live Seasons options. Not only will online rosters be kept up to date with amazing accuracy thanks to the connection with Synergy Sports, gamers will be connected even more with Live Seasons.
Fans can play their entire season with their favorite team. If the Chicago Bulls just played the Indiana Pacers and were defeated on the road, you can take the Bulls through that game with the exact same roster as the one in real life to change the outcome.
If the Bulls won the game and you just want to recreate the experience, you can do that too. Another option under the Live Seasons umbrella is called Big Moments. The game keeps track of the best moments in the real NBA and allows you to try to recreate them. From buzzer beaters to standout statistical performances, you'll be scored on your level of accuracy. There is even an online leaderboard for each challenge.
For example, draining Derrick Rose's game-winner against the New York Knicks is an option. So too is nabbing nine steals on opening night with Philadelphia 76ers rookie Michael Carter-Williams.
This is a great mini-game, and the connection to the real NBA adds great value.
Is the NBA Live series ready to regain its spot atop the virtual basketball world? No, it isn't, but the foundation has finally been laid to build the game to an elite level—no pun intended.
If the player models and animation can catch up to some of the mode innovation and presentation, this series could be great again. Here's a look at the PlayStation 4 version of the game by the numbers.
Graphics and Animation: 6.75
Gameplay and Realism: 7.75
Sound and Presentation: 9
Game Modes and Options: 8
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