Three years later, EA has finally gotten around to putting out another simulation basketball game. NBA Live 14, however, is hardly indicative that those years were spent rejuvenating the flagging series – or even deconstructing the competition's formula for success. I can't rightly say how that time was managed, but the result is clear: NBA Live 14 is a mess. NBA Live 14's foundation is built on the "BounceTek" dribble system, which allows you to perform various maneuvers by tapping the right analog stick in different directions. Timing it with the dribble speed of the player in question allows you to chain moves together, and a modifier button on top of that adds even more nuance via player-specific actions.
The main problem, however, is that NBA Live 14 does nothing to help you learn and embrace this system. The only tutorial for BounceTek, which is an entirely new system to any person who picks up NBA Live 14, is a brief video clip on the front-end menu. This video doesn't show stick movements or have any graphical overlays; you watch a player dribble the ball while a narrator gives a very basic overview of how BounceTek works. No specific directions are given.
It's very unfriendly, and it puts the onus for learning how to master the system squarely on your shoulders. Even the game's built-in manual offers no aid, simply labeling the right analog stick as "Dribble Moves." Considering that successful play hinges entirely on grasping BounceTek, it's pretty disappointing that EA doesn't do anything to foster understanding and appreciation here.
Rising Star mode, the typical career campaign we've been seeing in sports games for years, is the main time-sink in NBA Live 14. Rising Star is a barebones offering: You create a player, join to a team and try to outperform your match-up.
All of the narrative emphasis on actually rising as a star in the league is your own to imagine. You don't have the drama of trying to establish your place on a team or taking a franchise into the future, you just have a schedule for the season and your end-of-year option to be traded, re-up your contract or strike out on your own as a free agent. Rising Star has no semblance of presentation polish and, aside from improving your player's attributes through in-game performance until they're forced to retire, it offers no incentive to invest your time. It's lazy and lacks the grandeur befitting a professional sport, and it certainly doesn't stand up to the level of detail seen in the NBA 2K series.
And it doesn't help that NBA Live 14 is far from easy on the eyes. Player models look like plastic renditions of real-life people, with chunky, embellished features and rubbery skin. You only have a handful of customization options when creating a player. Sometimes the basketball simply teleports to the correct position so a player can finish the required animation. Watch this full-court chain pass and see if you can spot the half-court ball teleport from the floor to a player's hands as he makes a pass – not to mention the blissfully unaware AI defense.
NBA Live 14 feels unfinished and, when compared to its only competition, NBA 2K14, is an unappealing retail product nowhere near deserving of your time or money. The BounceTek system is the only redeemable part of the experience, but EA does the bare minimum to introduce the mechanics, let alone teach you how to master them. BounceTek should clearly be the focal point of NBA Live's future, but the current state of the series is something I just can't recommend.
EA has a lot of work to do, and it already knows that. NBA Live 14 is a bungled attempt to produce a viable basketball simulation, and its failures are likely to linger in the minds of players for years to come. Let's just hope EA doesn't forget this flub as it attempts to move forward with its next game.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PlayStation 4 version of NBA Live 14, provided by EA.
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