The end of a console generation puts up a wall that makes all current-generation titles feel incredibly limited in comparison to what’s to come, and the effects are felt across most games in most genres. This hypothetical wall can be even taller in annualized games, since improvements are meant to appease yearly investors and intrigue new players to play. NBA 2K14 constructs an experience that takes progress in unique ways, but the wall that has been built might be taller for some people than it will be for others. LeBron James has made waves in the National Basketball Association, and 2K wishes to reflect that with a game mode dedicated to the statistically significant player, but does such a focus bottleneck the game or does the linearity make for a grand joyride, and does this basketball game without much competition still validate buying this year’s version after doing so last year?
NBA 2K has always looked beautiful to me, even if I haven’t played them very regularly. Watching jerseys flap and shorts bob as players move makes the experience that much more immersive, and character detail is the best that a sports game could offer—after The Show, that is. The sights and sounds of the game are refined and visually and audibly sheened right down to the player movement, the buzzers, and shoe squeaks; even the commentary makes other sporting titles look generic. The only visually off putting part to this game is that which plagues all sports titles: the audience. And this one is especially awkward. Affiliates of these types of games are accustomed to seeing pixelated and paper-thin fans, but this one does a bit of both as well as an attempt at offering at realistic interpretation. The fans that are closer to the court and the player appear in a three-dimensional form, albeit pixelated, but they become distorted and fuzzy as they move further away, leaving almost a cloud of team colors and moving pixels. Granted, this is more of an oversight, and it can easily be overseen, since the action on the court is both engaging and challenging, but you’ll see it eventually.
Right as the game loads, the simplistic menu system directs you to take part in NBA Today challenges, which chooses a game that’s taking place on the same day and has players take part in the action. In doing so, you’re awarded coins that are used to obtain player abilities and other unlockables such as legendary training drills in MyCAREER; but more on that later. Visually, watching players interact and move around the court is as good as it is awkward. Many specific animations take place all over the place and their consistency is only matched by their relativity, having animations specific to block positions and impact reaction, which gives 2K14 a great feeling of reality. What counters this is an underlining counter development: these animations can defeat the players. Too many times, my player would be forced backwards in an animation that would take him out of bounds where a professional player would have more spatial cognition. Another hiccup occurs when blocking: after jumping straight up, a few of my players would end up pushing the driving player backwards instead of being pushed back themselves. In retrospect, these inconsistencies don’t take place often, but they can and have changed the outcome of a game.
Learn more about the new control scheme and game modes after the page break
Controls have taken a turn for the interesting this time around, and this is one of the many effective ways to keep veteran players on their toes. Last year, you had to use the triggers to execute special moves, but now those are merely bound to the right joystick—learning how to do everything is blatantly hard. They’re hard, because they’re complicated, but they’re complicated, because they’re rewarding. Performing fadeaways and pivots have never been more engrossing, and the level of engagement that’s put into the right joystick takes away the complexity of button combinations while still asking you to work for what you want; after playing Madden this year, having this feeling of reward after properly executing a relative joystick motion made my moments of grandeur and finesse even more substantial, simply because I worked for what I did. New players will still have access to using face buttons to play the game, but those who play this way will not hold a candle to those who take the time needed to learn and master the joystick controls—believe me, they’re worth learning.
LeBron James: Path to Greatness takes a lethargic direction that would benefit more in MyCAREER Mode. The scripted path that you must take Lebron on becomes lethargic quite early, and since not all basketball fans are also fans of Miami Heat, being forced into the future of only one NBA player may not be as entitling or enjoyable as it could be for others. However, it gives a feeling of reality to those of us who cannot even come close to experiencing for themselves that which individuals like LeBron James can achieve. Still, MyCAREER, which is a returning game mode, gives more of a personal feeling. While generally unchanged from last year, MyCAREER is a mode that all gamers new to the franchise should try. Each sports title has its own version of this, but 2K is the only one—at least to the best of my knowledge—that gives the player a humanistic and business side to the sport. Going through press conferences, interacting with coaches, and living the draft are all parts of MyCAREER, but having to watch the entire draft until your character is picked is rather annoying; there are some things that really should be skippable. The beauty of it all is that your responses to the press and your coach affect how your character is perceived by your team and your fans–this level of detail had me missing NFL 2K5. There’s even a social media element that emulates Twitter and has actual players follow your player in-game, which is based on your performance and also affects how many fans follow you. It gives a feeling of humanity to it, but there’s not much else to it; regardless, it adds to the immersion of what the mode has to offer—that is, if you haven’t gone through it a bunch of times in previous installments.
Apart from MyCAREER, Path of Greatness, online and offline Career Modes, and NBA Today, there is not as much as there could have been in 2K14, considering modes like Jordan Challenge, Legends, and Dream Teams have been in past NBA 2K games. While the game overall is beautiful and challenging, the usage of it is rather narrow, leaving a bit to be desired for overall playtime longevity, especially considering the other minor game elements are merely different ways to play exhibition games. Granted, we’re only a month away from the PlayStation 4 launch, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to not compel gamers from keeping this game in their PlayStation 3, even if 2K14 is coming to next-gen consoles.
NBA 2K14 takes as many steps forward as it does backwards, but that doesn’t stop it from still being an entertaining experience. When it’s not broken, there’s no reason not to make it more effective, and the joystick controls do just that to the overall gameplay. However, the small amount of game modes leave much to be desired, and the heavy use of animations can cost you the game. Players will acclimate to these animations and learn not to get into situations that trigger them, but having to do this, even if these situations are rare, leaves room for improvement when player interaction is specifically vast and wonderfully delivered. Basketball fans will have already purchased this game, but modes like Path to Greatness and MyCAREER have an appeal that can bring in new fans like most sports games cannot.