This year, NBA 2K14 tries something a little different. By attaching LeBron James, NBA 2K14 attempts to look forward and provide fans with an outlet to predict the future of today's greatest basketball player. "LeBron: Path to Greatness" is NBA 2K14's marquee mode. At the outset, it provides players with a choice: Will LeBron sign a new contract with the Heat or move on to greener pastures? The latter choice sees King James moving on to the New York Knicks, where he plays alongside Dwight Howard, and eventually he'll even return to Cleveland, where he started his career, to once again play with the Cavaliers.
The mode itself is a great antithesis to NBA 2K11's Jordan Challenge mode, where players virtually relived Jumpman 23's greatest conquests. "LeBron: Path to Greatness" also presents other interesting scenarios, such as Kobe struggling to avoid retirement as long as he possibly can, and a crop of young talented upstarts – imagined by developer Visual Concepts – who want to take a run at King James. Playing an imagined timeline of LeBron's future is way more entertaining than simply daydreaming about the Hall of Famer's career, and Visual Concepts presents an equal number of believable and embellished situations I won't bother spoiling. The only downside is that if you're not really a fan of LeBron, or if you're indifferent to his career, this mode will hardly entice.
The trading card mode My Team, the NBA 2K series' answer to EA's popular Ultimate Team variants, is expanded to now offer tournaments, online play and greater customization options for your virtual group – much of which wasn't available to test, as 2K's servers still aren't available. While last year's inaugural attempt was commendable, I'm anxious to see how this has evolved come launch day on October 1.
NBA 2K14's controls have also been tweaked yet again. Building on the foundation laid in NBA 2K13, the multi-purpose pro stick acts as both a movement modifier and as a shot stick, though it's been simplified in NBA 2K14. Rather than holding a modifier button to initiate complex moves with the pro stick, now you can simply do the moves without the modifier; holding the stick in one direction will initiate the shot animation. It feels much more organic and less cumbersome in NBA 2K14. You can pull off a surprising number of flashy moves with simple quarter-circle movements on the right analog stick.
It's these improvements that make NBA 2K14 so much more rewarding over last year's game. By simplifying the pro stick, Visual Concepts has created a more responsive experience that feels smooth. The awkward animations and start-and-stop nature of past games is non-existent here, replaced by a more thoroughly engrossing representation of the sport. And, at times, NBA 2K14 looks so good that it's easy to mistake it for the real thing.
NBA 2K14 will never make me a better athlete, but it sure makes me feel like a superstar. It's the finest simulation of basketball out there and this year's entry in the series is bolstered by smart and simple additions. The controls are more refined and intuitive, and "LeBron: Path to Greatness" presents an interesting series of "What if?" scenarios that will undoubtedly provide fans even more fuel for discourse.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of NBA 2K14, provided by 2K Games.
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