Platform: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 / PC
Platform Played On: Xbox 360
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Sports games are always striving to capture the atmosphere and action of a real sporting match. In the early years, it was all about gameplay and changing it to be more like the sport in real life. In the past few years, there has been more focus on getting the little things right and making minor changes that improve the gameplay in ways that make it feel like the real deal. NBA 2K14 makes changes to its mechanics, but the search for realism does not come without a few hiccups.
When you have to explain to passers-by that you are playing a video game and not watching a game of basketball, it is hard to not admire the dedication that has been put into the presentation of NBA 2K14. From the superb commentary provided by Steve Kerr, Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg – with Doris Burke on the sideline – to the half-time break being sponsored by Sprint, to the fans moving around and making noise during an opposing team’s free throws. Like its predecessors, NBA 2K14 has nailed the presentation of a basketball match.
It’s not just the presentation around the court that is impressive, it’s the presentation on the court too. Visual Concepts has done a terrific job at making each player unique, more than any other entry has done in the past. Players have their iconic shots – like Kobe’s smooth fader or Blake Griffin’s monster running dunk that obliterates anything in the way – and you actually feel like you are in control of them, rather than just controlling a generic player who looks like Kobe or Griffin.
Furthermore, the returning signature skills make each player’s performance and abilities that much closer to mimicking real life. For example, Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler’s set of signature skills allow them to dominate the post and grab rebounds, much like their real counterparts. The signature skills help to differentiate the good from the bad, and the excellent from the good. However, it means the chances of winning a close game against a team of better players is much more harder. This does make results replicate those of the actual match ups, but it may not be as enjoyable for fans of teams who do not have a star player.
To cap off the perfect presentation, NBA 2K14 has great visuals. Even though we are coming to the end of a console cycle, NBA 2K14 still looks amazing. Players can be easily recognised by their face, and the reflection of the overhanging, light up banners coming from the court creates a level of immersion only possible after years of perfecting.
NBA 2K14 would be nothing without great gameplay, but the new changes are not problem free. NBA 2K14 has new player motion improvements that make moment to moment gameplay more fluid. Players are no longer locked into a set line of animations for shots. When driving to the hoop, instead of the player shooting in a set animation, players will react to what is happening around them in order to choose the right shot. It makes the game look smoother and more realistic. No longer do you see unnatural changes in animations on drives or three pointers – everything flows.
Ultimately, this makes attacking easier and more pretty, but it makes defending harder. Blocking fouls get called more often because your player no longer automatically stays with his attacker. Often I would react that split second late and sometimes be called for a foul. This slows the play down if you are a player who is not familiar with the game of basketball. Similarly, while the new dribble moves make getting passed defenders more accessible, it often means plenty of wide open shots or dunks if you are not always changing players on defence.
On the contrary, pulling off a massive block through perfect timing is an extremely satisfying feeling. Making defence harder does make the game better to watch, but it will also help separate the good players from the average players.
The other new gameplay mechanic is a ‘flashy pass’ ability. Just hold the pass modifier button and flick the dribble stick in which ever direction you wish to pass and the player with the ball will throw a flashy pass. These passes are useful when you want to throw a quick pass from under the hoop, but they have risks. Flashy passes have more of a chance of being turned over or intercepted. I like the added flair, but sometimes it felt like it was not working that well. I would aim a pass at one player, and it would end up going to a different player, breaking down my attack.
As I said, NBA 2K14’s new mechanics are not problem free. It would seem that the ball is no longer connected to the player. Rather than the ball always being secure, bar when someone steals it, the ball does not necessarily stick to the ball-handler any more. At times, when going for a steal, the defender will knock the ball out, but not grab hold of it. This sends the ball bouncing out-of-bounds for a stoppage in play. Moreover, if the ball is tipped or lost, players do not want to pick it up for some reason. If the ball is free, it will often end up hitting player’s legs or feet and flying out-of-bounds like a game of pinball. Either that, or a kick ball violation will be called, stopping play.
It is great that the changes to player motion make the game more like the real life sport, but they tend to slow the play down more than usual. Visual Concepts have definitely made aspects of the game more realistic, but sometimes it’s best to remember that people play video games to have fun, not to wait for the ball to be inbounded on more occasions than I would have liked.
I found the dribble stick to be problematic at times. Mainly because the dribble stick can also be the shot stick. Touch the stick for a dribble move, but hold it down for a shot. Sometimes I found myself accidentally holding the stick down for too long, resulting in a shot that I did not want to take. However, you do get used to the sensitivity after a while.
All of the game modes return from previous years, but the new mode this year is a mode centred around Lebron James. Visual Concepts have been switching this extra game mode each year. This year it’s pretty disappointing. The game mode is basically a series of matches where you play as a team with Lebron James in it – either the Heat or a fantasy team that Visual Concepts has thought up. The game mode just feels like exhibition matches with mixed up teams. You’ll probably have to be a fan of Lebron to get any satisfaction from this mode. Thankfully, the classic teams are still playable in normal exhibition games.
As usual, Online play is only worth playing if you are playing with someone who lives relatively close to you. Otherwise, the lag tends to be a big issue when timing is crucial.
I have a few problems with design choices Visual Concepts have decided to use. In some game modes, namely the aforementioned Lebron mode and a MyTeam mode (think FIFA Ultimate Team but with NBA), you cannot change the quarter lengths or the difficulty. Sometimes you just want to have a quick game, or at least a shorter one than six-minute quarters, but you cannot do so in those two game modes.
Another issue I have is with virtual coins (VC). You acquire VC by playing any game mode in NBA 2K14. However, you can only use VC in two (MyPlayer and MyTeam). Earning VC in other game modes to spend in MyPlayer or MyTeam takes away from the satisfaction of working towards the goal of improving your created player or fantasy team. I would have liked a way to regulate what VC you can use in certain game modes. For example, have a bank of VC for MyPlayer and a separate bank for MyTeam.
The NBA 2K series just keeps getting better and better. Visual Concepts have found the perfect formula for the presentation of NBA 2K14 both on the court and off it. The new player animations make it understandable for passers-by to mistake NBA 2K14 for a real game of basketball. While NBA 2K14 takes some important strides forward with new animations and improved player motion, the side effects can sometimes lead to a slower paced game with excessive stops in play.
+ Presentation captures a real life TV broadcast
+ New player animations and player motion push NBA 2K14 closer to the real thing
+ Dribble stick
+ Dwight Howard at the Rockets
– Player motion improvements can provide more stoppages in play than previous iterations
– Not able to change difficulty or game length in some game modes
The Score: 8.5
Nathan Manning is an Xbox Editor for AnalogAddiction. He is excited by the thought that the Houston Rockets could contend for the title this year. You can find him on Twitter and AnalogAddiction there as well.