Review: NBA 2K14 (PS4)

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Title: NBA 2K14
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (41.8 GB)
Release Date: November 15, 2013 (US), November 29, 2013 (EU)
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Visual Concepts
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E
NBA 2K14 is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, iOS and Android.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.

Editor’s Note:
Portions of this review also appear in our PS3 coverage of NBA 2K14.

Gameplay:
Visual Concepts realised whilst the on-court action was leaning on perfection, the game modes on offer were one of the very few flaws in their last-gen dynasty. A revamp was required in order to increase longevity; FIFA, for example, nails the variety and depth necessary to keep going for an entire year, where NBA 2K does not. With the leap forward onto PS4 and Xbox One, that looks set to change.

‘MyCareer’ has taken an evolutionary step forward. EA should take note – their staple ‘Be A Pro’ mode is nowhere near this benchmark which 2K has once again raised. On the hardwood, this is still the same deal; controlling an individual player. It’s in between the action where the devs have struck gold, providing what every sports gamer has been craving.

It’s a work-in-progress and still has a long way to go, but ‘MyCareer’ attempts to recreate the life of an NBA superstar. Cut-scenes string together matches, providing a story to keep you interested. Agents, rivalries, social media, press conferences, sponsorship deals, locker-room scuffles… it’s all here. Admittedly, polish is needed (for instance, real-life players are not voiced, which makes some conversations reminiscent of C-3PO and R2-D2) but this is a mightily promising start.

Elsewhere, ‘MyGM’ poses you the challenge of running a successful franchise, in the boardroom and on the court. You’ll want to appease the fans, players and your own winning mentality, whilst also delivering a healthy profit. Trade negotiations can fly or falter depending on your previous encounters with other General Managers. Unlike past titles, this is much deeper than simply monitoring the salary cap.

NBA 2K14 NG - MyGM

The third major game mode is ‘MyTeam’ – the rival (well, using the term rival extremely loosely) to EA’s Ultimate Team, which debuted in 2K12. Aside from the new ‘Domination’ portion – which comprises you trying to conquer every NBA team – improvements are minimal. Next year, this either needs to be taken seriously or canned. At the moment, the servers are dead as nobody is playing. Visual Concepts must inject some soul into it as well as improve the core mechanics; a thriving online marketplace is needed for the virtual economy to succeed.

Due to this being a hotly-anticipated launch title, especially by many newcomers, it was important for 2K to get the learning curve spot on. Overall, the game feels more difficult than its PS3 brother. However, an excellent tutorial mode has been added, to teach all the key moves in a timely and interesting manner. The menagerie of options and sliders make gradually increasing difficulty a breeze, so any beginners should find the game accessible enough.

Although utilising the right stick for ball and player movement has been implemented superbly, the basic button system remains present for novices – though in order to truly be successful, you’ll eventually need to master the array of analogue manoeuvres. Visual Concepts have done well to make this feature an on-the-fly addition rather than a core game mechanic. Beginners and expert virtual ballers can take to the court without changing any settings to suit their individual level, which is great for couch play.

Sticking with on-the-fly developments, we have the neat new play calling system on L1. Again unobtrusive, this helps out a lot when moving across halfway and deciding on the best option. Some of these more patient plays are hugely gratifying, such as biding your time then splitting the D open with a bounce pass to your selected runner. As offensive play is generally slower, improvements to fast breaks and snappy passing moves are duly noted, making them far more satisfying than before.

In terms of defense, while steal success is not necessarily more frequent, failed attempts now thankfully result in less foul calling, which is a welcome relief for those of us who found past titles too strict on reaching-in and almost a risk not worth taking. However, the next-gen version suffers from overly-strict goaltending calls, which soon becomes grating. Furthermore, the game plays into the real-world stereotype of the NBA being all about offense. Any time spent defending is frustrating and unsatisfying, due to balance being slightly off, predominantly in favour of the attacker.

NBA 2K14 NG - Bryant

A few other problems exist, which (if not patched) have to be corrected for 2K15. In ‘MyPlayer’, your marked man sporadically changes which leads to a poor performance rating. You could be shielding Wade well on the left side of the baseline, when all of a sudden the game decides you’re at fault for not marking LeBron on the right, whose basket negatively affects your teammate grade after ‘allowing your man to score’. In the same mode, only one AI teammate may be open for a pass – and he’ll decide to stand out of bounds.

An odd shot selection is present when using the buttons. With some players, pressing shoot will open up a magnetic field between them and the hoop – creating a guaranteed dunk when they weren’t even in the paint. The ‘EcoMotion’ engine that powers the next-gen version of 2K14 is a major step up for the series, but (expectedly) there are creases that need ironing out; the new sense of fluidity is occasionally interrupted by stuttered running animations and the ball teleporting to teammates hands. Evidently, though the gameplay remains great overall, it’s far from perfect thanks to these on-court quirks. I can’t wait to see this game with two or three years of refinements and familiarity with the hardware.

Visuals:
NBA 2K14 feels alive. Whilst EA have been shouting from stadium rooftops about their sporting audiences for next-gen, 2K has quietly improved arena atmosphere, primarily through a realistic looking crowd. Combined with the awe-inspiring action on the hardwood and the outstanding commentary (see below), NBA 2K14 can easily be mistaken for a match on TV. Each player is discernibly different through the slew of individual animations, whilst the game as a whole is wonderfully fluid; weaving through traffic with intricate movements is a sight to behold.

The screenshots on this page look exceptional, but don’t do the game justice – that’s how lifelike the players are on the PS4. How deep is the attention to detail? We’re talking individual hairs on James Harden’s beard! The development team mastered the minutiae of the entire arena, meaning you’ll be spotting new facets of the visual fidelity in months to come. This is the most aesthetically impressive game ever seen, right down to the way the beautifully rendered jerseys crease and sway in relation to the player’s movement.

Audio:
2K14 is not ‘Executive Produced by Jay-Z’, so only one of Hova’s tracks makes an appearance this year, in what is a fairly strong (albeit quantitatively sparse) list of tunes that for the most part, fits the theme and atmosphere well. One of my most-anticipated features of the next-gen version was ‘Real Voice’, aka interviews. At half-time and post-game, players and coaches are questioned about proceedings by Doris Burke. This is exactly the sort of innovation I want to see from the sports genre.

NBA 2K14 NG - Durant

Commentary is simply superb – an absolute masterpiece that only FIFA can rival. The conversational tone works well in convincing your ears this is an actual broadcast and not in fact a video game. It’s also wonderfully contextual. There are constant remarks about a player’s form, their injuries last season, how their stats compare to the opposition… the list goes on. When a spectacular dunk hits the bucket, the trio will all shout ‘oooh!’ in unison, just as in real life. I could go on for hours with examples like this. In all, there aren’t enough superlatives for this masterpiece in commentary, for which 2K deserves infinite plaudits.

Online/Multiplayer: 
The online portion of 2K14 remains unspectacular. Games run smoothly but there’s little to keep you coming back. The servers are pretty desolate, which is partly due to the game only being entertaining with friends – this is the antithesis of FIFA, where randoms often provide just as much fun/frustration. However, the new ‘Park’ concept is a masterstroke. As the name suggests, it involves visiting your local virtual blacktop to play pickup games in 2, 3 or 5-a-side. The experience was entirely lag-free, though admittedly was nowhere near the 100 player capacity.

As well as innovating, Visual Concepts have borrowed a few ideas from its sports game brethren. A unified system for in-game credits is present, acting like the successful EASFC. These credits can be used to purchase in game items and increase the stats of your created pro, in what is now a ridiculously addictive upgrade system. Lastly, online leagues have added some structure to games against friends; again, reminiscent of EA’s offerings.

Two-player games offline are still my personal favourite way to play. There’s a constant feeling of it never being over; even with a 10+ point lead in the 3rd, a comeback is always in the cards. Another exhilarating aspect is the final few minutes being so tense and tactical. Just as in a real NBA match, the end of the 4th takes an absolute age with the fouling and free-throws. That’s where the sound hits another level, the DualShock starts vibrating, the screen even starts shaking and clutch players really come into their own, sinking them with relative ease. No other sports game becomes so nail-bitingly tense as 2K14.

NBA 2K14 NG - Allen

Conclusion:
The PS3 versions of NBA 2K have recently regressed (albeit only slightly), after reaching their last-gen peak in late 2011. Looking at 2K14 on PS4, it’s easy to see why. Plainly evident is that this phenomenal game has had an enormous amount of time, effort and resources injected into it. Quite simply, this is my favourite launch title of all time.

The new modes are a promising work-in-progress and the gameplay has a few imperfections which need to be addressed, but that’s to be expected. As an audio-visual package, it’s difficult to fathom how this game can become any more lifelike; the broadcast presentation is unparalleled. Scarily, this is an annual sports franchise – a genre notoriously slow-starting come a new generation of consoles – meaning NBA 2K will only get better.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher.

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Written by Raj Mahil

Raj Mahil

Game collector. Journalism graduate. Batman addict. Movie goer. WWE nut. Sports obsessive. Arsenal fan. Squawka.com Sub-Editor.

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