Lebron James is the new front and center man in 2K Sports’ latest edition to their widely successful NBA video game franchise — and I wonder what took them so long. Sure, it’s understood as to why there was apprehension to promote James following one of the most controversial “moves” in sports history (when Bron Bron sailed down to Ocean Drive). But, now that Lebron proved himself beyond a shadow of a doubt in last spring’s NBA Finals — perhaps further etching himself as the World’s Greatest Athelete — the time for “The King’s” video game supremacy shall begin.
With NBA 2K14, just be thankful there’s no more effing Justin Beiber (see: NBA 2K13).
Now, before we go too far into the review, let’s not pretend everyone likes the guy. Lebron won a title with an entirely calculated “Big 3,” and folks still won’t forgive him for that, despite the fact that’s how most pro hoops titles have been won (Magic, Kareem, Worthy; Bird, Parrish, McHale; Jordan, Pippen, Grant/Rodman; Shaq, Kobe… Horry. Uh!). Simply put, he’s the baller you love to hate. And with that said, seeing his mug plastered on the cover, all over the game’s menus and even blacktop billboards certainly won’t make the biggest of hatuhs happy.
Now it’s time for you to sort your own Path to Greatness (Disclaimer: we’ve made the review changes from current-gen to next-gen in red).
While the LeBron Mode from the current-gen (360/PS3) is now absent on Xbox One/PlayStation 4, the next-gen NBA 2K14 has expanded MyCAREER mode into a full-on story. With that, are cutscenes detailing your life as an NBA baller, so expect the unexpected. Or, at least expect some cheesy voice dialogue from your created MyPLAYER, as he’ll go out and make a fool against the next NBA elite in the rookie game, talk dumb to GM’s in pre-draft workouts (i.e. telling Minnesota to trade Rubio and draft Moody, once again sounding like a black dude no matter your ethnicity; Malibu’s Most Wanted?), shaking Stern’s hand (although he retired and you’re clearly upset you’re going to the Sixers), and continuously attempt to “buy” Twitter followers with offerings of “it’s on me” team bowling nights and allure of Friday Night Fish ‘N Chips.
And remember to do whatever Jason Richardson says (or doesn’t say, since 2K sadly doesn’t use the RealVoice option for MyCAREER cutscenes), and do it with a smile. Got it? With a player named Moody, you can see why this new mode would come off as a “pleasing” experience. You can get suspended for hitting the clubs and missing practice, not playing defense (my specialty), and just being a down-and-out asshole. You can bet the folks on social media will let you have it, too. @BBALLQUEEN16: So how much is @TravMoody in the doghouse. LOL. Another game watching from the bench. Dude’s already becoming a wasted draft pick at this point.
I tell ya, some things never change!
Thankfully, the presentation has changed only for the better, certainly amped up to match the finer engine of next-gen. Kevin Harlan’s preview of the 2012 NBA Rookie Game is amazing. I just love how the broadcaster breaks down the forthcoming rookies and all of their accolades. You will honestly feel like you just turned on TNT.
Even better? MyCAREER is where the Kinnect commands can really come into play. Use standard language like “Pass me the Ball” (though I wish it was “Rock” or something funkier)/”Pass the Ball to (Bennett/namethatplayer)”, “Quick Post Up” and “Shoot That” (in case you want the CPU to launch some leather for a change). And, in case you were wondering, Harlan referred to MyPlayer as “Money” (in the absence of “Moody), but you sure as hell know I’ll take it. With my brief time in MyCAREER, a good majority of the voice commands worked as smooth as a Clyde Drexler lay-in, so long as you speak loud enough and without too much of a Bahston accent. (Hey, Bill Gates not only wants to save humanity; he wants to save the human language, as well!)
Again, the commentary in NBA 2K14 has — yup! — never been better. It’s worth playing MyCAREER just to hear Steve Kerr and Clark Kellogg talk about the pregame trash-talk your player and his rival have before the game. As mentioned in our reviews of EA’s Madden 25 and NHL 14, not even those game’s admirable booth’s can touch 2K’s Harlan, Kerr and Kellogg. Sometimes, not even real life commentary. It’s quite obvious the trio has logged in hundreds of hours of material for all modes for 2K, and the results show them react to game situations in the most realistic fashion possible. When speaking about the celeb-heavy crowd for Madison Square Garden’s pre-draft “Rising Stars” event, Kerr thanks himself ever-so-nervously for wearing his “best suit,” while Kellogg finally gets his “THE Ohio State University” line in there in the very same game. With these three, you can bet on countless moments of insight, laughter and excitement that should keep players interested for a full 82-game season.
At launch, NBA 2K14 is the best-looking game on next-gen…which, of course, makes it the best-looking video game ever. Sweat is visible on the brow of every baller, wrinkles further add context to the mesh shorts, and the facial rendering — especially this year’s rookies — is damn near scary. The presentation is nearly better. Never before did a video game look and feel so real. It beats me why the presentation on a video game can look 10x better than real NBA games presented on FSN or Time Warner. Maybe it’s time for those channels to go “next-gen”? The menu’s, the layouts, the scores across the screen.. everything looks dope. Just wait ’til you see Doris Burke’s halftime and post-game interviews with NBA coaches and players — with REAL voices. And, it’s not just ‘Bron or Kobe either. There’s a wide array of coaches (just about all of ’em) and several key players from every team that get “the last word.”
It’s so awesome. I love this game.
Now, while there are indeed plenty of absent options, features and customization (like seemingly every other next-gen transplant), the additions — such as the aforementioned interviews — make up for it. Initially I was extremely disappointed by the absence of Custom Arena Music, until I realized that the next-gen versions of 2K did a far better job with the arena presentation. Playing at MSG or the United Center feels more accurate on the Xbox One, with a thankful assortment of organ tunes replacing much of the menu soundtrack. While you’ll still hear repeated plays of The Black Keys and “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, there’s far more signature arena sounds that should keep you from having to use the mute button. And you don’t want to do that, since the commentary is so great. Sure, the arenas still aren’t perfect; but I’ll take it while the option of playing your own MP3’s — hopefully without the hassle of CD burns/playlists — makes its return.
I also found it a little tough to create an accurate MyPlayer this time around. Not that your Monsignor is tatted up to the bone or required of a dangerous mohawk like ya man Birdman, but there’s no question there’s a severe lack of options here. Don’t even bother asking your friends to run a co-op season together. It ain’t happenin’. With the new consoles, you can only play as one team. The major problem with this scenario isn’t necessarily missing the option of running a league with friends; no, the problem is not being able to control all teams in case of a major trade. If Kobe all of a sudden gets shipped to the Celtics (don’t laugh.. okay, you can really stop laughing now! Punk..), you’re going to have to start your season over, or come up with annoyingly shifty ways to make that happen. Maybe next season, there will be an option like last year’s 2K MLB game where the “always on” X1 can just make all of the trades and transactions for you.
The good news about this year’s MyGM/Season mode (formerly Association on current-gen), however, is the return of NBA All-Star Weekend. Not too many reviews have mentioned this valiant return (perhaps, because I was the only one smart enough to sim ahead), but it’s all there: the returning Rookie/Sophomore challenge and All-Star Game from 2K13, and the controversial package of 3-Point Shootout and Slam Dunk Contest that you no longer have to buy via DLC…and — applause — it’s still there in next-gen.
While the Slam Dunk looks great in presentation, the Rock Band-like mini-games that gets your Spalding leather to the promised land may eventually send you over the deep end. All three of my fellow competitors awkwardly began the contest with through-the-legs slams, and my attempt to leap over a Kia failed miserably. Thankfully, this isn’t the NBA, so you can’t foolishly miss your dunk attempt over and over. It’s a clear zero, and you’ll be thankful Kenny Smith isn’t around to let you know about it. Also, be forwarned; unless you’ve got some Chris Paul-level fingers on those sweaty things you call hands, performing the more difficult dunks will be harder than making it out of the D-League.
MyGM is exactly what you think: selling nachos and hot dogs. No, basically, the mode is more like assessing budget, handling staff, and keeping these spoiled brats happy (or keeping their butts full of splinters). Personally, I’d rather just play the games themselves (since gameplay is so awesome), but strategy freaks will be pleased with this new edition, despite issues with earning VC currency, and office conversations that make no sense (like the coach asking you whether you should bench or trade the young, underpaid guard who just went on the hottest streak of his career). In addition to improved trade/free agency logic and injury scenarios (players have to work their way back into the lineups this time), there’s also MyTeam, 2K’s online-only answer to Madden’s Ultimate Team: buy players via cards, set up tournaments and the such.
Dream Teams are also gone (and still missing on next-gen), which sort of reminds of the dilemma of missing “Attitude Era” wrestlers in 2K’s other heavily anticipated franchise, WWE 2K14. Why they were included last year and replaced this year for Euro Teams beats me (still on next-gen; ick). Is 2K trying to win over some FIFA fans? Will the sales of NBA 2K go up because of these team’s inclusion? While many of the European League courts look cheap, as they perhaps do in real life, one neat scenario had Mikhail Prokhorov’s Brooklyn Net-Celtics facing his own home country’s Russian team, laced with former college standouts Sasha Kaun and Sonny Weems, and former Celtic/Net, Nenad Krstic. While the game was strange enough, this was the only moment in 2K where the commentators were extremely quiet. Thankfully, the Euroleague basketballs look extremely cool.
But all that is relative. NBA 2K14 offers plenty of in-game improvements and fine-tuned control adjustments that helps separate itself from what I deemed was already the best sports game I’ve ever played in 2K13.
The first thing that jumped at me was the inclusion of the “face-up”-to-“post” button. Last year you were finally able to post up your big man and display a plethora of moves without all the clunkiness. Now, it feels even far more intuitive. High-post players like Chris Bosh and KG play more natural in the post, seeing how they are 7-footers who can nail down the “18. The “Y” button also allows a guy like Tim Duncan to become a more believable threat, since his low-post to face-up drop-down has been killing centers and “power” forwards for years. One quarter from a 5th ring later, Dunc’s signature style’s finally.. “in the game.”
There’s also some more explicit changes such as the Assist Pass modifier and Smart Play calling. The new Assist Pass allows players to modify their passes on the fly much quicker, although if your left finger tends to get stuck on the trigger (like mine), you’re in for plenty of abuse from the HC. Many of your post plays will now see abhorrent passes to the side of the backboard or “no looks” sailing wildly out-of-bounds if you don’t get used it quickly — you know, since 2K12-13‘s big men are used to depending widely on that LT/R2. Soon enough, though, you’ll be finding the cutter with ease, throwing fancy dishes without problem, and alley-ooping like Gary Payton on every fast break. It’s a welcome addition with plenty of practice. Also, the new Smart Play saves you the time of scrolling down your control pad for play calls with designated assistance and easy to use ball-screens. Though I loved calling for picks holding down the LB, it does make life easier to find your teammates in a set play and makes the game a little less mundane.
Other in-game improvements found in 2K14 were cleaner passing (bounce passes have never looked prettier), far smoother fast breaks (without any collisional slow-down or awkwardness; players will now glide to the rim), and, shit, a whole lot more “continuation” baskets will finally drop on contact. Bump into a forward under the basket in previous games, and a missed bunny was a given. Not anymore. With this year’s improvements, you’ll be shouting plenty of “And 1!”, especially with Visual Concepts’ new improved pro stick modifier. Though traditionalists with heavy hands may have a tough time getting used to using the same stick for dribbling, passing and passing, the new tweaks promise a far more organic and immersive experience.
Blocking dunks has returned to 2K14, with many of your prayers sent to the stands in terrifying fashion (thanks to the tree limbs of swatters like the Sixers’ rook Nerlens Noel). There were a few instances with the new shot modifier that my player would heave it up from half-court when going for a crossover/behind-the-back dribble, but I’m sure that’s all me. Once I got used to the handle, I found myself pump-faking, stepping-back and dodging opponents into a dope floating bank shot far easier with 14.
But let’s talk Eco-Motion.
It’s a dynamic new engine delivered to next-gen that gives 2K a sweeter free-flow to the game. Count on thousands more animations, including crowd reactions, and physics, various dribbles, altered shots (like an awkward shot off on foot if covered by Dumarsesque intensity), and even the way a player falls/lands/gets up following a hard foul at the hoop. It’s amazing we’ve come this far in 25-years! Holla if you were playing Double Dribble in grade school. Even cooler than all of that.. say, if Anthony Davis is back in the Chi, commentators will give it a mention and the pressure can either lift or falter the big man.
Even so, not everything is perfect just yet with 2K basketball. Some of the minor issues still persist, particularly with player clipping, which you’ll notice more out of this time (even during 1-on1 games). It stinks that graphics so special can be deterred by players morphing through each other, too. I’m sure the physics engine will be more fully realized on the new consoles in a year…and honestly, it’s rare to see — or stop to stare and care too much at such ridiculousness — so it’s not all that detrimental.
This problem persisted in every other mode I played other than the Black Top (which also thankfully returns to PS4 and Xbox One, but you have to remember to find it in the NBA Today option menu) where just playing D against the A.I. one-on-one proved hard enough (Jeremy Lin went at my Shabazz Muhammad like a biker on coke). Also, you’ve got to earn points to play with All-Star caliber dudes like Rondo and Durantula on the playground; and since there are no positions to divvy up, you might find the Kings’ diminutive PG Isaiah Thomas heading straight to the box, while a Clippers’ high-riser like DeAndre Jordan will start running the point at will. Silly, but fun.
There’s also The Park, where you roam around a massive playground looking for various online match-ups with your MyPlayer to “have next.” Although I haven’t had a whole lot of time with the mode, it appeared sluggish, and confusing. Despite all the improvements made to this year’s game, 2K still struggles with online stability.
In all, NBA 2K14‘s greatness just got greater. It’s one thing to upgrade the graphics, but the gameplay is nothing but smooth. It also helps that 2K added nearly as much as they subtracted, making the game worthy of your time and hard-earned $60. Still, if you haven’t emptied your bank account on a next-gen console, this might not be the game to make that investment just yet; but it’s definitely worth some run if you already got a shiny new box holding the center of your entertainment throne.
Uh.. wait one moment.. did you.. uh.. just say something about an NBA Live?