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NBA Live 16 Preview
 
When a game starts from the bottom like NBA Live did two years ago, it’s easy to say it’s improving year over year because it’s hard to really fall any further. At the same time, on some level it might be fair to say “it’s easier to go from bad to average than average to great.” Still, right now as I take a step back and look at what NBA Live 16 is trying to pull off this year, it finally brings about a level of excitement that has not existed with the franchise in many years.
 
However, this is not me saying “LIVE IS BACK!” or “WATCH OUT NBA 2K!” This is not a hype piece, but rather me saying it feels like Live is finally moving forward. The development team is adding and improving NBA Live now rather than just simply trying to create a functioning basketball game.
 
So with that in mind, here are my thoughts after playing six full games of NBA Live 16.   

Let It Flow

What immediately stands out when you start playing the game is that the game is just moving and flowing way more than it has in the past. Guys do not simply stand around on offense, and dribbling and creating movement on the ball just comes together in a more natural way. In other words, it feels like five guys are finally starting to act as a unit without needing any heavy input from the user to create opportunities. 
 
The development team is promising to really improve and add unique sets to the game. In the demo, playbooks were not turned on, so the Warriors just had one basic set where Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes would more or less come off a series of baseline screens and down screens. On the other end, Cleveland was built more around JR Smith moving off the ball and LeBron trying to get a dribble handoff of sorts. Even in this limited state, there was enough you could do with these basic sets to create some interesting halfcourt moments, but the real hope is that teams will actually feel different on the court when the game is released.
 
 
Dribbling
 
Dribbling should be a strength for Live, and it’s starting to become one again. And I think it should be a strength because it’s a basic system where you use the right stick in a way that should feel normal to anybody who plays any other EA Sports games. There are layers of complexity below the surface, of course, but still it’s a system that’s easy to understand and fun to toy around with in isolation situations.
 
The biggest improvement to the dribbling comes in the form of the R2/RT modifier to create hesitation opportunities. It’s not completely unlike FIFA’s new feinting system that’s being introduced, but the point is it allows you to better size up opponents and then blow by them. By flicking the right stick different directions while holding R2, it can create chances for step backs, signature dribbles, blow-by opportunities, or a chance to simply dance around as you wait for a pick to be set. Live has really struggled to find ways to make players feel explosive off the bounce, but I believe this mechanic is now the best way to create those chances. 
 
Dribbling does not feel quite as fluid when you are simply trying to run the ball up the court or carve up the defense while at more of a sprint. If the game does a good job of taking you from 0-100 when at a standstill, it still feels a bit off when trying to take you from 0-60 and then 60-100 when trying to grab an outlet pass and fly up the court. And I don’t mean to say the pace of the game does not feel fast enough, because if anything the pace of the game maybe feels a pinch too fast, but rather it feels like the player with the ball is still struggling to get moving at points.
 
Pick and Roll/Dribble Handoffs
 
Something that also adds to the fluidity of this year’s game is the tweaks to the pick and roll, and the incorporation of dribble handoffs. It all revolves around using the B button or Circle button (depending on your console of choice), and since it all revolves around one button it makes understanding and using these mechanics simple enough to grasp. 
 
You can quickly toggle between a pick and fade or pick and roll now, and you still have the option to do a quick pick and slip by just releasing the designated button ahead of the pick being set. 
 
When it comes to dribble handoffs, the same rules apply as pick and rolls. You can more or less designate who you want to come get the handoff (it can be any of the four players, much like any of the four players can come set a pick), and then that player will sprint to you and come look for the ball. It creates some dangerous scoring opportunities, and it feels like a very worthwhile addition to the game. For example, when LeBron comes up to get a dribble handoff, each time you have to make a quick decision: either you’re going to trail him with the on-ball defender, or you’ll switch to the other defender already on the ball and try a hard hedge, or if it’s a big already up high then you can choose to sink deeper into the paint and just try to stop Bron from driving. Again, the dribble handoffs have the feel of a nice tactical cat and mouse game that changes based on the personnel involved.
 
 
Shooting
 
Coming right off a dribble handoff, sometimes you might just take a dribble or two and then pull up. And what’s nice is that those pull-up jumpers do feel much cleaner this year. You feel the momentum and weight of the ball handler as he tries to rise and fire. The new shooting mechanics come in here as well because signature jumpers do have different timing windows, which will add a nice layer of difficulty. 
 
The big thing here is that it feels like those in-between animations that act as connective tissue between going from a dribble to a pull up have been cleaned up or added. In fact, it actually felt more natural and rewarding to shoot off the bounce rather than rise and fire from a set position on the baseline or wing. 
 
Passing
 
The fluidity of the game is also obviously impacted by passing. I have no issue saying the passing is improved in NBA Live 16. It can be done more quickly, and there is an element of pre-loading passes now to more quickly whip the ball around the perimeter. Still, passing does not quite feel as strong an element as it could be moving forward. 
 
To me, passing still feels a pinch slow when trying to ping the ball around the perimeter. Balls do not float as much as they did in the past, but I don’t necessarily feel like every pass has the right zip on it either. In addition, while you still always know who you will pass to based on the white halo under a player, I still feel most comfortable using icon-based passing. 
 
Defense and Physicality
 
Another aspect of NBA Live that has been talked about a lot in the past is this idea of “force fields” and the fact that it never really felt like players were actually interacting with each other on the court when they ran into each other. Improvements are being made here, but it’s probably the aspect of the game I’m most worried about at this point, which I’ll talk about below.
 
Off-Ball Physicality
 
So what is cool here is that Live is continuing to add more off-ball controls. You can bump cutters and so forth on defense, and you can also clear space for yourself on the offensive side before coming off a screen. 
 
This ends up actually being important at times because, using the Warriors as the example, you may want to switch off the ball and sometimes bump Klay when he tries running around the off-ball screens. It’s an added layer of strategy that exists now in NBA 2K and NBA Live, and it helps for those moments when you need to stop a money play.
 
Beyond that, I don’t know what Live’s new mode will be at this point, but a focus on this type of stuff really pushes the idea that it will be some sort of extension of using a single player. 
 
 
Going To the Rim
 
Now here is where we get to the high highs and low lows. Live is touting a new physics system that’s based off real physics tying together with motion-captured animations. It’s a system they say they’ve worked on for two years. In short, this system is definitely helping in some regards, but it’s also not making me forget about some of the previous shortcomings either. 
 
When you attack the rim, it can lead to singular moments of visual brilliance or moments of abject failure. For example, there was a moment where I got the ball on the break with Harrison Barnes. It was a two-on-one and Barnes decided to just rise up on Tristan Thompson. Barnes collided with Thompson but still more or less climbed up him and hammered hard. It looked great, felt great and was a nice “wow” moment that showed off this new system at work. However, soon after LeBron James did a nice job blowing by his defender, only to get bumped a bit on the way to the rim before nearly trying to lay the ball up backwards. 
 
The point is things are looking better -- even amazing at times -- but it’s not like a switch was turned on and now everything is magically fixed. Like with anything else, this seems like a work in process. And hey, there’s still time. I know, for example, they have not even turned on certain animations yet -- in this case ones where you would usually catch the ball rolling to the rim with a big before going right up with it for a layup/dunk in one seamless movement -- because they were not ready as of yet.
 
At the very least, the development team is aware of the issues, so at this point I just hope they can clean up the animations relating to contact on layups and putback attempts.
 
Force Fields and Fouls
 
Regardless, it feels like “force fields” are very much less of a thing now. There is no secret wall keeping you from running out of bounds anymore. For example, I caught a ball out of bounds and also dribbled out of bounds. Both things were my fault, and it felt good to see that happen. 
 
At the same time, there’s nothing stopping defenders from being able to step up and body up players driving to the hoop. The help defense did not always feel as on point as it should, but there were great moments here as well. One that sticks out is on a Klay Thompson drive; Tristan Thompson got over and just absolutely annihilated Klay’s layup attempt with a swat off the glass, leading to a fast break going the other way.
 
I was also fouled on multiple occasions when rising up to take a shot. However, I still feel like not enough fouls were called when I drove to the rim.
 
Hitting the Glass
 
Rebounding is the last element that comes into play here. Again, it’s sort of a mix of good and bad. Last year, I think it’s easy to argue offensive rebounding was overdone. This year, it feels like boxing out is more easily done, but I feel like I trust the AI way more to box out and then attack the glass than I do a user. It could just be sample size at this point, but it just felt like when I would try and box out and then go get the ball, I would lose those battles far more often than the CPU would in the same situation.

Beauty of the Game

NBA Live really does look impressive to me this year. It’s visually arresting, has a slightly subdued color palette that brings about a more realistic look, and it has an art style that is consistent with itself. Beyond the looks of the actual game, the UI is also more prominent this year (as it is in all EA Sports games this year) as the game is trying to teach you more as you play. I’ll talk more about both these elements below.
 
 
How the Game Looks To You
 
From the moment the starting lineups screen pops up to the close-ups of the players after they score, I think this is a game that is really clicking in all areas. I can obviously only judge two teams at this point, but the face scanning seems to have paid off, and overall it’s hard to really have too many issues with how players are looking on the court.
 
What’s more exciting to me is that what’s still being promised to be in the game should help more. Players still were not emoting as much as you would like, but the Live team is saying they’re still just adding those emotional elements to the game. In addition, players will have their warm-ups on as they sit on the bench. And lastly, signature celebrations such as James Harden’s “stirring the pot” celebration should end up in the game as well.
 
How the Game Talks To You
 
The UI is more in your face this year. Live got some guff for not giving users enough tutorial elements when the game launched last year, and the development team is trying to rectify that this season. 
 
The bit that immediately sticks out is the UI prompts when shooting. To me, the UI is helpful but a bit confusing at this point. On free throw attempts, you’re shooting for 100 percent on the UI meter, but on regular shots, it seems 50 percent is more your goal. This 50 percent is based on shot quality as well as shot timing. Overall, it’s a good addition, but it’s just a matter of trying to explain these elements to users so they do not get frustrated.
 
The other element that is not there right now, but may end up in the game, are play art prompts on the floor itself. These may show up only for plays, or they may show up when sets are just automatically playing out. I think it would be a good addition if it makes it into the game (I always use play art at all times in 2K, for example), but we’ll see if that happens. 

Final Thoughts

So at this point, it’s interesting to see how Live is coming together. As it’s the title furthest from being released among the EA Sports titles, it means it has the most time left to be improved. I did not talk about the post game, for example, because there is not much to talk about as of yet. The development team knows the post game needs to be improved, and they are promising they’ll be adding to it before launch, but as of now it has not gotten a major upgrade. So while I’m cautiously optimistic overall with this game, we also have to be aware that there’s still a hefty amount of development time left here as we move towards release. 

NBA Live 16 Videos
Member Comments
# 1 bxphenom7 @ 06/25/15 10:00 PM
Great read! Overall encouraging stuff from EA.
 
# 2 Vic Viper @ 06/25/15 10:02 PM
I love this insight. It's definitely what I want to hear, but I also want to see this in action for myself. Can't wait to get my hands on the sticks and I hope LIVE is Back for good.
 
# 3 asu666 @ 06/25/15 10:17 PM
I'm hoping for in-game saves.
 
# 4 TreyIM2 @ 06/25/15 10:22 PM
Good stuff here. The demo for 15 wasn't strong enough to make me buy the full game when I already have 2K15 but it showed promise. The 16 demo, which I assume there will be one, I'll be waiting for in earnest.
 
# 5 El_Poopador @ 06/25/15 10:23 PM
Great write-up. I'm looking forward to a deeper post game, and the dribble hand-offs are going to be a lot of fun. They've absolutely been moving the series in the right direction since they came back, and this year seems no different.
 
# 6 Walt Frazier @ 06/25/15 10:44 PM
This is the 1000% key.....IF they add authentic playbooks and IF teams are differentiated, this game will be really good as the base is there.

If not...it is going to be generic and get old really quick.

WTF has said aunthentic playbooks WILL be in. If so, I will be buying it day one.

Quote:
The development team is promising to really improve and add unique sets to the game. In the demo, playbooks were not turned on, so the Warriors just had one basic set where Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes would more or less come off a series of baseline screens and down screens. On the other end, Cleveland was built more around JR Smith moving off the ball and LeBron trying to get a dribble handoff of sorts. Even in this limited state, there was enough you could do with these basic sets to create some interesting halfcourt moments, but the real hope is that teams will actually feel different on the court when the game is released.
 
# 7 tsbmolina @ 06/26/15 04:59 AM
Why is Chase Becotte an ex-EA Sports employee writing these articles on an EA Sports tittle? Not saying he isn't qualified just saying.
 
# 8 MMChrisS @ 06/26/15 08:49 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by tsbmolina
Why is Chase Becotte an ex-EA Sports employee writing these articles on an EA Sports tittle? Not saying he isn't qualified just saying.
Because Chase is one of the best videogame journalists I know -- and he happens to be the most qualified person to talk NBA Live who was at E3. If anything, knowing the intricacies of how things are developed at the big level probably gives him better perspective from both ends of the spectrum and makes him particularly qualified to write pieces on any sports games.
 
# 9 DBMcGee3 @ 06/26/15 09:57 AM
Sounds and looks good every year about this time, but then you see gameplay footage and the players just don't move in a natural, organic way. Such a fine line between having ultimate responsiveness and realistic looking motion. I'm dying to try something new this year, but they have a lot to do in the next few months to get my $60.
 
# 10 Mintsa @ 06/26/15 10:16 AM
Bottom line/in short....Live just has to get better every year and eventually it will be on par or atleast give the other game a run for its money.

No more setbacks, starting from scratch, 3 year cycles etc. Just keep building every year and it will get there and be a game that everyone respects again.
 
# 11 JKSportsGamer1984 @ 06/26/15 10:21 AM
I hope 2K adds the dribble handoff. It looks good.
 
# 12 nick_sr @ 06/26/15 10:32 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mintsa
Bottom line/in short....Live just has to get better every year and eventually it will be on par or atleast give the other game a run for its money.

No more setbacks, starting from scratch, 3 year cycles etc. Just keep building every year and it will get there and be a game that everyone respects again.

This might be the last year tho lol

Westbrook and adidas live run are going to help sales but they need to bring it!!!!!
 
# 13 seanhazz1 @ 06/26/15 11:22 AM
Good read. I love that he mentions that Live 16 is focusing more on teaching their game this year, as I feel its been a big hurdle for both new and returning players, and its also been one of my biggest pet peeves about the LIVE series since its re-emergence.
 
# 14 nick_sr @ 06/26/15 11:48 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mintsa
Bottom line/in short....Live just has to get better every year and eventually it will be on par or atleast give the other game a run for its money.

No more setbacks, starting from scratch, 3 year cycles etc. Just keep building every year and it will get there and be a game that everyone respects again.

This might be the last year tho lol

Westbrook and adidas live run are going to help sales but they need to bring it!!!!!
 
# 15 Guapo516 @ 06/26/15 11:50 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by JKSportsGamer1984
I hope 2K adds the dribble handoff. It looks good.
2k had dribble handoffs since at least 14
 
# 16 Izzy Snow @ 06/26/15 03:38 PM
Thanks for this nicely written and honest preview. I've stressed many times that the graphics needed the least amount of work. It's the post-game, animations, commentary, and modes that needed the most attention. Based on what I saw so far from E3, two of these have been addressed which are modes and animations (which still needs work). But again, if the post-game is the same, and I know they said they still haven't added animations for post-game, then right now, I honestly cannot take their word for it as they've promised and NOT delivered on past promises before. As for the commentary, I hate to be pessimistic, but I think it'll be the same and that's not a good thing. Even Sean O'Brien basically has said they need their commentary to be like 2K's current one and right now their commentary is on PS2 level and I'm not even trolling.
 
# 17 Tonyattia @ 06/26/15 03:52 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by nick_sr
This might be the last year tho lol



Westbrook and adidas live run are going to help sales but they need to bring it!!!!!

There isn't a manual control that calls some one over for one though. It's just if your close they have hand off animations. This is a separate control on live like a pick and roll


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
# 18 bigsmallwood @ 06/26/15 11:11 PM
Great write-up! I'm hopeful for a great NBA Live 16....time will tell
 
# 19 CaseIH @ 06/26/15 11:33 PM
I would love if Live actually can finally be competition for NBA2k, but unfortunately I highly doubt that happens. The game does seem to be improving atleast some, so maybe there is hope. If EA really started to push a true sim where Association mode was where all the time was put into to make that there specialty, and get a realistic simulation they will get my full attention. As 2k seems to be going the gimic mode route for the casual gamer, not that the simulation of Association mode is bad in NBA2k, as it still plays a great game, but it no longer seems to be where there concentration is at anymore. It use to be the other way around, and NBA2k was for the hard core basketball fan, but that don't seem to be no longer the case sadly, so if EA starts to focus on realism of Association mode, they will have me back.
 
# 20 chisportsfan23 @ 06/27/15 02:29 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by CaseIH
I would love if Live actually can finally be competition for NBA2k, but unfortunately I highly doubt that happens. The game does seem to be improving atleast some, so maybe there is hope. If EA really started to push a true sim where Association mode was where all the time was put into to make that there specialty, and get a realistic simulation they will get my full attention. As 2k seems to be going the gimic mode route for the casual gamer, not that the simulation of Association mode is bad in NBA2k, as it still plays a great game, but it no longer seems to be where there concentration is at anymore. It use to be the other way around, and NBA2k was for the hard core basketball fan, but that don't seem to be no longer the case sadly, so if EA starts to focus on realism of Association mode, they will have me back.
Truthfully, and I'm looking at this without any bias, Live is in some ways better than 2k.

Let's break it down

Facial Scans/ Overall accuracy of player appearance

Live 15: It seems to me that live has more accurate facial scans than 2k. Yes some obvious ones aren't present or look off. But imo, just playing games back to back i feel 2k focuses on big name players more and Live covers a wider range of players. Player's that come to mind here are Deandre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Jared Dudley, Nerlens Noel to name a few that Live has done better than 2k. Skin tones here are another advantage in Live than 2k. Best example here is Lebron James. James in a lot of ways looks better in Live 15 than 2k15. James is far too light in 2k15 and they widened his jaw a bit too much in 15, i felt James looked far better in 2k14 than 15.

2k15: 2k struggles in this category for one simple reason, they tend to over do it in the detail. Players that come to mind are Kemba Walker, Embiid, they have this weird discoloration in their face as a way to look detailed and accurate, but imo it just looks off. Also, 2k doesn't face scan everyone. And when they don't it's obvious. Players that don't get faced scanned tend to look flat faced. Good example here is Deron Williams, Crawford, and Dudley.

In this category it's closer than people act like it is.

Overall Jersey color and accuracy

Live 15: This area is a strength of Live and more so in Live 16. Yes, the jerseys are loose in 15. But let's talk about two things here. Fluidity with player movement and colors. Let's look a few examples here, Cavs alternate blue AND yellow. Bucks, alternate red. Come to mind, that actually look more accurate on Live 15 than 2k15. If you look particularly at the Cavs blue alts. on both games. While yes, 2k is much more vivid, it's not particularly accurate. Live 15 presents a darker deep blue that's more real life than 2k.

2k15: As i mentioned, 2k presents more vivid colors. But not always entirely accurate. Sometimes colors need to be darker, and 2k's lighting doesn't allow for a realistic representation of some jerseys. A clear advantage in both 2015 games is the jersey fit in 2k, but that appears to be disappearing as it looks like Live 16 fixes this.

Obviously as it stands 2k is still superior than Live, but the advantages are dwindling down at a terrific pace. As far as gameplay is concerned 2k wins. Animations, 2k wins. But imo 2k can easily suffer from TOO MANY animations. What's interesting here is that 2k appears to be taking it easy on internal things with every new release, focusing more on getting MJ on a cover, or getting a big name to help widen their reach with publicity. While Live and the team behind it comes across as a team with a chip on their shoulder after so many awful basketball games. It's a great time to be a nba video game fan that's for sure.
 

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