NBA 2K14 Review
The NBA 2K series has been the premiere basketball sim on the market for the past several years and continues to upgrade incrementally, even with the noticeable lack of competition in the marketplace from EASports since 2010. Developer Visual Concepts continues that tradition and sets yet another high standard for sports simulations as we cross the bridge into the next generation of consoles with their release of NBA 2K14 on the Playstation 4.
The most noticeable upgrades in NBA 2K14 are the graphics and visual presentation. The courts and lighting look fantastic as do the off court details including the crowd, scorer’s table and both benches. The faces of each player are truly impressive. Face scans were completed for approximately 80% of the league and they are stunning; sadly this also makes it very evident which players fell into the 20% of those not scanned. The faces are capable of actual emotion showing frustration, happiness and of course that stereotypical ‘swag’ look, all of which a perfectly believable. Adding to the realism is the attention to detail in the animations, again not only of the players but of those off the court as well. Every player has their own unique shooting and free throw animations which coupled with the timing aspect of the shooting mechanic, which I’ll detail later, make each player feel like an individual; not to mention all of these are visually and mechanically altered procedurally when a shot is contested. To top it off all of this action runs at 1080p and a smooth 60 frames per second, making it a pure joy to look at even for extended sessions.
The presentation looks to be straight out of an NBA broadcast. The camera angles are great, along with the occasional cut away to show a cinematic replay. The broadcast crew led by Kevin Harlan continues to be head and shoulders above any announcing crew in any sports game. I was frequently impressed by how naturally the announcers would be talking about a topic, get interrupted by a great play to comment on and then return to the topic they were previously discussing. Halftime interviews between Doris Burke and a player or coach are an extremely impressive addition. The questions and responses are all on point and use the voices of those involved in the interview, further reinforcing the realism of the entire package. Between the animations and the presentation NBA2K14 could easily be mistaken for a real TV broadcast from across the room.
NBA2K14 does have some visual bugs that have plagued the series for several years, namely clipping. The issues are infrequent but certainly not uncommon and a bit of a bummer to see them pop up in a game that is otherwise absolutely gorgeous. While not a glitch, the menu system throughout the game could use a complete overhaul. It’s not user friendly and options, even notable features, are nearly impossible to locate throughout the oddly layered submenus.
Initially the gameplay feels very much as it did on the PS3, but there are several improvements to note. The EcoMotion engine that was added to the PS4 version makes the flow of the game feel even more natural, especially on loose balls and when driving the lane. Shots are contested regularly and it feels like each time down the court is a unique experience. AI has improved and as you increase the difficulty the AI gets more difficult to handle but not in the cheap feeling ways that most sports franchises tend to scale difficulty. As the difficulty scales higher in NBA2K14 little things start to get crisper on the AI side, to name a few: passes are slightly more on point and defenders are more aware defensively and will be ready to contest a shot at the right moment. These changes leave the player feeling like they are playing an opponent with more skill, not that the computer upped their ability sliders while the player’s remained the same.
The first of two main player modes is MyGM, your typical dynasty mode putting the player in control of every aspect of the franchise and allowing the option to play or sim your chosen team’s games. This is usually my favorite mode in any sports sim, but NBA2K14 made some questionable decisions when designing this mode. The conversation engine used in MyGM is brilliant. You will interact with all types of people in the organization from scouts to the owner to players and other GM’s. Each of which having a palpable effect on the happenings both inside the organization, such as players leaving or staying based on how their requests were met, and around the league with GM’s not taking your calls should negotiations go sour.
The most frustrating of which is initially locking any decision making capability aside from trading players behind upgrade walls; completed via Virtual Currency (“VC”) purchases. From a design standpoint it makes sense to unlock skills making trades or contract negotiations easier, but to go through multiple upgrades before being able to alter your rotation on the floor is a little nuts. Aside from what is locked behind the VC wall, the actually VC economy is egregiously exploitative; essentially making you unable to get into more than one mode of the game without having to spend real money to supplement your progression. PastaPadre laid this issue out very well and I encourage you to go read it prior to making your purchase. Even more so than the online portion, which I’ll touch on shortly, this is by far the most disappointing aspect of the game.
My favorite game mode in NBA2K14 is easily MyCareer. The long and short of it is you create your player, and then go through a story based career progression with cut-scenes and a rival (Jackson Ellis) that you’ll cross paths with plenty of times throughout your career . The dialogue is undoubtedly corny and over the top, but I have to say the mode itself is oddly compelling. Even the scripted events, such as not getting any playing time for a few games after getting drafted, have the intended effect of making you want to go and shoot the lights out to ensure it doesn’t happen again. For next year Visual Concepts should get more than one voice actor for this mode. My 5’10” scrappy white point guard, when juxtaposed with the only voice option coming out of him is beyond laughable. The only other gripe I had here was the lack of voices for real NBA players in this mode. Everyone besides the real players have voices and it really stands out when you see just how far they went in just about every other aspect of the game.
The online portion of NBA2K14 stands in stark contrast to the quality of the rest of the game. Playing online is nigh impossible, and when you are able to get connected to a fellow player the gameplay is slow and lag ridden. Adding to the frustrations of many regarding the online issues is the fact that if you are unable to connect to 2K’s servers, you will only be able to access the ‘Quick Game’ mode against the CPU. The only positive thing I can say on this front is that server issues can be rectified and Visual Concepts has a patch inbound for the PS4 version to assist with hopefully all of these issues.
As other sports franchises did, somewhat poorly, at the start of the PS3 era, Visual Concepts placed a sizable bet and created a new game from the ground up for the launch of the Playstation 4 instead of simply porting the current gen version over. This time that bet succeeded and Visual Concepts should be commended for creating a beautiful, brand new experience for those making the jump to the PS4 that is a complete package of content, in spite of the current failings of its online component.
If you’re looking for a technical showpiece to show off your new PS4, NBA 2K14 is your game; the graphics and visual presentation are second to none.