NBA Live 15 is a better game than NBA Live 14. That's not really saying much, as NBA Live 14 was a trainwreck. Of course you would hope NBA Live 15 would manage to improve on Live 14's stilted, unintuitive gameplay and emaciated game modes. It's not a huge improvement, more of a baby step toward something more closely resembling a real basketball simulation than a recommendable game in its own right. But it is an improvement, which is a start, I guess.
Most of those improvements have been applied to NBA Live 15's gameplay, which certainly needed the help. Live 14 was an unwieldy mess to play, a fact bolstered by the game's general lack of useful tutorials. Live 15 finally appends a proper tutorial to its game, and it's a helpful one. It gave me a good handle on the core offensive controls. I learned I could now set a pick by holding down the left trigger, which calls over a teammate to set the screen. I learned how to pull off freestyle passes by holding down the right bumper and flicking the right stick, figured out the new shot meter, and got a decent handle on dribbling moves before I even made it into my first game.
Unfortunately, once you're actually in a game of NBA Live 15, you learn quickly that most of the stuff you've learned either isn't that important, or just doesn't work quite right. Calling for screens calls a player over reliably, but it's not often they're able to get themselves into proper position for a useable screen. Driving to the net for a layup results in you pulling up for a jump shot instead with annoying frequency. The new shot meter is useful enough for figuring out where a player's ideal range for a shot is, but isn't reliable for determining whether a shot is contested or not. Live 15's definition of a "contested shot" is pretty much just "is there a defender standing in your general vicinity." Even if you've got a couple of feet of space between you, going for a shot with a defender anywhere in your orbit leads to more misses than seems reasonable, especially with star players who routinely make tough shots past defenders in real life.
Yet if you can get far enough away from a defender, it's also incredibly easy to drain threes and jumpers once you nail down the game's shot timing. Early on I was missing shots with great frequency, until I realized that Live 15's shots require a release much earlier than I was used to. You've got to let go of the shot button quickly if you want to be successful, and that timing becomes even more unforgiving on higher difficulty levels. The only indicator you have that tells you whether you're shooting correctly or not is a little text prompt at the top of the screen that lets you know if you're shooting early or late. There's no visual indicator on the court to show when you've timed a shot correctly or not, and the animation of your player taking his shot has nothing to do with the proper timing. If you're used to watching your player to figure out the right time to release the button, you're going find yourself confused initially.
Still, problems aside, NBA Live 15 is an eminently more playable game of basketball than last year's game. Animation problems that plagued the pace of Live 14 are largely corrected here. Yes, there are still a lot of wonky-looking animations--players warping around the court unnaturally, balls flying in unnatural directions, players clipping through one another with too great of frequency--but few of those issues impact gameplay. Fast breaks actually work, player movement is considerably more responsive, and while you'll see some truly boneheaded plays on the court--guys going for shots from behind the basket, A.I. players just kind of standing around until you force them to move using the left bumper, etc.--they're not a constant, game-breaking issue.
That said, NBA Live 15 ultimately serves better as a functional, if not overly exciting arcade basketball experience, versus a simulation of the real sport. Defense is something the game barely even tries to address, and while the controls are tight enough to keep a decent handle on an opposing ball-handler, it's extremely easy to exploit A.I. defenses with the same basic shots over and over. Where defense does work, it's arguably too effective. Steals and blocks are remarkably easy to pull off, to the point where I was having 15-20 steals a game in games with five minute quarters. NBA Live 15 can be a bit of fun when playing against a friend, especially if you like high scoring, fast-paced games. Playing against the A.I., though, is dreadful. Bumping up the difficulty makes the A.I. no less exploitable, nor any less prone to just standing around, waiting for something to happen when you aren't actively directing it.
NBA Live 15 is also a pretty bare bones game in terms of modes. Dynasty mode still offers up an extremely no-frills take on a franchise mode. You can do all the basics--trades, free agent signing, rookie scouting--and you'll get some very basic goals to achieve throughout the season, but that's about it. Rising Star is Live 15's single-player career mode, and it's similarly lacking. I wasn't necessarily expecting the Live team to pull off a fully fleshed-out, story-focused career mode like NBA 2K's MyPlayer, but it's still disappointing how little there really is to this mode. The create-a-player function is highly limited in options, and once your player is drafted into the league, not a whole lot happens. You get some nuggets of instruction from your coach during games, and you're graded using a points system similar to 2K's, but how it grades you is sometimes suspect. Getting docked points for missing a contested shot with a couple of seconds left on the shot clock doesn't feel exactly fair, for instance.
Ultimate Team has received an auction house for players to sell and buy cards from one another, but is otherwise pretty much the exact same mode as last year. Big Moments and Rewind modes offer quick recreations of big play moments from last year's season, and repeats of full games from this season, respectively. Both are neat ideas that aren't terribly exciting in practice, especially the big moments, which lack the energy and excitement of the real life game moments. Online modes include basic head-to-head play, best of seven series, and a head-to-head "season" mode that only lasts for 10 games. I ran into some nasty online lag initially following Live 15's launch, but the servers seem to have mostly stabilized in recent days. Considering how lousy the servers were in last year's game, this is at least an improvement.
In general, that's how I'd sum up NBA Live 15: an improvement. It's a better looking game than NBA Live 14, and a better playing one, but "better," in this case, does not directly translate to "good." Live 15 is still too shallow to hang with 2K's game, but it represents a glimmer of hope that this series could eventually provide some legitimate competition to 2K Sports somewhere down the road. Hopefully that ends up being sooner rather than later, but for right now, basketball fans can safely skip NBA Live 15.