It’s always fun reviewing sports games when you have very little knowledge of the game itself. While I can happily sit in front of an American Football or Ice Hockey game, not all American sports sit as easily with my limited sporting head, and basketball is one of those which I’ve never taken the time to figure out. Well, I thought I had, but it turns out NBA Jam isn’t a proper simulator. Who knew?
NBA 2k14 immediately leaps out at you as one of the most incredible looking sports titles around. Players move with uncanny realism, the crowds actually look like people as opposed to cardboard cut outs and the presentation matches that of what you’d expect to see on a typical American TV sports program. There are some great touches when it comes to the animations, with players getting annoyed at decisions, stumbling over other players as well as a range of layups and dunks to please the crowds, and the commentary is smooth, enjoyable and extremely realistic which adds to the overall feel of the matches. As far as presentation goes, 2k14 ticks every box on the list, and then writes a few more boxes underneath for good measure.
But what of the games? Basketball is a very end-to-end, fast sport with a fluidity and pace that should be a huge challenge to replicate in a video game, but 2k are well practiced in the art of NBA, and the years of development have reached a point when the end of this generation has a fantastically playable game that’s surprisingly easy to get into. Even for a total newbie like me, by the time you hit half time everything is starting to click and you’ll be passing, shooting and defending as if you’ve been playing for hours. Have two people playing and, as is usually the case with sports titles, the fun doubles and becomes far more enjoyable, especially if you’re both carrying the same level of experience with the NBA series. Some of the fouls are a bit confusing at first, and it takes a fair bit of experimenting to figure out how to break down an organised defence, but these are both things that come with time.
Another element that takes some practice but proves invaluable is how the right stick is used to carry out a range of defensive and offensive actions, giving more control over your passing, shooting and fancy tricks. While you’re learning how it all works it can be a daunting and unforgiving system, but as with other areas of the game it’s all about trying things out until it all makes sense, and when it sits comfortably in your head it becomes second nature. Is a bit like the way EA’s NHL system uses the right stick for more advanced control, and just like NHL it’s not really essential – you can do most things with the face buttons if you’d prefer, even if you might never see some of the more impressive moves.
Away from the single one-off games is a range of game modes that could span an evening right through to several months. There’s a mode dedicated to the brilliantly named LeBron James, following his future career through one of two possible paths as he tries to beat Michael Jordan’s record of six championship wins. This works well as a long term game mode, with even the commentary changing as the career progresses, although still isn’t quite as cool as creating your own player and leading them through a career of their own. Building yourself up from a nobody hoping for a break, up through the RPG style improvements through to a championship winning star player is not only a meaty and deep task, but also a very satisfying one when it all starts to click together. Whether you love the sport or just fancy something a bit different, there’s something here for most people to sink time into.
It’s easy to recommend NBA 2k14, whether you’re a basketball fan or not. It’s quick, easy to play and deep enough to keep anyone busy for quite some time. Whether it’ll suffer slightly from people waiting for the next gen version remains to be seen, but for the final step in the current generation of NBA titles it’s very worthwhile. Don’t expect to have your hand held if you’re new to the sport, but put the time and effort in and you’ll be rewarded.
Reviewed on PS3