I figured after last year’s disaster, we would see the NBA Live franchise disappear (AGAIN) only to resurface years later once EA backed up the money truck and purchased an exclusive agreement with the NBA. NBA Live 14 fell short in nearly every department and was heavily criticized for releasing a half-baked game nowhere near worthy of our shiny next generation consoles. A year later and the NBA Live franchise is back with promises of improvements and a laundry list full of new features, changes and improvements. After some time spent with EA Sports newest NBA game there is no question 2K’s franchise reigns supreme; however, EA Sports is making some significant gains, albeit at a slower rate than perhaps we would all like.
Before I continue, I must point out a few things. First, I don’t play a lot of basketball. Sure I played in high school for a year or two and we played on our lunch breaks at a waste recycling plant but if you ask me what a “full-court press” is, I would have no clue. Second, being a Vancouverite I am still a little bent we lost the Grizzlies. I know, get over it, right; well we got screwed by the NBA! So does the NBA leave a bad taste in my mouth? You better believe it does but I can suspend my hostility for the sake of a good game of virtual hoops. Some of my fondest memories come from playing games like NBA Jam and NBA 2K2 on the Sega Dreamcast. Both games were fluid, fast and just so much fun. NBA 2K2 on the Dreamcast kicked-ass and to this day it remains one of the highest reviewed basketball games of all time. Now if only NBA Live 15 could deliver that same feeling I had back when I played 2K2.
NBA Live 15 won’t bring back that lovin’ feelin’ anytime soon, but it has some enjoyable moments and the good news is visuals are a marked upgrade over last year’s game. It is really the first thing you notice when you fire up the game. The players look great as the level of detail has been kicked up a notch or two. All the colours from the fans, the court, and arena LED screens truly pop from the screen. On the surface it looks like a more vibrant and brighter game this year. In some ways, better looking than 2K’s game. That said some of the animations come across as a little stiff as the players don’t quite move as smoothly as they should but it’s certainly an improvement. EA is certainly moving in the right direction and has done the NBA proud with some solid looking visuals this year.
Given my hoops game is a little rusty, I enjoyed how NBA Live 15 immediately takes you into a tutorial that walks through some of the basic controls in the game. Cover athlete, Damian Lillard, walks you through all the basics of passing, shooting, dribbling moves and a few other pointers. It is certainly enough to get you going but it would have been nice to learn a few basic defensive controls. Sadly, Damian doesn’t show you any when you launch the game. That said, “Learn LIVE” is available at any time to help you master some of those fundamentals and tactics. So at the very least you aren’t completely lost like perhaps some may have been last year.
After I completed the opening tutorial I never felt like I had nailed some of the games basic controls. So before I jumped into a full Live Season, Dynasty or the Jordan Rising Star mode I decided to venture into a 5-on-5 scrimmage with all the rules, shot clock and fouls thrown out the window. It is a great way to learn some of the games in and outs with everything turned off. I can essentially run-amok, foul away and try alley-oops until my eyes burn. This helped me becoming acclimated with the games controls but it didn’t change some of the games shortcomings and just how it feels.
It could be the games camera angles or perhaps I was just doing something wrong but I noticed the players would constantly bunch up making it hard to move around and maneuver. There is a certain level of fluidity with 2K’s game that I did not get here. I also noticed some frame rate issues during some of those quick transition plays. It felt like my player was stuck in mud at times and other times I had a tough time following the action because of the issues.
Pulling off slam dunks and layups is easy enough but finding open lanes is incredibly hard. I kept getting bottled up by defenders making open space nearly impossible to come by. I hope you are a good passer because you need to be in NBA Live 15. On defence I just constantly felt like I was doing something wrong. The AI seemed to score with ease and I was forced to rely on rebounds or takeaways, which seemed a little too easy to pull off at times. I didn’t find playing defense enjoyable at all. I know nobody does, right? Regardless, I should not feel mostly helpless out there.
Even shooting the ball takes some getting used to and is a much steeper learning curve than it should be. With most basketball games you generally release the ball at the top of your jump. There is usually a sweet spot but that spot is hard to find in NBA Live 15. I found I had to release the ball before I reached the peak of my jump. Again, it just feels off and goes against some of the mechanics from every other basketball game in the past 2 decades.
I spent the bulk of the past two weeks in Jordan’s Rising Star mode which is essentially the games career mode. This mode allows you take the career path of a first-round draft pick in the hopes of becoming an NBA superstar one day. You create a player, select your play style and model your player after a specific real life NBA superstar. There are 13 different play styles to choose from and all of them set you down a different path to success. I found it fun to watch my player grow and succeed. This mode isn’t as deep as some of the other career modes we have seen form EA Sports but if you are going to spend any great deal of time with the game Rising Star mode is a good place to play.
Dynasty, Big Moments and Ultimate Team all return and see some enhancements that push the franchise forward. Certainly not at a 2K level but for NBA Live it is a push a forward.
The soundtrack is pretty good featuring 26-tunes and other in-game sounds seem spot on. NBA Live 15 brings a full ESPN broadcast experience. So such things like the on-screen graphics, score bugs and in-game commentary from Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy are al there. Commentary is deeper than ever but some of the banter can appear stale and generic at times.
It feels like the NBA Live franchise is just hanging around making small incremental changes waiting to pounce if 2K ever decides to back out of the NBA arena (cause ya know that day is right around the corner). 2K has firmly cemented itself again as the “King of the Court” but some kudos goes out to the NBA Live team in Orlando for making some significant strides compared to last year’s game. If you are looking to pick up an NBA game this holiday season the choice is easy but make no bones about it NBA Live is becoming a contender. Let’s just see what they do next year.
***This game was reviewed on the PS4 and a copy was provided by the publisher***