NBA 2K14 on next-gen looks great, plays great. Features are missing though.
To port or not to port? That is the question.
In 2006, 2K took a different approach to their first game on the next gen consoles. 2K simply upgraded the graphics and ported over all of the features in the current gen version. That was the safe approach and most people were happy with it by and large.
This time around 2K wants OS'ers to know one thing: The next gen version of NBA 2K14 is not a port. But is that a good thing?
Let's start with the graphics. The game looks exactly like (if not better) than the trailer. 2K face mapped damn near every NBA player in the league. Guys like Lebron and Kobe look exactly like their real life counterparts but that's expected. What I didn't expect was that guys like Joel Anthony and Festus Ezeli would look amazing. The faces and the lighting and details of each arena jump out as the most improved aspects of the game to you.
With that said, the graphical improvements are less prominent when you are playing the game in broadcast mode. Don't get me wrong, the game still looks great, but I can see many people complaining that they don't see a huge difference from current gen when actually playing the game versus in replays.
The improved graphics also quite prominent in MyPLAYER mode. There are significantly more hairstyles and beard choices in the next gen version than current gen. There is no longer a huge difference between how a real NBA player looks and a created player/my player looks. I've played 3 next gen games at this point (NBA, FIFA and Knack) and 2k clearly has the best looking game on next gen.
The gameplay feels similar enough to current-gen, if not better.
2K set up a quick demo of the game featuring the Heat and the Warriors. The demo was a single three minute quarter with play calling on. I played a total of three quarters with the game. The game reminds me of the current gen version, as it should, but it's clearly feels somewhat different. The key to that is the new Ecomotion engine.
The Ecomotion engine adds foot planting and better dribbling animations to the series. Sliding has been virtually eliminated from the series and dribbling animations are tighter than they ever have been. In current gen, there are times when dribbling the ball will not touch the floor because of a bad animation. This doesn't occur in next gen. This is clearly 2K's response to Live's BounceTek feature and eliminates one of the competition's biggest selling points.
Another feature of the new system is called animation synthesis. In next gen, all animations are contextual. For example, if Durant is taking a jumper and he is wide open, he will use his typical gather, release and landing. If a defender pressures him, he will automatically adjust his release and may land differently depending on the position of the defender. These additions are very visible during gameplay and you will see a bunch of new animations.
Points of Emphasis is another gameplay related feature that is only in next-gen. As a coach you are given 9 options on offense and defense during the game that you can use to make adjustments. For example when playing the Heat, you can instruct your team to defend the perimeter as a point of emphasis.
I know what you are thinking "Can't we do that in current gen with defensive adjustments?" The difference here is your team will practically hug perimeter players. I saw one screenshot of Sefolosha body to body against Lebron when denying the ball. I'm interested in seeing how much Points of Emphasis actually affects the game and if the AI uses these also. On the surface though, this appears to be a good addition.
"What do you mean features are missing from current gen?"
Lets get the bad out of the way: Association mode as we know it has been removed.
They have been replaced by a new mode called MyGM. In my opinion, it's similar to Madden's connected careers mode. The mode takes your MyPLAYER and makes him the GM of the team. As the GM, you interview and hire staff, negotiate trades with other owners and manage players. The centerpiece of this mode is the conversation system.
An example of this is you are the GM of the Kings and the team has lost 8 games in a row. Boogie Cousins comes in to your office and demands a trade. You can either attempt to convince Cousins to stay with the team, ignore his demand or shop him for a trade. The mode appears to be very immersive and perfect for people who are interested in managing one team. So what's the problem?
I'm a firm believer in one rule: YOU DONT REMOVE FEATURES! NBA 2K4 had a franchise mode with 30 team control and 2K removed in NBA 2K5 for no particular reason. It took them three years and a ton of complaints from a select few OS'ers to get them to add the feature back. Madden did the same thing last year and after some backlash added it back this year. I'm willing to acknowledge that MyGM looks intriguing and may be the future of the franchise, but it makes no sense to remove features like multi-team association and potentially alienate a very dedicated (and vocal) segment of the audience.
I'm sure these removals won't affect a good amount of people who buy this game. Many will be happy with controlling one team on MyGM or just focus on MyPLAYER. But some of us don't want to interview players or staff. Some of us just want to play or watch any game. Some of us don't trust the CPU AI when it comes to making trades and cuts and want to prevent unrealistic decisions. That's why we love multi team association.
Another feature which isn't making the jump is custom music. Also gone are practice plays. Devs confirmed but didn't specify that some other features found in current gen won't make the jump over to next gen this year. What this means is many basketball gamers will have to keep the current-gen version of the game to get a total basketball fix this year.
More info is coming on MyGM in the next week.
Onto the good though: MyPLAYER looks incredible. The structure appears to be similar to current-gen with your career starting at the Draft showcase but it's clearly different, there are bunch of new cutscenes added to the next gen version and 2K showed us three of them.
The first one is your agent informing you that you have been invited to the Draft Showcase. The second one is your rival approaches you before the DS and talks a little trash. After that conversation, you agent asks you how you felt about the trash talk and you are given the choice of getting emotional or letting it go. Finally, your DS coach approaches you in the locker room and attempts to motivate you before the game. MyPLAYER on next-gen is much more immersive and I'm excited about giving it a run.
The final feature we saw was called “The Park”. 2K wasn't saying much about it other than its a place where you and 100 of your friends can play. The visual they showed multiple basketball courts with MyPlayers on each court. This is pure speculation but this could be Crew on steroids where you can take your MyPlayer from court to court just like you could if you were at a real park with multiple courts.
From what I saw, I am definitely excited about the next gen version of the game but not as excited as I was coming into the event. The game looks and feels great but the limited feature set hampers it. Hopefully once we get more information about the features actually in the game, the pain from the features removed will dull.
NBA 2K14 releases on launch day for both PlayStation 4 (November 15) and Xbox One (November 22).
Edited to clarify: Season mode is still in the game per multiple sources/confirmations by 2K Sports.