When I learned I was going to get an opportunity to play a hot, newly released sports sim that happens to be one of the biggest franchises in the world, you can imagine I was pretty excited. When I was growing up, basketball was something you played at school, if you were lucky, you didn’t have to suffer the indignity of the double-dribble and the inevitable travelling offence. NBA 2K14 then, should be something I loathe, not being the biggest basketball fan in the world. Hell, I’m not even the biggest basketball fan in my own lounge, yet this is set to surprise me. Doing a little research, it would seem that the last few incarnations of NBA have been crackers, 3-pointers if you will. I suddenly had high hopes.
Fire the game up then and the first thing you face is a long-winded sign-up process to the new MYPlayer feature. This is very similar to the career modes of other sporting games that seem to be the norm. This sign-up process is as long-winded as it seems pointless, with a frankly huge list of things to choose before you get anywhere near the opening menus. The next bit is as confusing as being in a round room and getting told to sit in the corner. There’s an option for help, but where are the menus? Purely by accident I flicked the right stick and a-ha, there they are. I was initially disappointed with these. They don’t seem as polished as the rest of the game. It’s almost as if the developers have poured all of their effort into the actual gameplay and experience around the gameplay and then thought, oh.. the menus. So, initially, these menus are functional. I started by attempting the training mode to see if I could get used to the controls, I laid up a few shots from the 3 point zone and everything seemed fine. I tried then to go back, and found that there’s an exit, which kicks you all the way back to the start, or you just carry on shooting hoops.
I gave up on the training mode after discovering that you have to trawl through the menus to get back to where you wanted, so I chose to start a tournament. Starting this seemed a little daunting, especially with no practise game or single quick play game seemingly available to play. It would seem like it’s the only real option to bite the bullet and jump straight in, so that’s exactly what I did.
Graphically, this is slick. The player’s features have been tweaked and comparing them to the photo in the stats sections, they do look very accurate and that’s a good thing. The impressive graphics, including the stadia, the court and the crowd don’t interfere with the sheer pace this is played out at either. The gameplay itself is fast, just as any of you who’ve watched or actually played the sport can testify. There are some aspects that break this gameplay up though. Commit a personal foul in the shot zone to give away a couple of free-throws and this will generate a TV coverage-like cut scene. These are a pain to skip through, especially when you take into consideration that high-scoring baskets all generate TV-style replays that again, are a pain to skip through. In between each quarter, there are more TV style ads, showcasing upcoming games and even in-game, when timeout is called by either coach, stats are displayed. These are all very well done, all excellently animated with TV graphics thrown in too. I can see that 2K are trying to give you the complete spectator’s basketball package, and it’s admirable the way that it’s been executed, I couldn’t help feel that it interrupted the gameplay too much.
Running through the back of this is the soundtrack of the NBA commentary. This is as fast as the gameplay and 2K have the official usual commentary team running the show and boy, can they talk. It’s non-stop. I’m surprised they even draw breath. You also get other sideline reporters, with stats and player history and it all adds to the entire experience well. Add to this the in-game basketball shoe squeak, ball bounce, crowd interaction and the crunch of a near 7-foot player hitting the court after a particularly heavy foul and you’ve got an immersive experience that will give you sustainability when returning. The only things I have against the graphics are the seeming force-field that appears to surround the ball on cut-scene close-ups, and every so often, running players feel like they’ve been coated in treacle. The movements are sometimes slow and deliberate and don’t look natural. That being said, the ball physics are excellent, with rebounds and bounces feeling precise. In the cut-scenes and menus there are the 2K Beats, some of Hip-Hop’s biggest names with their biggest mash-ups, and they’ve mixed it up with some of today’s chart’s most popular hits. It fits together well.
The whole experience, as I’ve mentioned, is geared around the TV coverage, and this includes the obligatory stat attack. This is an immense part of the game. The commentators concentrate on them, along with player and team history, there are menus in between matches to study and there are even Sprint sponsored Sprint Stats in-between the quarters for you to study. It’s an all-out stat assault. This is all aimed at giving the full-on NBA fan the full-on NBA experience as player and team stats are the be-all and end-all. The most welcome post-quarter scene has to be the cheerleaders though, purely from a graphical appreciation stance, of course.
The controls also sit amongst all this quite happily. The twin-stick method comes most naturally, you may have to, as I did, learn as you play. You can, if you prefer, use the button-pad instead of the left stick, so you may want to experiment with both. Other than this, everything seems to be fairly intuitive, defending, shooting, passing, dribbling and skills will come with time and patience, even though by all accounts 2K have completely changed the way the controls work from the last game. To be honest, the fact that these have changed makes no difference to first-time players. You’ll easily pick the controls up, and if you’ve played an NBA title before, well, it’s nice to learn new things I guess. Defending is another matter altogether. I found this as random as an evening with Noel Fielding. Your team AI is sometimes a little ropey too with lax marking from your team-mates.I found my player wandering into the crowd on more than one occasion. I can only think he was after a hotdog from the crowd. This leaves an opposition player totally free in the shooting zone to slam-dunk another basket and you’re all of a sudden, 10 down with 8 seconds left.
So, NBA 2K14 wasn’t exactly the game I was expecting. It’s turned out to be more of a genre simulator than I could have hoped for. It’s not merely a game for the quickplay artist, this is for serious simulation lovers. You can control the substitutions, read the stats, lose yourself in Timeouts and drafts. Simulate tournament matches and find your best lines ups, make tactical substitutions and gorge yourself on the stats. And what a stat attack. There are plenty of in-game and after-game stats to peruse. Rebounds, assists, points scored, personal and team fouls. If all you’re going to do is play the ball, you’ll be missing out on about 90% of the game, which would be a real shame as there has obviously been a lot of work invested in the stats. There are some flaws too, such as the difficult to navigate menus, the pointless MYPlayer sign up and the few graphical issues that make it seem as if you’re running through a swimming pool, but stripping those back, you’re left with a very good basketball sim that is accurate, fast, interesting and fun to play. Sustainability is included too, as there are many modes to play, including online match-ups and some even tied in with what’s currently happening on the NBA scene. 2K seems to have thought of everything when it comes to allowing you to experience the whole NBA package and they’ve done it, for the most part, very well indeed.