Platform: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, iOS, Android
Release Date: 4/10/13
NBA 2K14 Review
If the primary objective of sports games is to make the player feel like they’re really playing, and the observer think they’re watching the real thing, then NBA 2K14 is the closest I’ve ever seen to a perfect sports game. There are so many elements of NBA 2K14 that weave together to create this experience, and oddly enough the one that impressed me the most wasn’t necessarily a visual thing – it was the feeling created by the game’s controls.
The control scheme has been drastically overhauled from previous iterations – yet astonishingly it somehow retains that feeling of almost telepathic intuitiveness. The right-stick controls all of the shooting mechanics this time round, but it’s also used for skill movement like fakes and spins. In a lot of ways your right thumb becomes you player’s orientation, while the left thumb continues to handle basic directional movement.
Once you get your head around it, the two come together joyously. You can burst toward the rim along the line, deftly flicking your right thumb to switch the ball to your other hand, before spinning it and pulling pack sharply on the stick to turn and release the ball – sending it arcing into the net. Or you can jab the right stick away from a towering defender for a quick step-back, before driving at the paint with a neat quarter-spin and unleashing the ball at your target. Strange as it sounds – it’s like your thumbs become the player.
Along with this major change are a series of smaller fixes to previous gripes – now a quick tap of the left bumper will bring up player options when you’re on the attack – no more fiddling with the D-Pad. One of the most delicious features is the combination of LT/L2 and the right stick to pull off no-look passes. Many a three-pointer will be scored with this surprisingly intuitive piece of grin-inducing trickery.
Every game feels alive. Congested defensive scuffles in the paint ooze a sense of real physicality – players thudding and jostling, the crowd reacting to everything with atmospheric realism. Animations never feel re-used or pre-rendered, and the players emotions come across more than I’ve seen in any other sports game from both their facial expressions and their behaviour on (and off) court.
This set-up really pays off when you’re playing a season. Games really feel like they matter to both the players and the fans – and therefore to you. Crowd chants happen exactly at the right time dependant on in-game context, yet somehow they avoid feeling ‘scripted’. At one point I was playing as the Lakers, and trailing to Clippers up until the fourth quarter. When I managed to pull ahead after an emphatic dunk from Farmar, the crowd’s urgent chants of “DE-FECNE” had the hairs on the back of my neck on end. Moments like that make the price-tag of a game more than justified.
Add to all of this the outstanding commentary team lead by Steve Kerr throwing in uncannily relevant dialogue – possibly the best commentary I’ve heard in any sports game in history in terms of intelligence and execution. It’s all of this attention to detail that allows NBA2K14 to put a real experience on screen, rather than a soulless facsimile of its real-life counterpart.
I can sum up that soul with one experience: playing against the Bulls, Kobe won a three-point play opportunity after drawing a foul from Luol Deng. As he stepped up to the line to attempt his free-throw, I sat listening to Kerr and the team riff about the poor season Lakers had last year from the free-throw line, citing Dwight Howard as the main culprit. The fan in me was getting riled up by the reminder, and suddenly I realised I was sat watching Kobe limbering up, waiting for him to shoot – because I was so wrapped up in the moment that I’d genuinely forgotten it was a game. I was waiting for him to shoot all on his own.
Let me put that into perspective – that would never happen in FIFA. Never would I see Rooney step up to take a penalty for England and be so lost in the game that I expected him to shoot for me. That is the size of the achievement earned by the team at 2K Sports.
This is brilliance is reached through nothing other than core game-play elements – I haven’t even gotten to the special modes and extra features yet. It’s as if every single fibre of this game has been scrutinised and lovingly crafted by true fans of the sport of basketball. The training mode, as an example, feels perfectly balanced and paced, showing you how to play the game without ever feeling too easy, or too hard. It’s a slick progression that achieves its goal of making you ready for what feels like the real thing.
This year’s special mode, ‘Lebron’s Path to Greatness’, sees you play a version of Lebron’s career where you make the choices. It’s not quite as good as Jordan’s challenge in 2K11, but it’s by no means something to quickly dismiss. It’s probably the only thing about this game that would prevent it from a perfect score.
The best way to reach the crescendo of this review is to tell one more story: the way you feel at the end of most games in NBA 2K14. After a genuinely emotional game in which your favourite team narrowly beat their arch rivals, the players are celebrating on the court as the cheer-leaders dance happily around them, the crowd going wild. As it dies down and you fade back to the menu screen, ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke kicks in, and you’re immediately planning your next game, the smile not leaving your face for even a moment. That is what NBA 2K14 is all about.
This is the final flagship sports sim to be released on the 'PS360' generation. That's both a statement of chronological fact and an assessment of its quality; this game embodies the phrase "save the best 'till last". It's the best current-gen basketball experience by galactic proportions, and it's the best sports sim I've ever played.
- Looks and feels like the real thing more than ever before
- Outstanding control system
- Great for beginners and advanced players