Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 (tested) | PS4 | Xbox One
Developers: Visual Concepts
Publishers: 2K Sports
When you have a sports game franchise so comprehensive in its quality that it beats the competition into hiatus for several consecutive years, how do you go about avoiding complacency? It's a question that NBA 2K13, as good as it was (and it was very good), slightly sidestepped. After all, if it ain't broke...
But NBA 2K14 is looking to deal precisely with that question. At first glance, it's clear that certain things have changed. The production team made a very big deal out of touting their new compression systems, systems that have allowed the developers to add an extra 3,000 animations onto the existing framework in the game. The results are instantly recognisable. There's a smooth fluidity to the on court action that makes player movements seem more natural and versatile than ever before. Those in-between animations mean that the player has more direct control -- instead of having to wait half a second for an animation to finish, intervention to react to the opposition is a very real prospect. Games can be won and lost in single moments, heightening the dramatic ebb and flow of a match, and making every single player decision a vital consideration.
The full mapping of all ball controls to the right stick takes advantage of the extra animations, making it easier to move from one action to the next, triggering fakes, dummies, and skill moves more naturally. The balletic build up to a shot or layup by someone like Wade, Parker, Kobe, or Wall, for example, can be more readily manipulated. The right stick feels like an extension of their hands, the controls intuitive, with spins and crossovers simple to pull off. But there's a need for precision too; wild use of the stick will surely lead to fumbles and turnovers when facing a defence of any real skill. The right stick makes sense when playing big too, making dummy movements and eventual fadeaways and hook shots easy to perform.
The team have poured much of their focus into fully realising the two-way game, meaning that the defensive side of things has been given a good deal of attention. As well as improving the nature of the AI's approach to defending -- adaptive, dynamic systems will apparently see AI teams reacting to the way you play (e.g. shutting down persistent three-point threats early on, restricting passing channels to favoured bigs) -- many of those new animations mentioned above arrive this year having fleshed out blocking. Time your rejection properly and you'll even be able to swat away dunks, not to mention performing blocks off of the glass. Taking that information in to a hands-on session with the game, I can tell you that it was timing the perfect block even more satisfying than before.
And then there's the man that they call King James. LeBron James is unquestionably the best basketball player on the planet currently (don't fret, Durant, your time will come), and his involvement with NBA 2K14 extends far beyond simply being the cover star. The soundtrack is a playlist hand picked by the man himself, the mocap work he's undergone is described as extensive to say the least. But as well as adorning the menus and delivering inspirational soundbites, LeBron has his own game mode too.
As career modes go, it's an interesting concept: 2K Sports are speculating on the future of the NBA over the best part of a decade, providing highlight matches, challenging events, and decisive moments of action over the course of seven seasons. The goal? Get LeBron James into the Hall of Fame. The development team aren't giving too much away from the mode itself, and they aren't talking about MyPlayer or MyCareer yet, though they say that additional bits and pieces and new elements will feature. What they are, we can't say at this point in time, but here's hoping that they really shoot for the sky. One thing we do know, though, is that Crews mode is returning, letting players team their created ballers up with those of their friends to form a street team, and then taking on the world one game at a time.
NBA 2K14 impressed me, not necessarily for the reasons that I became addicted to its predecessor. Aesthetically, it's not much different to NBA 2K13. Unlike EA's returning effort, 2K have opted to include current gen systems in the mix when it comes to release platforms. Both current gen and next gen games will be feature complete, the idea being that the team wants the game to be available on all platforms, and the premier basketball game across all platforms. The version we played was running on Xbox 360, but the improvements in terms of animations, the extra levels of idiosyncratic movement, and the defensive upgrades were all visible. 2K also revealed that they'll be updating the stats of each player on a daily basis, to allow for breakout seasons in the game that mirror the likes of Linsanity.
There are still plenty of questions that need answering, but it looks at least as if 2K are looking to push on in terms of squeezing out the very last that this current generation has to offer and bridging the gap between it and the next with this instalment in the franchise. EA's offering has buzzwords aplenty and a a worthy ambassador in Kyrie Irving, and they're making a big deal of gunning exclusively for next-gen platforms, but we couldn't compare the two games as EA had left their game back home. 2K's on the other hand was on the show floor rocking Euroleague teams. That's going to be a big draw for baller fans outside of the States, and the European matches will incorporate the different set of FIBA rules.
We'll be looking forward to hopefully getting more hands-on time with the game ahead of its early October release date.