The undisputed king of sports games?(Ed: We enlisted the knowledge of Jason Evans or better known as Jevans to bring you a review of NBA2K14 on the PS4.)
Back in November 1999, this writer purchased a Sega Dreamcast for a few titles in particular. Aside from Soul Calibur and Crazy Taxi, there was another standout launch title, in the form of a little NBA title by Visual Concept called NBA 2K. The title was lauded for its ground-breaking visuals and unprecedented authentic presentation, so of course this NBA fan simply had to have it.
14 years and two entire console generations later, NBA 2K has flourished into what is undeniably the most consistent sports title on the planet, not to mention one of the best-selling. With the recent launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, we take a look at what Visual Concepts brings to the table for their first attempt on the new generation.
If You Build It, They Will Come
There’s one crucial thing to understand here before we go any further. NBA 2K14 on the PS4 and XB1 is not a port. While most games which boast a release on multiple platforms cannot say the same, Visual Concepts has meticulously recreated NBA 2K14 for next-gen consoles from the ground up. While a lot of commotion has been made regarding the benefits and inadequacies of titles running on the new systems, I’m pleased to report that the game looks drop-dead gorgeous on both platforms, running at native 1080p all while humming along at a locked frame rate of 60fps. The ball has never looked rounder, the sweat has never glistened so sweetly.
But it’s not just a simple facelift we’re talking here, oh no. What we’re seeing is a total recreation of many of the intrinsic gameplay factors, as well as entirely new ways of modelling various bits and pieces such as the arenas, hair, jerseys and other bits and pieces.
For starters, thanks to the new ‘Eco Motion’ engine used, the physics of the game are on another level thanks to the extra horsepower afforded by Sony and Microsoft’s new beasts. The ball now behaves as a ball should, spinning and ricocheting off different objects far more accurately. Players also move and behave far more dynamically, rather than just running through the canned animations as they would in the past. Expect to see players reacting to contact, altering shots on the fly and responding to those around them more than before.
They also say the devil’s in the details, and if so, then NBA 2K14 is a devilish title indeed. It may sound odd, but the hair on players is among the most realistic ever seen in any video game. Zooming in to see the painstaking attention given to James Harden’s infamous beard, only to find stray hairs angling off in different directions gave me all sorts of awkward delight. Every arena is picture perfect, down to the giant video screens, whose many thousands of pixels are now each individual light sources (!) which cast light dynamically onto the arenas below. Don’t be surprised to see Michael Jordan’s signature wagging tongue hanging out of his mouth during close-up replays of his dunks, or the crowd in Oklahoma City respectfully standing until their home team scores their first point, just as they do in the real thing. The attention to detail across the board is simply astounding.
While most of the higher profile players are spot-on to their real life counterparts, some still look a little off, while some of the lesser known players can look a little generic. Still, it’s hard to expect them all to be perfect, and NBA 2K has always been ahead of its competitors in this field.
The Undisputed King
Gracing the cover of NBA 2K14 is none other than ‘The King’ himself, reigning MVP and NBA champion, LeBron James. Strangely absent however, is the ‘Path to Greatness’ mode that featured in the previous gen version, which put players in the driver’s seat of LeBron’s career, and made different choices in key moments for different outcomes. While by all accounts it wasn’t as detailed or epic as the ‘Jordan Challenge’ mode a couple of years ago, it’s odd to see it AWOL and other modes make the cut, considering the subject in question is firmly entrenched on the cover.
What DOES make it in, however, is a veritable smorgasbord of comprehensive modes and options to keep the appetite of any budding NBA fan more than sated.
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In terms of actual gameplay, you’ve got plenty of choices from regular games, NBA Blacktop which makes its return of you’re after some more rugged streetball action, and online modes, ranging from regular 1 on 1 games to full on leagues for those willing to invest a little more time.
Speaking of time investments, for the hardcore micromanagers and statisticians among us, ‘MyGM’ mode allows you to control every aspect of a franchise, from players, to staff to the team’s finances. Once again though, MyGM mode omits a number of features found in the previous-gen version, presumably due to time constraints since the game had to make the launch for both new consoles. It’s somewhat understandable, but disappointing all the same.
The most robust mode of the pack which will likely suck up most of your time however, is the ‘MyCareer’ mode.
As with many career modes, MyCareer sees you first creating your avatar of choice, and vying for a place in the NBA to cement your legacy and win a championship. Along the way you’ll play in the All-Star weekend if you’re good enough, and have various encounters and interactions with teammates, team officials and fans. Thanks to the large range of real names and nicknames that the in-game commentators have recorded, it gave me a small measure of thrill every time I heard legendary commentator Kevin Harlan say my name every time I pulled off an amazing play, or when long-time NBA commissioner David Stern read out my name on draft day.
As deep as MyCareer mode is, it has its drawbacks. For starters, if this is your first NBA 2K game, you’ll likely struggle with obtaining high performance ratings or to do that well. Thankfully you can still play through no matter what, but you won’t get the same level of satisfaction as a long time player might.
Secondly, some of the interactions with others are hit or miss. Whilst your character is fully voiced (at a fairly respectable level to boot), not all of the other characters are. When you speak to a fellow teammate in the locker rooms, not only are they mute when they talk, but their mouths don’t move either, pulling you out of the experience to a degree. Additionally, the other voiceovers are a mixed bag; one moment there will be some humorous dialogue between yourself and the GM of your team, the next you’re talking to a monotone robot.
The vast array of unlockable upgrades to your stats and to your wardrobe more than make up for this though, and ensure you’ll be playing MyCareer for some time to come.
Better Than Being There
The one thing about NBA 2K14 that will likely have your jaw on the ground more than any other is the high level of presentation on offer. This is truly as good as it gets as far as sports titles are concerned, folks.
The commentary, ever since the original entry in the series, has always been top notch and free flowing. I gaped in awe as I heard the commentary team telling a story about a players father, only for them to be interrupted mid-sentence by a thunderous slam dunk – and then continue where they left off once the excitement had died down a little. Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr reportedly do up to 50 hours of original commentary for the games PER YEAR, and it really does pay off. At half and full-time, expect to see real pre-recorded interviews by NBA sideline reporter Doris Burke with a player from one of the participating teams, too.
The crowds similarly, are unmatched. Expect to see plenty of different 3D models, all behaving uniquely and realistically, and also sounding just like the real thing. If you have a surround sound system, you’re in for a treat. As in real life, the crowds react instinctively to the flow of the game. If it’s a blowout they’ll be far less interested, but If it’s a tight game with a minute or so to go, expect them to be hanging on every shot and possession. Put up a three pointer with your star player and hear the crowd roar “Threeee…!” as they will the ball to go through the hoop, just as they would in the real thing.
Even the graphics and video packages used before, during and after the game feel like a professional ESPN or TNT level broadcast, giving you spectacular video highlights of all the greatest plays.
Expect to baffle many-a-friend as they wonder whether you’re playing a game or watching the real thing. It’s that good.
Finally, I can’t not mention the stellar soundtrack, supposedly curated by LeBron James himself. As the success of the 2K franchise grew over the years, so did the quality of its soundtracks. While music is a very subjective thing, I was able to identify and groove along to almost every track included, as most were well-known pop or rap hits from the past couple of years.
Oh yeah, and a little Phil Collins. Thanks, LeBron.
At the end of the day, there’s no development team anywhere in the world who can match Visual Concepts when it comes to sports games. Titles like FIFA may sell more globally, but none can match the level of detail and realism that 2K injects into their franchise year after year.
For all it does right, however, there’s still a few things that holds the franchise back from being perfect. As I mentioned earlier, not all the athletes are created equally, with quality ranging from uncanny valley realism, to PS2 era generic.
There’s a few modes that are painfully absent too, such as multiplayer dunk and 3-point contests (which have been seen in previous iterations), and the aforementioned disparity with the previous-gen versions of the game.
More often than not you’ll also see an awkward or unwarranted animation from a player or referee throughout the games too, which is a shame compared to the other flawless animations which are nailed, and can be a little jarring at times. This is nothing new for sports games however, and something I would love to see improved this generation.
When all is said and done though, if you’re looking for THE game for your shiny new PlayStation 4 or Xbox One to really impress your family and friends, look no further. If you’re a basketball or sports fan, this one should be a no-brainer.
It’s fitting that 2K Games managed to score the MVP as this year’s cover athlete, because NBA 2K is the MVP of sports games once again.
+ Unparalleled authentic presentation.
+ Superb soundtrack.
+ Will keep you busy until 2K15.
+ 1080p, 60fps.
– Doesn’t include everything the PS3/360 versions did.
- Some animations still a little jarring.
- MyCareer mode still needs a bit of tweaking.