The Back and Forth of NBA Live 14

NBA Live returned this month after a three year hiatus. Remember NBA Live? It was once the go-to NBA sim franchise back in the late 90s to early 2000s. Like EA’s NHL franchise, I picked up NBA Live consistently for my original PlayStation, NBA Live 98 (like NHL 98) being my preferred one.

Since the end of the Dreamcast and the movement of NBA 2K to the other consoles, EA Sports has had some stiff competition from then-Sega Sports (now 2K Sports). Each year NBA 2K manages to find a way to gain more interest, and take away the user base that NBA Live once dominated. The competition eventually led to EA re-branding the franchise in 2010 to NBA Elite, but it never saw the light of day as it was cancelled right before release. Some copies managed to get out in the wild, but the game never had a commercial release.

The franchise came back, with its original name, and released last week on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The reviews have been nothing short of critical and negative. The game has only seven posted reviews at Metacritic, but none have been labeled as Positive (as of this article’s post date), and the average review score is 45 / 100. NBA 2K14 on the PS4, however, has twenty five counted reviews, and all but one are labeled as Positive, with an average review score of 84 / 100.

NBA Live 14 does have some noticeable problems, but how should we treat this game? Do we treat it as a new franchise, or do we treat it as a sequel long in the making? Does it get the same treatment as, let’s say a Duke Nukem Forever, or a LA Noire, or are sports games immune to that? It’s not very often we see a sports game long in the making. Either it comes out every year or gets canned altogether. The NBA is the only one of the major pro sports that has any competition this year┬áin the video game arena.

I’ve only experienced the demo thus far, so I am by no means a judge of the full experience. After reading a few of the reviews, the general gist of it seems to be that the game feels sluggish. For this, I agree that certain aspects of the game felt delayed, specifically in the defensive play of the game. Block attempts felt as if I hit the button and my player took a second to react, which usually led to a foul. Same goes with stealing the ball. I would hit the command, but the player typically was slow to react which, again, led to a foul.

Fast breaks were also considerably slow. Playing as the Knicks, stealing the ball with someone like Raymond Felton or Carmelo Anthony, felt underwhelming as the two merely jogged down the court. The fast break began with not a single defender on them, but in most cases, by time they would reach the paint, the entire defense was back there. Understandably I would acknowledge a sense of urgency for defenses to backpedal to stop the fast break, but how is it that Carmelo Anthony has the same acceleration as a guy like Tyson Chandler, or Amar’e Stoudamire?

There was some good to be seen in the demo. The ESPN brand adds a bit to the game’s presentation, though that’s nothing against the excellent commentary and personality of NBA 2K’s presentation. I felt the visuals were a step up from what I was expecting, though nothing to take head to head with 2K14. The full game features BIG Moments and NBA Rewind modes; NBA Live’s take on the excellent Live Moments modes from EA’s NHL & NFL products.

EA Sports realizes NBA Live 14 isn’t the comeback story they wanted, as the game’s executive producer Sean O’Brien recently took to the EA Sports Blog to acknowledge the complaints that are out there. It is nice to see one acknowledge it, but this is also the easiest part of redeeming a game’s failure. Many do have the right to give NBA Live more criticism than its competition simply because we did wait three years for this game. We have learned that the longer people have to wait, the more skeptic they become when it comes to judging the final product.

I didn’t necessarily hate the NBA Live 14 demo, and I am interested to at least give the full game a rental just to see the finished product, and to become a bit more qualified to give a full opinion on the experience. I have yet to play NBA 2K’s product this year, but thoroughly enjoyed last year’s game. I typically don’t buy many basketball games these days, heck, until last year my last NBA game I bought was NBA 2K7, if I recall correctly.

The fact is though, we need NBA Live, and we need it to be good. We need the competition, as it will continue to give that drive to 2K to make their NBA product better each year. Many continue to call EA’s effort in Madden lazy, as they have bought the exclusivity to the NFL and have no competitors. I fail to believe a developer would be intentionally lazy, though with EA Tiburon handling both Madden and NBA, it wouldn’t make me disbelieve corners had to be cut to meet deadlines.

I don’t consider 2K’s effort lazy, but if NBA Live continues to put out mediocre products, it may be easier for them to begin to coast rather than to innovate. It saves costs, and doesn’t hurt the install base any when they put out the superior product.

I love MLB The Show, but with 2K essentially giving up on making baseball games for now, and EA still mum on their plans, the lack of competition may have an effect on the innovation of this great franchise.

I’m rooting for NBA Live, as it is the underdog in its situation. I love rooting for the underdog, considering I grew up rooting for underdog professional sports teams (Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres, Boston Red Sox).

Do we forgive the game for its failures this year? No. We shouldn’t. It has been three years; you’ve had more time to innovate from NBA Live 10 to NBA Live 14, than 2K did from NBA 2K13 to NBA 2K14. You sat on the sidelines watching your superior go out there and put on a show. Now is the time for you to show that superior you got game. You didn’t do that.

Then try it again next year. Just don’t be like Derrick Rose, who sat out a year after getting injured, only to come back and go back to being injured indefinitely… again. Don’t be the Derrick Rose of video games EA. Come back next year and give it your all.

I guess you could say NBA Live is like Greg Oden. Sat out three years and made a comeback. Oden looks fresh but is clearly not the #1 center in Miami.

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