NBA 2K14 Review (PS3)
The last week of September is one of my favorite weeks of the year.
First because my birthday falls in that week. Second because the new version of the NBA 2K series usually starts appearing in mom and pop stores and on eBay.
I have spent a lot of time every year running around the DC area looking for stores selling the game early or bugging fellow OS'ers about eBay auctions or Craigslist listings. I’ve travelled to different states and paid almost twice the price just to get the game early. Needless to say I’m nuts when it comes to NBA 2K -- except for this year.
As release week came around, I wasn’t sure that I was going to try to get the game early. None of the promoted improvements and additions had me excited and I have been more focused on what the next-gen version of the game will look and play like.
So when Steve reached out and asked me to preview and eventually to review the game, I was happy about it but aware that my excitement level was much lower than in past years.
Did playing this year's game reignite my excitement for this year's current generation release? Let's find out.
This year's NBA 2K title is all about the gameplay.
Many of you read the gameplay preview I wrote last week so many of the points I make here might sound familiar.
With that said, I’ll be as straightforward as possible: NBA 2K14 is the best basketball video game simulation ever made and I’ve played them all from the 2K series, to NBA Live, to NBA Inside Drive and every College Hoops game in between. No other basketball game captures the feel and strategy of an NBA game like NBA 2K14.
The biggest gameplay additions are the new blocking engine, increased contact in the paint, better CPU AI and “2K Smart Play.”
All of these additions sound small but they actually play a big role in this year’s improved gameplay. Blocks were pretty much non-existent in last year’s game and when they did occur it was typically unrealistic. I played hundreds of games last year and I found it pretty much impossible to get a multiple block game with a dominant defensive player like Dwight Howard or Marc Gasol.
Things are completely different this year. Not only will players like Howard and Gasol control the paint and block shots but athletic players like John Wall and Russell Westbrook will also get in on the fun and occasionally get blocks from the back side. The new blocking engine and the increased contact in the paint makes the game is a lot more physical. You will constantly see players hit the floor and getting knocked off balance when driving the lane, contesting a shot or battling for rebounds.
The AI is a strong point in this year's title.
Every sports game loves to promote in marketing materials how the AI will play as if you were playing an actual sport, but with NBA 2K14 this claim actually rings true. The Rockets consistently look for Howard in the post, run the pick and roll with Lin and Harden and kick out the ball to Parsons and Harden for threes. The Grizzlies looks for Randolph and Gasol consistently in the post. The Spurs run a series of pick and rolls with Parker and Ginobili while setting up Duncan in the low and high post.
Every game and every team feels different and I found myself actually having to strategize to stop teams. For example against the Grizzlies, I found myself getting killed inside because I refused to play off their guards (Conley and Allen) and let Gasol and Randolph work one on one against my big men. The AI had no problem with constantly feeding Gasol and Randolph in the post and using Conley’s speed to blow past my guards. For the first time ever, I had to use the defensive matchup screen to adjust how my team defended an AI team.
The “2k Smart Play” feature is a great addition. Instead of having to scroll though pages of plays to call the right play, you can rely on the AI to call the best play available based on the personnel on the floor. The play calls do not appear random and are based on the personnel on the floor, your team’s success rate in running those plays and the time left on the clock. Calling plays using this feature allows the game to feel more fluid because you don't have to pause to look at a menu and figure out what play you are going to call.
The presentation this year is basically the same as 2K13 just without Jay-Z.
For those of you who still have NBA 2K13, I want you to pop the game into your game console. Now after you do that, I want you to look at 2K13’s presentation and imagine what it would look like if the game removed Jay-Z.
You’ve now seen exactly what 2k14’s presentation elements are. The halftime show is the same. The post game/player of the game is the same. Even the scoreboard is the same. From a presentation perspective, the look and feel of the game is exactly the same as 2k13.
There are a few improvements when it comes to the audio. There are more arena specific sounds when an event occurs and new player sounds have been added including players screaming when contact is made in the paint. The commentary is pretty much the same with a few season-specific team related lines added. While I still enjoy the team of Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr, I was disheartened to hear some of the same lines (such as the “Share the sugar/Pass the cream) line from 2K13.
My biggest issue with 2k14’s sound is the crowd. I’ve heard instances when the crowd fails to react to big plays like a dunk or a last minute shot. There is nothing more deflating than hitting a buzzer beater with the home team and getting a delayed or no reaction from the crowd.
This has been an issue with the 2K series since its inception and it continues with this year’s version. The crowd gets very loud a certain points of the game and especially in the playoffs but this bug does detract from the in-game experience somewhat when a big play happens.
The game modes in NBA 2K14 didn't see many improvements over last year's game.
The two big mode additions in NBA 2K14 are “Lebron’s Path To Greatness” and the return of Crew Mode.
The Path to Greatness mode gives you the choice of taking Lebron through the rest of his career and presents different scenarios and choices that you must make. The initial choice is between staying with the Heat and creating a dynasty or having Lebron take his talents to another team and trying to win a title somewhere else. During each season you will play select games with different scenarios such as Lebron having to play PG against the Clippers because Cole and Chalmers are both injured or the first game for the Heat against the Rockets’ new Dwight Howard led team.
I recognize that Lebron is the biggest name in basketball right now and on the cover of the game so I understand why 2K would feel the need to design a mode featuring him.
Still, I found myself less interested in and motivated to play this mode in comparison to the mode it replaced, NBA’s Greatest. I preferred the diversity found in NBA’s Greatest mode where you could play with multiple teams and in multiple eras. Path to Greatness feels like a hybrid franchise/My Player mode where you control one team and make decisions that affect one player.
With that said, if you are a big fan of Lebron, I’m sure you are going to love this mode. For someone like me who isn’t a big Lebron fan, you will find yourself playing other modes.
For the first time since 2010, Crew Mode is back. That's the good news. The bad news is that it’s significantly different than in past years. All games are played on blacktop and players have the choice of 3 on 3 or 5 on 5.
Crew has more of a pick-up game or street ball feel than past versions of the mode. I wasn't able to try out Crew Mode with my preview copy because there are so few people online before release but I’m sure that despite the limitations, many people will be excited about the return of this mode.
The biggest disappointment in this year’s game is the lack of any significant improvements to some of the standard modes like the Association and My Player modes. In my time with the game, I could not find one significant improvement in either mode. My Player did add a few small things attaching specific stats to draft stock (for example, rebounds will mean more for a PF than a PG) and using the real audio from the 2013 NBA draft in the My Player draft but nothing that significantly changes or improves the mode.
As for Association, nothing has changed and while last year’s version of the mode was excellent, it’s disappointing that 2K did not feel the need to improve or add anything to this year’s version.
If you are all about gameplay, this year's game is for you.
NBA 2K14 is a true test of how genuine the typical Operation Sports visitor is. OSers love to say, “What I’m most concerned about is gameplay!” and “Gameplay trumps everything.”
What you have with NBA 2K14 is the best gameplay I’ve ever played but it’s in a game with limited feature improvements and graphics that haven’t improved in about two years.
If you are all about gameplay, the decision to buy this game is a no brainer. If you are a basketball fan and you don't plan to buy a next generation console this year, you should run to a retailer and buy this game immediately.
However, if you are planning to buy a next generation console at launch your best move may be to wait. From the little we’ve seen from the next-gen version, the graphics are definitely improved and if the game has all of the features as the current generation version -- next-gen is the better game.
Learning Curve: If you’ve played past versions of the game, you will be comfortable with this year’s game.
Control Scheme: Pro Stick users may have some issues adjusting to the new Pro Stick functions. Passing, shooting and Isomotion are all now tied to the Pro Stick and users have to select a modifier to use each skill. For users having issues with the new Pro Stick, there is an option to change the Pro Stick function back to the old setup.
Intangibles: From Custom Music to practice mode to the Shoe Creator, the NBA 2K series has always had a ton of features outside of the actual game that improve the game. NBA 2K14 is no different.
Visuals: Great as always but it appears that NBA 2K has reached its ceiling on current gen consoles. The only significant graphical changes are to Lebron.
Audio: Small changes but not significant enough. Many bugs that have been in the game for years still remain.
Score: 8.5 (Great)
Scoring Note: Some of you may think 8.5 is low for a game that's I described as “the best basketball video game simulation ever made” but I cant give a game a 9 when there are few improvements to the standard game modes and the new modes are average at best. We will have detailed looks at both online, crews, and dynamic living rosters when those features become better defined as users hop on and start using them.