Writing an NBA 2K14 review is a lot like writing a review of NBA basketball. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it shows just how far the game has come in terms of overall quality, presentation and controls. If you’re not so distracted by controlling a video game, you can really feel like you’re playing “the game” itself. That comparison is bad, though, in that the game of basketball is so nuanced and takes such a long time to evolve — 82 games plus the post-season — that it’s almost impossible to do an NBA 2K14 review justice just two weeks after release. Heck, the San Antonio Spurs don’t generally start playing their best ball of the season until March. But the video game’s out now, and the NBA pre-season is underway, so we may as well tackle what some have called the best pro hoops game to date.
All that hype aside, NBA 2K14 is an incredibly well-rounded game, and it deserves that aforementioned label. The NBA 2K series has delivered excellence time and time again, and NBA 2K14 is the perfect capstone to the current console generation’s sports pantheon. Other games are still on tap — WWE 2K14, for instance — but as far as traditional sports games go, the one with LeBron James on the cover is a great way to go out.
The conversation will inevitably lead to gameplay, which we’ll cover, but aside from some tweaks that isn’t really new. What is fresh, however, is a mode called Path to Greatness. If you can get over the megalomaniacal label, you’ll find an interesting narrative-based mode that lets gamers choose whether they (as LeBron James) will continue playing for the Miami Heat or take their talents to Some Other Beach and opt out of the contract, thus setting the stage for a custom career. Little plot points surface at key times, giving us perhaps a taste of what it’s like to be a star (minus the tats and buckets of cash) and providing a little more narrative meat than one might expect. And who knows? Maybe LeBron will ask the developers at Visual Concepts for some real-user gameplay data to see whether the public at large thinks he should stay or go….
Be forewarned, though, that the Path to Greatness mode isn’t for the non-experienced NBA 2K gamer, even though it might seem to be. Series newbies are wont to enter things slowly, and a story-based mode would traditionally feel like the way to do that. Unfortunately, Path to Greatness doesn’t include the ability to adjust the difficulty, which may make some gamers feel decidedly un-LeBron. The irony of this is that the hardcore NBA 2K gamers who are best equipped to succeed aren’t likely to even dabble in this mode, as they’ll head straight for the season and head-to-head games. Although it wouldn’t impact franchise fans, a difficulty slider would go a long way toward making NBA 2K14 seem more approachable to series newbies, so with any luck it’ll be addressed in a future game update.
Few other things have changed for NBA 2K14, at least on the surface, as The Association mode and My Player are both back from previous outings, as are Crews. Fast breaks and shooting are as smooth as you’ve come to expect, and although some of the passing and shooting controls have changed a bit, offensive specialists should generally feel right at home. Until they actually run into a defender, that is. The most notable gameplay tweaks seem to have come from the defensive end, where the AI is insanely smart and the game in the paint has a physicality of Shaquille O’Neal-ean proportions. The wings may get all the marketing attention, but the minute they drive the lane they’ll encounter a completely new game, one where strategy, patience and passing rule the roost. This may make for some big adjustments for gamers who have previously slipped through the paint unscathed, but it really makes for a more realistic experience.
“Realistic” is the name of the game when it comes to presentation as well. From graphics and audio to replays and commentary, NBA 2K14 slips right into its predecessors’ big shoes as if they were custom-made. Visual Concepts has had a stranglehold on presentation excellence for more than a decade now, and it’s great to see that they’ve not rested on their laurels amid a lack of competition. NBA 2K14 isn’t perfect, and I still can’t understand why 2K Sports jacks with the controls year after year, but no other video game represents the NBA game as finely as NBA 2K14. If the pre-season isn’t cutting it for you, and you’re looking to get into the regular season ASAP, pick this one up and have your own Opening Night today.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360