STAFF REVIEW of NBA Live 14 (Xbox One)

Thursday, December 19, 2013.
by Scott Fowler

NBA Live 14 Box art Ok, so it’s time for the other Xbox One basketball launch title review! If you hadn’t heard, EA took a step back on the hardwood with this year’s NBA Live 14 (Electronic Arts, $59.99). It’s been a while since EA has had a basketball title, so the timing is interesting to say the least, what with 2KSports NBA 2K14 also a launch title available on the new Xbox One. EA’s dominance of the sports game genre is apparent in the rest of the sports world, with titles like FIFA and Madden all but sealing up the football and soccer markets worldwide. (Ok, sure they also have a monopoly on football, but… I digress). Is this the hoops game that will bring them back to the top of console basketball? Read on to find out.

Being that I’m in Southern California, the Lakers and Clippers own the headlines in LA-LA-land. As a Canadian transplant, I’d rather watch the Ducks or to the Angels play. That said, it’s impossible to not even be a lukewarm fan of the game in this town, and I’ve definitely developed a love for the game over the years.

I’m framing that this way because I’ve tried really, really hard to be impartial in this review. I’m a big fan of most EA titles, sports or otherwise. Being that it’s a launch “challenger” to the 2KSports offering, it’s really hard not to compare the two titles. If you’ve read my 2K14 review, you’ll know I really loved that game. That bar is set. That’s the framework for my concept of next gen concept basketball. That’s probably unfair, also, but it’s hard to shake the feeling when playing NBA Live, I really just wish I was playing NBA 2K14.

To be fair, let’s talk NBA Live. Let’s start with features. From a sports game perspective, it’s pretty standard fair, and nobody is doing much in the way of innovation here so you can hardly fault EA for that. It’s not consistent, though, with the rest of EA sports titles. You can’t create custom players for rosters, you can’t create instant legends with ridiculous abilities, and you can’t do much in the way of customizing your favorite team. It may be that what they’re going for is authenticity, but if I wanted authentic basketball, I’d find it on some blacktop somewhere. This is gaming, this is fun, and these features just feel unfinished. It’s almost like they didn’t have enough time to go back to the core feature list and turn everything on. I know this is repetitive of me, but it comes out just really inconsistent with everything EA is to other sports.

Features are pretty standard EA offerings though, beyond that. Ultimate team allows players to “buy” cards to create a team of superstars, past and present. Rising Star let’s players take control of a rookie and take him through his career in the Show. Franchise mode lets you take control of a team, year to year, and to try to win it all and balance the books at the same time. EA did one really cool thing with features, though, and that is the Big Moments mode. This allows players to relive, or recreate moments from the previous day NBA headlines. Did LeBron drop 40 on the Knicks at the Garden? Take control and see if you could do the same. This is a really nice tie in to the real sport and something that I think EA should totally expand on in their future iterations, across all sports, actually.

Next, let’s talk presentation. From the somewhat misconstrued camera angles and underwhelming graphics, there is nothing to write home about here either. The graphics are just “meh”. Nothing great. I know you can tweak some presentation options, but out of the box it’s nothing dynamic or sexy, nothing fun. When compared to *ahem* other titles, it just feels flat. The crowd isn’t into it, the announcers are bland, and the whole things just comes out being forgettable. It’s strange, too, because titles like FIFA and Madden are so immersive in their attempts at re-creating broadcast features and feel that this just pales in comparison to other EA sports titles. Game intros are non-existent. There’s no back story, no real excitement, no flair. Here’s where the comparison to NBA 2K really destroys it, too, because that game takes immersive to whole new levels. Dazzling pre-game shows, data specific announcements, content driven by real game schedules and upcoming match-ups, all of it. It feels as if EA knew they could not compete so they did not even try to.

Where I really have to crucify Electronic Arts on this is gameplay. It feels like beta software. Once every other game or so, a computer controlled player will get an inbound pass and just stand there, frozen, with the ball. You can’t swat the ball, you can’t move the player, you can’t nudge the guy, and you can’t do anything but wait for the 24 second clock violation to come. Not a big deal, maybe, but if it were the waning seconds of a close game, that 24 seconds of dead air on the clock could be brutal. It also has other weird similar glitches, with players getting stuck in way of inbound passes, running on a spot they can’t get out of. They all seem to rectify themselves with the various basketball specific clock limits (Time in the paint, 24 second clock, 5 second to inbound, etc.), but it’s just really spotty and unpolished.

The game physics are also clunky. It doesn’t seem that there’s really much AI or difference or set plays. I find that basically, in-bound the ball, push your player as hard as you can through the paint, and make an easy jumper/layup seems to work every time. There’s not much in the way of forcing real play development. Pick and rolls are poorly executed, passing is a total roll of the dice, and defense is vague and uninspired. It is just sort of a mess.

There is, actually, however, one area where EA outdid the competition with this title.

Navigation. The UI is gorgeous. The background, with the hardwood floor animations and the way they layer your Favorite Team into things with tiles and photos and color layouts is really clean, and super well done. It feels, at first boot, that you’re really on a next gen console and that things are really different. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there, and it’s a pretty fast ride to the bottom.

Is the title awful? No, it’s a basketball game that, for all intents and purposes, allows you to play basketball. Is it unplayable? Hardly, though the glitches make the process somewhat more painful than it needs to be. At the end of it all, it just comes off completely forgettable, with nothing unique or new or distinct enough to bring me back to the game over and over again. That’s a challenge to sports titles in general, and it’s not fair of me to paint NBA Live 14 as the sole offender in the genre, but it’s shortcomings burn that much brighter in that context.

Again, all along, I just wish I was playing the other basketball game.

Get the sports game features and functionality that players know and love from the other sports lines intergrated into basketball, and fast.

Given that the last EA Basketball title was scrapped in public fashion right before launch, there's some development issues with this sport going on somewhere. Maybe see if 2K's Product Manager is available?

Overall: 6.9 / 10
Gameplay: 6.8 / 10
Visuals: 6.9 / 10
Sound: 6.7 / 10


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