It’s a tall order taking on the already-established basketball franchise of NBA 2K, but EA has its sights set on making a name for itself with NBA Live. The uphill battle has been fought for a few years now since its return, but the response to it has been mediocre at best. NBA Live 16 adds a few new concepts to it, but is it enough?
In NBA Live 16, character customization is rather standard, but the game takes a great deal of time during the process in promoting the companion app, which is designed to render your face into the game and onto your generated player. With my Android phone, I scanned my face into the generator and it was made available right away, since creating a player is mandatory right away. After about ten minutes of being told that I have an “incorrect face size,” the scan finalized by simply scanning my face instead of my entire head. With that information, NBA Live plastered it onto an avatar—and I mean plastered. The entire scan of my face was placed on the avatar in the space between the eyebrows and chin, leaving a border of unclaimed real estate on my head and turning my already generous forehead into a fivehead. Luckily, there are plenty of customizable options for creating a player, so there’s no need to stick with what comes out of the companion app.
The game modes in NBA Live are as to be expected, including Dynasty, Rising Star, Big Moments, Ultimate Team, and Live Pro-Am. The stand out here is Live Run, because it removes AI-based players by pitting teams of actual players against each other; there’ll be more about AI later. The Ultimate Team, as always, is the microtransaction moneymaker for NBA Live 16, and what makes this interesting. The menu layout is innovative and accessible, which holds true for the game as a whole. Live Pro is good in principle, too, because, much like EASHL in NHL, it fills every spot on both teams with actual players, allowing 5-on-5 play for a much more engaging experience. With the necessary work, these modes could become the complete package they deserve.
In terms of gameplay, everything works, and everything does as it should, but overall movement is slow and player response is clunky. In fact, by the time I’d want to respond on defense to the ball, the ball would be well past what I wanted to try to do with it. The only saving grace to this is that the other nine players on the court respond in a similar respect, meaning that there’s plenty of room for error. Stringing all of this together makes for a contradicting and almost condescending experience. Games are intended to be challenging based on the accuracy of a game’s execution coupled with the player’s accessibility to do something about it by means of the controls in every justifiable way, but what has been done here is a reversal of that standard. Sure, gameplay IS balanced, albeit well below the bar, but creating a game with meandering gameplay in a sport that is supposed to be both quick and precise degrades the core concept and the original subject matter. This is why playing in Live Pro with only real players is—relatively—better.
The one and only benefit to this slumped experience is that it benefits newcomers, granting time to think about what is taking place and what needs to be done to respond. Equally so, Rising Star has the advantage of feeling deifying, centralizing the entire league around your player. The Rising Star player is also made easier thanks to a live on-court map, indicating where the player should be. Circles are also marked on the court in the living mapping, and moving toward them begins animations to take position in those circles. Again, this benefits new players, but it really takes away the power of the player.
$60 for a complete video game is the general formula and has been accepted as such, but there’s also a line here that’s been crossed regarding if NBA Live 16 is a complete game or not. Looking at a published title like this in that light is even harder to swallow, what with the whitewashed gameplay anchoring some very strong concepts for game modes, including the monetized Ultimate Team. Beginners will have a better time with this, but that time will certainly be short lived. There is a much bigger fish in the sea for players wanting a basketball video game.