It’s finally happening.
After years of huge success and being the lone ruler of the basketball game landscape, NBA 2K is finally starting to stumble. And by that I mean “Madden Syndrome” is starting to set in. Which, of course, means the series is starting to be just more of the same year after year with nothing more than marginal improvements. It has never been more obvious than with this current-generation version of NBA 2K14 which is honestly one of the laziest efforts I’ve seen on a video game in quite some time.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. 2K has been the apex predator of the genre ever since the groundbreaking NBA 2K11 and the long hiatus of EA’s NBA Live. But as someone whose played NBA 2K13 extensively over the past year, it’s almost scary how little difference there is between these two games.
Graphically the game looks exactly the same. Emphasis on EXACTLY. There are very few presentational difference from last year. In-game graphics appear as if they weren’t touched at all. If you were to show someone a video of 2K13 followed by one of 2K14, there’s no way they’d be able to tell the difference. The character models, the arenas, the animations, they’re all taken from last year’s game almost exactly as they were (“almost exactly” is being generous).
Even the cutscenes featured in the various game modes such as Association and MyCareer are exactly as they were last year. Exact same models, exact same environments, exact same voice-overs, everything.
Some parts of the presentation did receive a welcome touch-up. Gone is the terrible main menu cluttered with the MyPlayer, Game of the Day, etcetera, that’s quite inconvenient to navigate. This year’s soundtrack is also significantly stronger than last year’s Jay-Z love affair where you heard the same 2-3 tracks over, and over, and over again.
However some of the presentational updates are less than stellar. For example: The shot-feedback meter is significantly worse. It’s very small, no longer maps the various influences on the shot (defensive pressure, release, etc.), and appears and disappears too quickly to be useful. You will put up your shot and half the time the feedback is gone before you even get the chance to look at it. Another one is the team feedback meter in MyCareer mode. It’s an eye-soar and takes up far too much of the screen.
Thankfully, the core gameplay in 2K14 remains as strong as ever. The game plays almost exactly like last year. Other than a few unnecessary controls changes (which can be addressed in settings) anyone whose played 2K within the past couple of years can jump right in.
The gameplay as a whole just feels a bit smoother. Passes, shots, and play calling all seem to be more responsive than last year and makes the game a joy to play in motion. Driving to the basket doesn’t seem as easy as in previous years either. It requires knowing your player and how to work the dribble controls effectively for success.
Defense in the game has been improved significantly. Last year’s game was plagued by unstoppable dunks and oops and I’m happy to report that is no longer the case. Smart and effective defensive play can now at least hinder dunks so the game AI is no longer unstoppable on fastbreaks. The man defense is also better with improvements made to the steal, block, and lateral movement mechanics.
Unfortunately, the gameplay remains almost too true to form this year; retaining a number of issues that continue to plague the series. Most notably, the teammate AI is still a complete joke at times. Countless times I’ve watched one of my teammates dribble at the top of the key without ever passing the ball until there are two seconds left on the shot-clock and then they jack up a terrible, contested shot. Your teammates are also terrible about getting open or taking open shots when given good looks. AI teammates often don’t seem to know what defense is either. You better get used to watching your team’s center stand awkwardly to one side not flinching while an opposing guard drives to the basket completely unimpeded. It’s frustrating and makes you feel like you have to do everything yourself.
Goaltending and fouls also seem to run rampant in this year’s title. It may be coincidental but I’ve never seen so many of such calls in a 2K game before. At times it contributes to realism and other times it seriously disrupts the follow of the game and just feels absurd. I don’t think Danny Granger would goaltend four times in one game in real life.
A huge positive for this game is the inclusion of 14 Euroleague teams. I don’t imagine many who play 2K follow European basketball but it’s amazing to me the detail that went into these teams. Even the tendencies and types of plays the teams run differ from the NBA teams. It provides great insight into how differently those teams play compared to the ones in the US. It’s a nice shakeup and the teams are genuinely fun to play as.
As far as modes go, 2K14 doesn’t bring much to the table. Classic and popular modes like Association, MyTeam, and MyCareer return almost completely untouched from last year. The big draw for this year’s installment is the Lebron James: Path to Greatness mode where you control his destiny and try to make him the greatest of all time. The mode is the definition of meh. It would have been more interesting with more potential paths and things that could happen. In its current state, the mode is honestly boring and predictable and doesn’t take long to conquer. Perhaps in future installments, 2K could take this mode and expand it to where you can choose any number of players and alter the course of their careers.
2K remains at its best when playing online with friends or competing with strangers. This experience is made better by the return of Crews which helps you to maintain a 2K network of sorts. A big positive for a series with such an active online community.
NBA 2K14 is a mixed bag. The game is as fun as ever and there are a few noticeable improvements yet so many lingering problems still exist. The game also looks and feels almost exactly the same as last year. Really as a whole, the game just feels very, very lazy. It’s almost as if no effort was put into 80% of the game and that’s a shame for such a respected and successful series. Hopefully the next-generation version offers more than this.