Better than previous entries, but still flawed
Summary : A step in the right direction with uncanny graphics, improved crowd, sideline animations and nifty post-game summaries, but ultimately comes up short compared to its 2K developed rival.
The last NBA Live series game I played was NBA 06, a game that appeared to drop its “Live” nomenclature for no good reason at all. Since then, the series has seen a marketed decline, one marred by a 4 year hiatus with no NBA Live titles released after 2010, with the series getting revitalized most recently with NBA Live 14. NBA Live 15 has now arrived after a short delay in its release, and it faces the ever-daunting task of going against NBA 2K15, its 2K Sports developed rival which has become synonymous with NBA video games in NBA Live‘s absence. But does NBA Live 15 have what it takes to take back the crown from its illustrious enemy?
The review that follows was played on the 6-hour EA Access trial on the Xbox One, and while I was unable to try all that was available in the game, I think that’s enough to give me an idea of how it compares to the NBA 2K series.
I’ll start with the presentation of NBA Live 15
. As far as I can see, Live 15
has overhauled everything in the game graphically, in particular the player models and the stadiums. The player models are straight out of uncanny valley with the models wonderfully accurate and articulated well – gone is the angry, uneasy stare of NBA Live 14
. Similarly the stadiums have been greatly improved on, particularly the crowds who finally really do look like a real crowd, however, the sound of the crowd still has some room for improvement. It’s not so much the volume or the quality of the sound, but rather its pacing and tempo – in the NBA 2K
series, crowds would pipe up when their team makes a huge play and continues roaring as a run is made, but abruptly shuts up when an answering bucket is made; the Live 15
crowds sound positively timid in comparison.
There are some nice touches in the atmosphere of the stadiums – crowds are raucous and get up and support the team when things are happening, and I was impressed to see players get up from the bench in real time to stroll over to the timers bench before checking into the game. Unfortunately, that’s all they did – once positioned on the sideline, crouched or sitting, the players ready to sub in were apparently set in stone, ignoring everything that happened on the floor. This is pretty much how it goes for all of Live 15: some nice touches, but ultimately short of where it needs to be.
As a veteran of the NBA 2K series, it would probably be an understatement to say that I have become incredibly used to the commentary of Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr, so switching to the ESPN tandem of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy was definitely interesting. I’m not going to completely decry the commentary in Live 15
as I have only briefly played it and not experienced it over a season where more facts might come up in conversation, but I can’t say that I’m terribly impressed. While the commentary definitely isn’t ‘wooden’ as reviews of last year’s game have said, however it still lacks a bit of emotion.
There are good things in Live 15 that I was pleasantly pleased to see, however – the post-game area has several different categories of highlights to peruse which include not only offensive and defensive hightlights, but also “Who was cold” ‘highlights’ which showed who had the most ‘off’ game that night. Each category had an extensive number of game clips from the game just played which made for a nice way to check out how good the game can looks with all the cogs turning.
We’re at the point in video games where the presentation of a game is basically a given – if your graphics are drab, you’re giving away free points. Live 15
doesn’t entirely disappoint in that area, however it’s the gameplay of a sports game and how it handles which can make or break a game. And in my honest opinion, it doesn’t seem like EA Sports has learnt their lesson. NBA Live
games have always felt more arcade-y compared to the NBA 2K
games, and Live 15
is no different. It feels entirely too easy and too hard at the same time – when you do score, you’ve somehow managed to weave your player through 4 defenders and dunked on top of the 5th guy, but for the most part you are stuck passing the ball around against defense that could be likened to super glue.
I would have thought that in all this time, EA Sports would have really given their gameplay an overhaul, though to their credit, it appears they have done a lot of work in the controls area. In the game’s tutorial which is narrated by a particularly demur Damian Lillard (seriously, all props to Lillard for being a budding NBA superstar, but he’s not exactly the most charasmatic guy), the tutorial walks you through many of the controls in the game, most of which have been modeled on the NBA 2K controls which is not a bad thing at all. However, where they haven’t copied NBA 2K is where EA Sports’ folly is revealed. Things like the alley-oop button are a clear sign that Live 15 is still focusing more on the fun and awe aspect of the NBA, rather than the simulation aspect, which is absolutely fine if you’re after an NBA game where you can basically do whatever you want at will. However, for hardcore basketball and NBA fans, there’s still only one game to get for accurate basketball video game simulation: the NBA 2K series.
It’s not even entirely about the controls scheme, but just all the little details EA Sports has omitted. Controller vibration is a feature that is rarely mentioned, but is one of the most important aspects of immersing players in games and you might be surprised to know it has the same effect in sports games. In the last basketball game I played, NBA 2K14
, collisions between players were felt through the controller, post up and backing down your opponent vibrated your controller vigorously to really give you a sense of how powerful these titanic men were – none of this I saw or remember in my short time playing NBA Live 15
. Sure, you get some vibration when you dunk the ball, but this lack of connection to what’s going on in the game really makes it seem more like a game than a battle on the court.
I was really hoping that NBA Live 15
would be a good game. To its credit, it has improved a lot since its last outing, particularly graphically and made small changes to its gameplay and controls. Ultimately though, it still falls well short of where it needs to be to challenge the NBA 2K
series for the NBA game crown as it just lacks the core gameplay – individual, one-on-one battles and swift team play – that makes basketball such great game. For me, it’s a no-brainer: if you’re looking for the definitive basketball game this year, look no further than NBA 2K15
NBA Live 15 is out on Xbox One and PS4 on October 28th.