The story behind EA Sports' NBA Live series is an interesting one, not because of the games themselves but because of the events surrounding them.
Due for a comeback in 2010, NBA Elite 11 — the new name for the franchise that didn't stick — was cancelled a week before its release. EA Sports then promised a comeback with NBA Live 13 only to can it months before its arrival, insisting that it needed technical tweaking.
Now, with the arrival of next-generation consoles, EA Sports has finally made good on its word to return to the court with NBA Live 14, a game that held a lot of promise based on early screen shots.
However, there are two problems with the final product. First, NBA 2K14, 2K Sports' dominant basketball sim, is so much better on the court. Second, even if EA didn't have to deal with them, NBA Live 14 just plain stinks. Every part of the game feels off.
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Let's start with the general game play. Most games would find their ebb and flow from the realistic movement of the players and friction between them on the court, but NBA Live 14 simply wanders. Not once does it feel like a complete simulation, what with the sloppy game play consistently wandering off and the graphics looking like something you'd find from a mid-range PlayStation 3 title.
Take, for instance, the AI. Part of the time, they're so out of it that they'll let you rack up 30 or more points without batting an eye, especially if you're trying to climb through the ranks in the Rising Star mode.
Other times, however, they become a miraculous team, running up the score and somehow reading you as if they have tracking lasers on. At one point, we played with the Lakers going up against the Pelicans and found ourselves on a 19-0 scoring run. That is, the Pelicans scoring against us. The Pelicans.
The game play doesn't nail down anything just right. Jumpers feel floaty and are made more based on luck than skill, even with a quality player standing behind the line. Dunks are good, but they seem to happen far too often, as if the other team wants you to put on a show. As for finger rolls and quick lay-ups, half the time they don't even work, again because of that AI inconsistency.
It doesn't help that NBA Live 14 is quite ugly. There is no real agreeable camera angle here; it's either too low or too high to provide a fresh prospective. The TV broadcast angle is OK, but half the time players end up stuck together, especially defenders. The animations are jerky and half-finished, especially when it comes to transitions to the basket.
Worse yet, the frame rate hiccups, particularly when you're in an online match. Apparently EA Sports thought that servers would be just fine considering NBA Live's minimal traffic — but more leeway should've been given. Overall, this is definitely not a game that looks next-level.
The commentary is boring and uninteresting. The NBA 2K14 team knows its stuff and constantly nails what's happening on the court, but NBA Live's doesn't do much at all. They fail to interject any sort of energy into the contest. The ambience effects and music are OK, but they're hardly worth investing $60 in.
The game features smooth integration with the happenings around the NBA, including the ability to recreate key moments from previous contests. However, given the problematic game play and visuals, chances are you'll never get around to replicating them. Worse yet, trying to involve friends into online contests is, again, disastrous, because the lag and server problems keep any contest from coming to light. Meanwhile, NBA 2K14 — I know I keep bringing it up, but there's a reason — runs as smooth as butter.
I commend EA Sports for finally releasing an NBA Live game after years of delays, cancellations and relying on the much more entertaining NBA Jam. But clearly the fans deserved better than a broken, mushy-looking simulation that's a clear second place behind 2K's champion.
Next year might be a different story, if EA's team learns its lessons and returns to the fundamentals that made the earlier NBA Live games work so well. For now, though, leave these guys on the sideline and turn to 2K's game instead.
'NBA Live 14'
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Sports
ESRB rating: E