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NBA Live 14 Review

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  • XONE
  • PS4

NBA Live 14 is a pretty lousy basketball game.

It's strange to think back how long it's been since EA Sports' NBA Live franchise actually meant something. Live hasn't been a very good basketball simulation for close to a decade, but there were enough entries in the early 2000s that more or less justified the franchise's continued existence and kept the NBA licensing game competitive, especially with then-and-current top dog 2K Sports' NBA 2K series. Then things started going downhill, and a few years back, EA tried to reboot the franchise as NBA Elite with an all-new engine and all the expected trimmings. It was a disaster. EA cancelled the title just days before it was expected to hit store shelves. A few copies did slip out into the wild, and the resulting YouTube videos showcased what looked to be the nadir of an already downtrodden franchise, a game so distressingly broken that EA would rather take a bath on scrapping what it had rather than dare to let the public see what horrors it had wrought.

NBA Live is back, I guess. Yay?

How mortifying was the NBA Elite experience? Bad enough that it's taken EA three years to try the NBA thing again. Originally it was supposed to be two, but then another year went by before the company was able to finally conjure up NBA Live 14. With so much time between the Elite boondoggle and now, you'd hope that EA would have been able to come up with at least one revelatory feature, one thing that would make it stand out from its oft-praised competitor. Instead, NBA Live 14 is a game that feels tentative at every turn, a game that feels preoccupied with mere functionality, versus anything even resembling innovation. The core tenets, strategies, and mechanics of the game of basketball are all represented here in thoroughly unspectacular fashion. It has the skeletal structures of modes you'd expect in a modern sports game, but none of the depth, detail, or excitement necessary to make them fun. It's as flat and flavorless a representation of professional basketball as I can ever remember seeing.

This is apparent from the moment you boot up NBA Live 14 and jump into a game. From the opening tip-off, Live's malformed player models, clunky animations, and peculiarly suspect frame rate (especially on the PS4 version) all immediately gather up to greet you and let you know you've made an unfortunate purchase. Even if you discount the astoundingly good player models in NBA 2K14, NBA Live 14 doesn't look like it was developed for new console hardware. When you do factor in the competition, NBA Live 14 looks downright tragic. Few faces seem to resemble their real-life counterparts, and most players have this stiff, gangly look to them that gives them an altogether unnerving quality.

The one big, new-ish feature EA has touted for this game is its BounceTek system, essentially a buzzword for its right-stick-based dribbling system. Strangely, the game has no useful tutorial to explain how this system works. The only tutorial, actually, is a short, baffling afterthought of a video that just shows you that it has three tiers of complexity, without ever actually demonstrating how to best take advantage of said complexities. That BounceTek system actually does work reasonably well (once you research how it actually works, then learn the appropriate timing), but the fact that I had to wander into EA's official blog to get any useful info on how it works is kind of ridiculous.

While you might be able to get the hang of BounceTek's timing, a bigger issue is that everything else in NBA Live 14 constantly feels a step behind your reaction time. In-game animations are programmed so haphazardly that it constantly feels like the game is lagging behind whatever you've just asked it to do. Want to try to trip up a defender by playing around with the right-analog stick dribbling, change direction, then try to cut through to the paint on a layup? You can do that, but you basically have to wait for each movement to complete before putting in the next move, which takes considerably longer than one would expect. You have to be careful about it too, otherwise you'll probably accidentally make your guy do about seven other things you didn't intend because you hit the buttons over and over again wondering why the game wasn't responding to your presses.

No aspect of NBA Live 14's gameplay feels correct. The timing for everything you do feels well behind the kind of quick responses you need to play basketball effectively.

This isn't just an issue of spamming commands and the game not responding, but more a matter of having to constantly wait for the game to catch up to the pace on the court. Did you just swipe the ball out of an offensive player's hand, and would you like to run up and grab it and take it down the lane for a fast break? Terrific, first you'll have to wait for both players to finish their peculiarly long "ball just fell out of a player's hand" animation, then watch both players stumble around for a second, then you'll have to try and direct your player's momentum in the direction of the ball, wait a half-second for him to pick it up, then wait another second for him to transition into his dribbling animation, and--oh, whoops! The entire opposing defense already got set at the other end of the court. Too bad! These sorts of momentum killing situations are everywhere in NBA Live 14. Your reaction time will almost always be quicker than what the game is capable of responding to. In a game as quickly paced as basketball, not being able to make effective moves on the fly is straight-up inexcusable.

It's a mess made messier by a host of other small, nagging gameplay issues. Camera problems are prevalent under several different settings, with some instances of the camera just straight up refusing to move back down the court with you until you take a timeout or switch the camera to a different setting entirely. Until you get very good at using the BounceTek to fake defenders out, defending players stick to you like glue, only occasionally leaving an opening if they inexplicably decide to all converge in the paint (leaving multiple open players on the perimeter) or if they just decide to fall over for no identifiable reason whatsoever. Trying to set up pick-and-rolls--or, really, just about anything that doesn't involve you tossing the ball to your biggest guy and hoping he can score in the paint--is a deeply frustrating experience that repeated practice and unending patience never quite manage to improve. You don't get better at NBA Live 14 so much as you just learn how better to exploit it.

There is nothing here to justify learning how to exploit it, mind you. This game is not very much fun in any facet of its execution, and the supporting modes don't make the crappy basketball-playing any better. The game's franchise mode is so bare-bones it might as well have been decomposing in a desert for a century, and the Rising Star mode--essentially the game's answer to NBA 2K's MyCareer mode--is, at best, a sketch of a good idea. Here, you just make your own player using some basic presets, get drafted by a team (whether they actually need a player at your position or not), and then proceed to play a bunch of games while trying to earn good grades for achieving vague objectives. There's no storyline here, nor anything to really keep you interested beyond the notion of just playing a player you created and trying not to suck enough to get decent grades. Mostly, it's just dull, with a dash of the infuriating when your AI teammates suddenly go full-lobotomy and just sit there with the ball, dribbling until the shot clock goes down to almost nothing. You can call for a pass whenever that happens, but it happens so often that you often end up in a situation where you have to constantly prod your team into doing much of anything. Incidentally, this happens in any situation where the game locks you to a single player. It seems like Live's A.I. just isn't programmed to respond intelligently to having to move the ball around itself, as opposed to having player control switch from player-to-player as you pass it.

I like the implementation of NBA Live 14's live season mode--it's just a shame you have to actually play NBA Live 14 to take advantage of it.

While these modes are merely dull, online play is straight-up garbage. Lag is constant, making an already unwieldy game that much more infuriating. Every game I played devolved into free-for-alls where all anyone could do was try to throw players toward the paint and hope the animation for a halfway makeable shot would happen. Timing on any other kind of shot is so horrid that you simply can't rely on them. If by some miracle you are able to start draining threes or making free-throws with any consistency, then you are probably some kind of server lag wizard and your powers should be put to use on better games than this one.

I suppose there are some positives worth lauding in NBA Live 14. Its live season mode, which regularly updates the game with challenges based on scenarios taking place during the current NBA season, is well-implemented and seems to be getting updated very quickly. Ultimate Team is about as solid as any other implementation of the concept in EA's other sports titles this year (though it maddeningly lacks the auction feature found in every other game), and I did think the game's broadcast presentation--namely its pre-game and halftime stat overlays and solid (if deeply repetitive) commentary from Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy--was pretty good. Unfortunately, these few bright spots aren't nearly enough to make NBA Live 14 appear as anything but a perfunctory, depressing mess. Yes, EA is making basketball games again, and perhaps that's a good thing, given that competition generally pushes developers to do more interesting things than they would otherwise. But if NBA Live 14 is any indication, it's going to be a long time before 2K Sports needs to acknowledge, let alone worry about, what EA's up to.

Alex Navarro on Google+
151 Comments
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Posted by Budwyzer

That forearm.... STRETCH!!!!

Posted by ThePickle

I seriously can't see this franchise making any sort of comeback. This is just a joke.

Posted by Nags

@butano said:

Alex Navarro - the anti-Brad Shoemaker of game reviewers.

Praise the gods for that.

Posted by zockroach

I love all of Alex's reviews, but I really love the one start ones the most. Not gonna lie.

Posted by YukoAsho

I seriously can't see this franchise making any sort of comeback. This is just a joke.

Well, I can see them trying to buy exclusivity for the NBA. Other than that, there's really no reason for EA to make basketball games anymore.

Edited by aceofspudz

I give this Navarro review 5 stars out of 5. "Raucous fun ... for the whole family."

Posted by DryvBy

@razielcuts: The ball catching issues are also on NBA 2K14. NBA 2K14 is a pretty bad basketball game as well. The online is completely broken with turnovers from stuff you don't control at all. I posted my list on NeoGAF already, and here's a link to the forum for ultimate complaining. Get past the pretty graphics, it's a complete mess.

Here's some examples of the bad AI I'm talking about:

-Pass the ball to my player, he stands there and lets it bounce off his chest.

-3 players waiting for a rebound, opponent misses, none of my players scatter for the ball. They watch it, but don't budge at all.

-Every now and then, I've shot the ball (no one around) only to have the ball float to my opponent's hand. No arch, just flat out looks like I passed the ball to them. This usually results in the announcers and stats counting the shot as a stolen or better yet, a block.

-Randomly players are fouling a shooter, even though on a replay they didn't reach for the ball or get near the shooter.

-Diving for the ball, resulting in out of bounds when they could hustle to just grab the ball.

-Passing the ball out of bounds.

-Doing a layup behind the goal, out of bounds.

-Leaving shooters open because the AI isn't moving around the court anymore. :/

Posted by Rays_Gaming_Rants

Boom, system seller.

Posted by Arkasai

@winsord: Sports and utter shit have been Alex's forte since Gamespot, that original RoboCop video review was brilliant. I gotta give him props for constantly taking one for the team, but man can he articulate just how bad some games are.

Posted by ltsJoeMama

EA needs to stop with Live. Go back to NFL Street, please.

Edited by HonkeyKong

Oh no... NBA Live cant catch a break

Edited by illmatic19

Christ just give up EA.

Live 06 was the last great basketball game they made.

Edited by HerbieBug

Man even the cover art for this game looks half assed. :D

Posted by eatatwhiteys

Alex always need to get that 1 star review out before year's end!

Seems well deserved though.

Posted by mtom

You give NBA 2K14 4/5 and it's a broken game with good graphics and bad gameplay, not to mention you pay $60 to play a micro-transaction game.

Yet you have NBA LIVE 1/5 stars for just having rough gameplay issues.

Way to be fair and subjective and fair in your reviews....

Posted by Scotto

I think EA can create a good basketball game. They make a good soccer game, a solid hockey game, and even the Madden series tends to waver between decent and great from year to year.

What do all of those games have in common? They laid a good gameplay foundation, and then took years to ITERATE on that foundation, and BUILD upon it.

The Live team were given one year to build a new game, from scratch, and then throw it into the marketplace with a competitor that has been iterating on it's own gameplay engine and features for YEARS. The lead for the game slips in that they had one year, in that apologetic blog post to the community. Why did EA give these poor bastards one year, when they didn't bother to put out a game for three?

There should have been a team working on some revolutionary new engine for 1.5-2 of those 3 years, with the last year or so spent building a feature-rich, good looking game on top of it. Otherwise, what was even the point? Great - you farted out a crummy basketball game, to compete alongside the firmly entrenched, vastly superior alternative. Why?

From everything I've read, the "bouncetek" thing actually has some potential, but it feels rough and unfinished in it's execution, like every other facet of the game. And of course, it's poorly explained out of the box.

Maybe NBA Live 15 will have the things this game sorely needed, with the extra year of work on it - but all they've accomplished right now, is re-sullying the "Live" brand, and giving these people an even more daunting challenge to get people to give their game another try next year. Stupid.

Posted by BonzoPongo

Pushed out the door for launch, I pity the poor bastard they lay the blame on for this turd

Posted by Zevvion

If anything, this makes me really respect developers. This is probably in the running for worst game of the year and I could never, ever even create something like this.

Makes me feel like a douche for criticizing minor problems in some games.

Posted by befo72

@mtom: I love the smell of corporate shill in the morning.

Posted by Yagami

This title just slam-dunked itself. Get it?

Posted by StriderNo9

@thineoarlock:

Maybe, but Seanbaby has also played some terrible games.

Edited by Lurkero

What the heck does EA do with all that money?

Posted by DrLove

goty

Posted by mtom

@befo72: If you think I work for EA, you're wrong. I can see how it comes across that way as it's tough for any member of the community to be positive in the face of such negativity, immaturity and stupidity. I think NBA LIVE is more of a low to mid 60s game then what meta critic is showing (right now a 44 for PS4 and 36 on XboxOne). The reason I'm new to this site is because I came here to see how/why this review was so low (a 20 on meta critic).

This is an exceptionally poor review. A game with a 1 star rating (or even less than 50 on meta critic, so we'll say 2.5 stars) implies it's completely broken and unplayable. NBA LIVE is rough, really rough. The gameplay is complex and has a steep learning curve but it's possible to do well at it -

There are more videos like this out there as well, but if you choose to just focus on negativity than that's all you'll find. Absolutely this game needs a practice/tutorial mode to show you how to play but if you take the time you can do some really cool stuff and play a realistic game of basketball, as this video shows.

I believe this game is reviewing poorly because reviewers don't have the time to invest because of the steep learning curve. Hopefully EA takes that feedback and provides sliders or settings that let you play simple/fun basketball like 2K but give you the option to play real basketball like NBA LIVE currently provides.

Edited by renf

@befo72: Just because someone likes a game that you don't, that doesn't mean they're a corporate shill. Not everyone shares all of your preferences, hard to believe I know.

But what am I saying, you probably haven't played the game anyways. Those who speak most definitively about the quality of games that are popular to shit on have rarely experienced the game themselves.

Posted by MichiganJack

For me NBA Live hasn't been relevant since NBA Live 95 and it's mostly because of the hidden golf game by typing in flog in one of the menus (hey it's almost been 20 years since I've played that game)

Posted by Rekt_Hed

I can literally see the heat of the utter disgust for this game burning a hole in my monitor.

Posted by Ravelle

@lurkero said:

What the heck does EA do with all that money?

Smoke it, wipe their asses with it, sit on it. You name it.

Posted by Branthog

The microtransaction bullshit, alone, should keep anyone from buying this. Fuck EA and fuck this generation of games that are just completely unrestrained with this shit. This is what we were warning people would happen if we put up with it the last generation.

Posted by TheSouthernDandy

Woof

Posted by zc92351

@butano said:

Alex Navarro - the anti-Brad Shoemaker of game reviewers.

What does this mean? Not as a slight to either person, I just don't follow.

Edited by Butano

@zc92351: I was referring to the pattern that Alex always seems to review games that are terrible, while the games Brad reviews are godsends.

They referenced the pattern in one of last year's GOTY videos.

EDIT: I thought it was this one....hmm, I'll have to double check the others.

Posted by SomeCaliGuy

This is why I'd love to see 2K do another NFL game. Shame the NFL and Player's union do not want the competition

Posted by mekon

"a game so distressingly broken that EA would rather take a bath on scrapping what it had rather than dare to let the public see what horrors it had wrought"

Thank you Alex, that's up there with Captain Miller: "Fuck this ship!"

Posted by WMoyer83

Just got this for Christmas. :(

Posted by So_Hai

It sounds like the game qualifies as "broken" to me, not just "lousy".

Posted by Cold_Blooded_Chiller

Because I know nothing about basketball I cannot tell the difference between this and the 2k game except for the graphics.

Posted by Sir_WilliamIII

First and foremost I feel sorry for anyone that purchased this unpolished game. EA you need to step out of the basketball game I believe 2K Sports can take it from here.

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