With the current console generation finally dwindling down to its final releases, it’s not unusual for some developers to put their foot on the brake in preparation for the next generation–especially sports game developers, where they release essentially the same thing every year.
While NBA 2K14 has some new features fully solidifying it as probably the best basketball video game available, it also removes a few things that made the previous games great, leaving us to wonder how the next generation will play out.
What Is It?
Beginning with NBA 2K11, the NBA 2K series has virtually had no competition with the fallout of of EA Sports’ NBA Live and has enjoyed an enormous amount of success since. Not to be outdone, the game has also been a blast to the past, featuring single player quests using the likes of legends such as Larry Bird and his heirness, himself, Michael Jordan. On top of that, NBA 2K13 featured the Dream Team of the early 1990’s allowing players to use them against the modern Team USA to see which players really owned the hardwood.
But it wasn’t just the licensing features that set the NBA 2K series apart. Masterful development has caused the gameplay to be smoother than any other NBA series before it with innovations such as the shot stick and the most authentic and realistic broadcast-style presentation in any sports game.
Why Should I Care?
As great as NBA 2K13 was, some of the biggest complaints gameplay-wise were the lack of defensive balance (which has become a small problem year to year) and the shot stick feature sort of doubling as a “trick” stick. While the developers didn’t truly “fix” these issues, 2K Sports did at least address them in development.
In previous iterations of the 2K series, it was extremely easy for slasher-type players like Carmelo Anthony and the newest Golden State forward Andre Iguodala to simply charge in towards the rim for emphatic dunks over like three defenders. Using the likes of a player like King James is pretty much the NBA 2K equivalent to using a legendary Pokemon in a tournament or Meta Knight in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. So to reduce the spamming of cheap dunks, dunks are now blockable. Jaw-dropping block animations and reactions from both the audience and commentators really give players a sense of fulfillment with every blocked dunk, so it’s definitely a welcome addition to the game.
On the other side of the court, shooting with the shot stick in NBA 2K13 required players to hold on the left trigger (with whatever console they were playing). Not doing so resulted in the ball carrier performing all sorts of basketball moves. After all, it was the “trick” stick. Now 2K14 has essentially combined gameplay elements from 2K12 and 2K13, making the stick used for pretty much all purposes. Flick the stick around and you can pull off some pretty cool floor combinations right before a shot or pass, but hold on the stick too long and the player you’re using will probably attempt an inadvertent shot. Those who have played the heck out of NBA 2K13 will find this to be an extreme annoyance, as this pretty much requires players to re-learn the basics before playing at a competent level again. Yes, you can still use the face buttons for whatever you want to do with the stick, but it is still nowhere near as streamlined.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
For some reason, 2K Sports never likes to keep certain features that really helped define each game, with the exception of the My Player mode which has still gone virtually unchanged after its rebirth in 2K11, and this really makes the game hard to recommend, especially to the nostalgic NBA fan.
As expected, gone are the Jordan Challenges from 2K11, the access to legendary players from 2K12 is no more, and you can’t even use the Dream Team from NBA 2K13. As somebody who always invites friends over for drunk nights and arguments stating Jordan and Bird are better than LeBron and Kobe, it’s really a tough loss. Justin Bieber fans probably feel the same way with the Celeb Team no longer being featured either.
In place of these features are LeBron: Path to Greatness and the ability to use some very talented international teams are available.
Path to Greatness is pretty cool as it’s pretty much the anti-Jordan Challenge. It’s not so much about how LeBron got to where he is, it’s more about what LeBron does from here. So after playing this season, players will be faced with letting him test free agency, putting him in all sorts of scenarios such as going to the Lakers or even coming back to Cleveland where it all started to fully. It really plays itself out to be a path to greatness. But as fun as it is to play, it’s tough to recommend it to someone who isn’t a LeBron fan.
At its core, though, NBA 2K14 is the same great experience players have been having since NBA 2K11. It features easy-to-learn, tight, and intuitive gameplay (although there is a learning curve for 2K13 veterans) and what’s still the best play-by-play commentary featuring Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg. NBA 2K14 is the best NBA game money can buy.
But is it worth the full $60 upgrade with the next-generation iterations coming literally a month from now? As someone who religiously played the Dream Team against the Team USA with friends, I’d say no. But if you’re enough of a fan of the current generation of basketball in the current generation of gaming–by all means, go for it.