Review: NBA Live 14 (Xbox One)
If EA had hoped to knock 2K's brilliant NBA basketball series off the top of the championship podium, it isn't off to a good start with NBA Live 14 - the company's first basketball game in four years.
While EA Sports has focused on its Madden and Fifa games, 2K has taken the bull by the horns and shaped and refined its NBA 2K series into a franchise that, frankly, has gotten better and better with each new edition.
EA has had a rocky road with NBA Live 14, which only continued after launch; the game's producer - Sean O'Brian - even apologised to fans on the company's website for the game not meeting their expectations.
He promised to make NBA Live 14 a "better game as quickly as possible".
Well, I'm not sure how quick EA will deliver on that promise, but no sooner had I inserted the game disc into my Xbox One's blu-ray drive than I had to download a 500MB patch (sorry, update.)
I'm still none the wiser on what the update actually did, though: Did it improve player AI? Had it improved the game's graphics? I just don't know.
My first game in NBA Live 14 was with the Oklahoma City Thunder - one of my basketball-mad son's favourite teams - against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
My starting line-up was extremely solid: Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, and Russell Westbrook.
It seemed like a team that would clean up the Cavaliers - and it did, even though I'm hardly the world's greatest basketball player.
The Thunder won 54 to 49, but a lot of the time I couldn't help but think the game just didn't feel like a next-generation (or should that be current-gen?) experience. If you didn't know that it was running on an Xbox One, you'd think at times you were playing a last-generation basketball game thanks to the at-times jerky player animations, stiff looking coaches, as well as flat and repetitive models used in the crowd. NBA 2K13 looks better than NBA Live 14.
NBA Live 14 uses something EA calls the bounceTek dribbling system. It has nothing to do with players salivating on the court as they move but is said to provide a more realistic ball dribbling action - and it looks like it does - but, sadly, it's undone by extremely stilted and robotic player animations.
Sometimes, players will almost slide across the court as if it's made of ice, or other times just make weird movements. Nowhere is the unnatural movement more evident than when you have players crowding the keyhole, and all of a sudden you get this peculiar situation where defensive players almost bounce up and down, trying to block the ball. It's quite amusing.
The game is also glitchy, with players walking through each other courtside and I'm sure at one point the ball just suddenly flew out of a player's hands, ricocheting off the basket's rim and catapulting skyward. My son laughed his head off at that one.
That's not to say that NBA Live 14 doesn't have its moments, because it does: there's something satisfying about having a player steal the ball mid-court then slam dunk it into the opposition basket. In fact, pulling off an impressive dunk is supremely satisfying - but those glory moments are few and far between in NBA Live 14.
Another positive about the game is that there's plenty to do. Aside from the free-play and online modes, there are also the Dynasty, Rising Star, and Ultimate Team options. Dynasty mode is essentially the game's "Career", where you look after a basketball team and can handle the day-to-day intricacies of management: from hiring coaching and support staff to trading players.
Rising Star mode is different, in that it lets you take control of a single player as they make their way through the NBA ranks - right from being drafted to the championship final. In Ultimate Team mode, you can play a variety of challenges based on real-life NBA games. It's interesting but is essentially the same as you'd find in other sports games.
In the end, EA's return to video game basketball falls flat, and there's no way I could recommend it above 2K's frankly much better NBA 2K series. It's disappointing and hard to fathom that, given how much was riding on the game, EA could have dropped the ball so completely. After a while, even my son said he was bored with the game - and he once dreamed of playing in the NBA.
EA had four years to craft a really competitive basketball game for fans and frankly, it's disappointing. In its current form, I can't see any reason to recommend NBA Live 14 ahead of NBA 2K14, which is clearly a superior game.
If you want a next-gen basketball game, buy NBA 2K14 instead.
NBA Live 14
From: EA Tiburon
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4