STAFF REVIEW of NBA 2K14 (Xbox One)

Friday, December 13, 2013.
by Scott Fowler

NBA 2K14 Box art Michael Jordan was Air. His gravity defying leaps and dunks spawned brand identification, marketing, and legend unlike any other. If Jordan was the best of a generation, or all generations, air-apparent (see what I did there?) is one LeBron James, cover athlete and focus of NBA 2K14 (2KSports, $59.99, for both the 360/Xbox One consoles).

I make the reference to Michael Jordan because it's the obvious choice. Many have threatened to surpass Jordan's impact on the game, but nobody has been successful. I live in Los Angeles, aka Laker town, the one team able to withstand, even participate, in the LA lifestyle like no other. Players like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neil and Kobe Bryant have all had times laid claim to "the best in the game". But in 2013, after back to back titles, as Kobe's star begins to fade, LeBron is taking has taken control of the sport.

While that may be the case, 2KSports dedication to LeBron in this year’s title might be the only shortcoming in the whole darn game, and I even say that with reservation. He's everywhere, and not just on the physical game, but all throughout the game, too.

Now, this review will encompass both 2K14 titles, on the 360 and the Xbox One, so I’ll try to divide this up as best as possible where applicable.

Regular game modes on the 360 are fairly standard for your run-of-the-mill major sports title. There's online play, franchise-modes, single season modes, single game options, and the like. This year, 2KSports added the "Path to Greatness: LeBron James" on the 360, allowing players the ability to take control of the player, the legend in his prime, and make different career decisions, taking different paths, and seeing how things might have played out had "The Decision" to bring his talents to Miami taken a different path.

If you're a Laker fan, this is a bit of a tough sell emotionally. Outside of that, it's 2KSports celebrating the biggest icon in the game, and doing it well, if not even a little tongue in cheek toward the backlash that LeBron got in real life surround the Miami move.

Overall, 2K has this Basketball thing down pat on the 360.

Graphically, it's about as good as you can expect given the end of life facing the current gen consoles. Customer players seem a little bit limited in appearance related options, assuming you want to look human and not rock the pointy ears and weird cheekbone looks available to you. The real players themselves are very accurately represented. So much so, that even without the accessories or tattoos, knee pads or name tags, if you're fairly knowledgeable about a team, you know who's who just by looking at them. This might seem inconsequential, but compared to football, hockey or even baseball games, the players in basketball look like people. No pads, no helmets, no accessories, so getting the details right is probably more challenging than the rest of the sport franchises out there.

In game presentation is really top-notch, also. The various season modes do a great job with commercials for upcoming games tied into calendar-accurate holidays ("Join us on Halloween for another great Laker match-up against the Golden State Warriors!"), time outs on the floor with cheerleaders to keep the crowd moving, and animated coaching cut scenes and interactions that really make the game presentation as close to watching a game on TV as possible. Player introductions, stadium details, and the like are all really top notch, with a gripping soundtrack and just solid overall recreation of the NBA experience.

Most of that translates directly to the same functionality on the Xbox One, with one major area of difference. Ironically, the One has some significant steps backwards in terms of the UI and navigation menus when compared to the 360 version and just in general. For a new console, you’d expect tons of slides and tile based interaction, similar to the EA lines of games. Instead, you get a main menu that makes you feel like you did something wrong or click on the wrong thing to get there. Minimal is fine, when it’s well executed, but when it’s not, it’s just plain. I don’t like to compare games too much, especially from different publishers, but this is where EA’s (re-)venture into basketball games destroys 2kSports. The navigation menus! Sad that something so “low hanging fruit”-ish can be so problematic, and maybe 2K made decisions due to time or financial constraints to focus on the gameplay and new features instead of the UI. Whatever the situation is, the EA offering is significantly better and cleaner and more consistent with the One than 2KSports. On NBA Live (EA), you pick your favorite team, and suddenly the tiles are awash with hi-definition pictures of your team’s players, logos, stadium, etc. The game play pales in comparison, but it’s a sad statement that the navigation is this sub-standard. If you could somehow take the EA UI and drop in EVERYTHING ELSE that 2KSports has in their NBA 2K14 title on the Xbox, you’d have the closest to perfect thing you could expect in basketball games.

2KSports missteps a bit with some of their add-on controls, and probably need to refresh this process from the ground up. In this year’s iteration, the MyPlayer mode allows users to earn points to upgrade the skills of their player. Additionally, clothing outfits, accessories (watches, jewelry, "bling"...) and the like can be upgraded and added to your player’s closet. For me, this was just a miss. These sorts of add-ons might matter to many players out there, but it just seemed disconnected. Add in the fact that Skill operates on Skill Points you earn playing the game, unlocking functionality, etc., and the MyPlayer content is based on a separate coin-based system, and the whole process gets a little fuzzy.

You also have the ability to start as a rookie, and play an interactive form of a players career, from rookie showcase, through the draft, and then onto greatness. This path seemed a lot harder playing as an individual, as opposed to a team game, and for me was difficult to really progress quickly. The player’s skills are so limited out of the gate, that you can't get the mojo necessary to get the milestones out of the way to get more points to make your player better. Run on sentences notwithstanding, it's a bit of an evolutionary catch-22. What I do like about it, however, was the off-the-court aspects. Sitting down with GMs prior to the draft and going through interviews with varying outcomes, talking about endorsement, marketing, and licensing deals are fun, and something I hope gets enhanced on the next gen titles moving forward.

On the Xbox One, the MyPlayer feature really starts to take on a whole new look and feel, and really brings the process full circle. When creating your rookie, you enter the rookies showcase game, and suddenly have a rival: Jackson Ellis. Prior to the showcase game, you bump up against the guy in the tunnel, and talk some trash. Now, I played like crap in the showcase, and he rubbed my nose in it through the draft and beyond. The really cool thing is that this adds a whole level of roleplaying to the MyCareer realm, and takes it to next level. Let me explain. No, there is too much, let me sum up. You get to choose your path. Often times throughout the MyCareer mode you face decisions about what to do in a given scenario. From the interviews with GM’s that were part of the 360 game, through pre game trash talk with draft class members and post-game tips in one-on-ones with LeBron, you get to choose your path. Faced with rookie hazing? Chose to suck it up or play along. Be the good team mate rookie, knowing when to mouth up or when to step up, or go with the jerk mindset and focus on you. I’m not sure at the severity of how the decisions you make impact the game as I’ve only had limited time with it, but it brings a significantly more overall feel to things. I really like this feature and find myself going back to it more and more than I have in previous seasons on the old console.

MyPlayer, however, is not without problems, on the One. First off, it’s REALLY hard. It could very easily be that I just suck, too, and haven’t figured out the game well enough to play well. You also can’t change difficulty settings too much, either, so it’s sort of a tough process. I think what I need, more than anything, is to take some time to develop my skills in the game then revisit the process, so maybe that will make it better, but it makes for a very lengthy process if you’re less than great. Also, it is very slow to gain significant points to improve your average player out of the gate without significant time invested. The worse the player, the slower the improvement, and unless you want to buy tons of points from 2K/Microsoft to improve, you’re going to have to go it slow. I know many of the features of sports games these days operate this way, and it’s something I’m less than thrilled about. It also makes me avoid the cards or the ultimate team modes in most of these games. So Good job, Good Effort, 2Ksports, on this title.
I really do love the feature though and find myself going back to it more and more. I don’t know how much replay-ability it has, but so far I’m loving it and I’m not even halfway through my rookie season.
All in all, the presentation, the rock'n roll vibe, the graphics, the accuracy to the TV product, and the rest of the features make NBA 2K14 a really great basketball title. The somewhat clunky MyPlayer and difficult career arcs muddy the waters a bit, but don't distract from the fundamental product: a really solid, really entertaining, NBA Video game on the 360 platform. The one has some borderline revolutionary additions to the MyPlayer arc, and has great graphics and play. The UI shortcomings really distract and make the product clunky out of the box, but once you move past the initial menu and get into whatever mode, that settles down somewhat.
This should be a great title on either platform, and really something that I think any fan of the games or the sport would be happy to play.

Unless you're not a LeBron fan.

Fix the UI, guys. I'd have rated the overall and the graphics a little higher if you'd made the game more consistent from the game play and navigation areas. That said, I can't wait to see where the MyPlayer goes from here, as I think you redefined this aspect for sports titles and did something revolutionary instead of evolutionary. Great job...

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.9 / 10
Visuals: 8.8 / 10
Sound: 8.8 / 10


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