Visual Concepts had a great foundation to work with and you’ll find everything from the fantastic NBA 2K13 still right where you left it. All your favorite modes are here from the rich experience of online and offline Associations to Playoffs to the always fun MyCareer. I’ve never been prouder than when the virtual basketball player named after my son went in the lottery after a breakout performance in the pre-draft All-star game. Sure, he didn’t end up with the Wizards like I hoped but New Orleans can be nice in the summer, right?
Obviously this late in the generation, series are focusing more on tweaks rather than completely rebuilds. Sometimes though tweaks can be significant and that’s the case this year. While we’ve seen an evolution of finesse controls being added to the right analog stick, 2K14 takes it to another level. On both offense and defense you can control your players actions almost exclusively through the stick. Shooting, faking, dribbling all have deep movesets that are executed by almost fighting-game like half-circles and forward/backs. Using a trigger modifier extends the range of moves even further.
It’s almost impossible to describe the feel of the new controls. Let’s just say even someone afflicted with a lack of dexterity (a charge I can level against myself) could find themselves high on the block with Tim Duncan and smoothly execute a jab step followed by a spin into the low post followed by an up and under with a series of intuitive rolls and snaps of that analog stick. It’s just as easy to run a give-and-go ending in a Kobe Bryant fadeaway near the top of the key. The training camp does a good job of running you through these controls, and even if you don’t remember the whole range of them just doing what feels natural will almost always result in a nice set of moves leading into a clean shot. I’m not usually one who gets into those sorts of analog control schemes but this one feels like things have evolved.
The other big change this year is the switch in “Executive Producers” from Jay-Z to LeBron James. What does that mean, exactly? Well for one, it means you get a somehow both bored-looking and intense LeBron informing you just how hard it is to get to the top before you even see the opening menu screen. Said menu screen is bathed in the blood red glow of the Miami Heat as some hand-picked by LeBron tunes waft in (does LeBron REALLY listen to Imagine Dragons?).
Once you digest all that red, you’ll notice the new option for “Path to Greatness” mode. Taking a cue from the Jordan Legacy and the career arcs of Magic and Larry last year, this mode lets you choose two fictional future paths to take LeBron down in his quest to get 7 rings and surpass Michael Jordan (and Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant along the way). The first path allows you to continue the Heat dynasty and you’ll play out select games from each season (mainly finals matchups) where you control the whole team, but you’ll be given additional goals on top of winning. It might be to have the Big Three all play well, have LeBron run the point effectively or take over in an impossible situation. The fictional situations that get played out (you’ll get a rundown on big news each season) are fascinating and the amount of commentary (always a strength of these games) that talk about these fictional situation are incredible.
Even more amazing is the “Fantastic Journey” path that has LeBron leave Miami (he went to the Knicks for me) and continue his career elsewhere while simply sublime things happen throughout the years that are vastly entertaining and amazingly I found myself excited to see what scenario had developed when I went from challenge to challenge. Because the developer isn’t constrained by actual events they got to cut loose and set up some dream situations that make this mode really add a whole new level to the game even for a guy like me who isn’t much of a LeBron fan. It really hurt to give him those sixth and seventh rings, let me tell you!
Once again the game looks great. I don’t love every single model (some guys look weird… like the entire Knicks team!) but the details across the board are sharp. The crowd, the coaches, the mascots, the floors, the scoreboards all look and react just how you’d expect them to in a real game, and the presentation… oh the presentation. The cutaways and commentary are broadcast quality and it tickles me silly every time I hear them talk about an “upcoming broadcast” during timeouts.
It’ll be interesting to see how the PS4 version turns out, but the fact that it won’t have Path to Greatness mode means the PS3 version is still going to be the way to go this year. As always with these games, if you own last year’s edition it might be a tough sell to upgrade (although personally I find both the new controls and LeBron mode to make is worth it) but if you’ve been away for a few years there is enough new content and tweaks to absolutely make it an easy recommendation. With EA rising up to challenge 2K Sports after a long hiatus we’ll be interested to see if they have any surprises in store, but for now you can’t go wrong with the reigning champion.