The nascent stages of the 2013-2014 NBA season coincide with the inevitable video game tie-in: of 2K Sports’ NBA 2K14. Featuring outstanding ball-handling and shooting controls, excellent TV-quality presentation, Euroleague teams, and tons of modes, NBA 2K14 continues its reign as the premier basketball title—but the game will feel like an incremental upgrade to anyone who’s played NBA 2K13.
The Tip Off
NBA 2K13 featured Jay-Z as the executive producer and as a result, the b-ball game was covered in the rapper’s Brooklyn-centric touches. NBA 2K14, on the other hand, doesn’t have the former Nets owner’s influence (there were five Jigga tracks on the NBA 2K13 soundtrack). Instead, cover athlete LeBron James served as the music curator. The tunes include the likes of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” Coldplay’s “Lost!,” and Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight.” It’s a very solid mix of pop songs that blends well with the overall “showtime” presentation.
NBA 2K14 contains a ton of modes and features designed to keep you playing until the Finals tip-off in June, but two of my favorites are “Crews” and “Dynamic Living Rosters.” “Crews” lets you (and four others) take a created player online for five-on-five multiplayer hoops action. It’s the video game equivalent of the schoolyard pick-up game, but with stats and leaderboards. “Dynamic Living Rosters” (powered by Stats, Inc.) translates real-world hot and cold streaks to the game, so when King James is slumping, digital James will be off his game, too. It’s an effective way to bridge the gap between the actual sport and its video game representation. A new mode “Path to Greatness,” let’s you plot out Bron-Bron’s future over the next seven years through a series of big games.
Lace Up the Sneaks
NBA 2K14′s gameplay is deep—in fact, there are so many offensive and defensive moves that you may want to play with an open instruction booklet. You’ll need it for the Pro Stick that gives you incredible control over ball handling and shooting. Using it in conjunction with other buttons lets you pull off dunks, crossovers, layups, hop steps, runners, pump fakes, and many other moves. There are defensive moves aplenty, too; flops, wrap fouls, rebounds, lunges, and numerous other moves are available. The wide range of options creates a game that looks like one pulled directly from broadcast TV. If you understand basketball’s intricacies, such as mastering and defending the pick-and-roll, you’ll do well. If you don’t, the computer will pick you apart as the A.I. is quite smart.
Signature Skills further individualize the hundreds of in-game athletes by giving them specific perks that replicate the players they’re based on. Kobe Bryant, for example, possesses the “Closer” Signature Skill, which increases his stamina, and the likelihood of making free throws and moving shots. Role-players have Signature Skills, too, but superstars like Dwayne Wade will have many, often on both the offensive and defensive ends. These skills can help you decide which players are best in particularly situations, and thus help your coaching.
NBA 2K14 features not just the 30 regular teams, but 14 Euroleague teams, too. Unfortunately, last year’s Dream Teams are no more. I’d rather have the U.S. Olympic squads over the Euroleague any day.
Playing online is surprisingly smooth. I played several matches and didn’t encounter much lag. That said, there are some truly hardcore players out there who will punish you more than the CPU, so make sure to bring your A-game.
The Xbox 360 version utilizes Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral to let gamers call plays by, well, calling plays. Speak a specific play (like “Clear Out” or “Pick and Roll”) and your squad will follow our command. You can also use it to sub players.
The Highlight Reel
The graphics deftly recreate the NBA experience. The athlete’s character models are well-designed for the most part (they tug at shorts when tired, wipe sweat away), but they suffer from cold, dead fish eyes that ruin some of the realism. The crowd, too, looks like it was pulled from another game as the individual fans lack detail.
That said, the ballers’ movement—be it running, rebounding, or shooting—is outstanding. There are tons of animations and they’re all smooth, keeping the controls sharp. Players attack the basket and ball in a variety of ways and perform signature moves that look absolutely gorgeous. Many PCMag staffers who walked by as I played legitimately thought I was watching a real game.
The excellent four-person commentary from Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg, Steve Kerr, and Doris Burke gives NBA 2K14 its soul. The play-calling is spot on—it doesn’t lag behind the action—and there’s plenty of ancillary commentary (such as the rather in-depth conversations such as LeBron’s decision to take his talents to South Beach) that keeps the audio fresh. Naturally, there’ is some repetition in the color commentary, but it doesn’t ruin the experience. I’m eager to see if the next-gen PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions make improvements in that regard.
Winning the Ring
NBA 2K14 is an excellent pro hoops title designed with hardcore basketball fans in mind. The returning NBA Live franchise—which has been on hiatus for a number of years—will have a tough time topping this all-around excellent title. If you already own NBA 2K13, there may not be enough new features to warrant a full-price purchase, but diehards and those new to the franchise will find a lot to like in NBA 2K14.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc