It’s Friday once again here at the NLSC, so it’s time for another edition of The Friday Five! If this is your first time checking out The Friday Five and you’re wondering what it’s all about, this is a feature that I post every Friday in which I pick a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, then either give my thoughts on the matter as a list of five items or in Top 5 countdown format.
Last week, I talked about the reasons why I want to see the NBA Live series succeed and make a strong return with NBA Live 14. This week, I’m taking a look at five things that I feel NBA Live 14 needs to do or have to make that happen. Please note that this is intended to be an overview, not a Wishlist, so I won’t be going into every nuance in detail. Having said that, I’ll of course be touching upon some of the key features and improvements that we want to see in the game.
1. Feature solid, sim-oriented 5-on-5 gameplay
Let’s start with an obvious one. Gameplay is paramount and it’s absolutely essential that NBA Live 14 delivers in this department. While NBA Live has always been intended as a sim basketball game – 5-on-5 gameplay that aims to replicate the NBA experience – the results have not been up to par across the board. On that, pretty much everyone is in agreement: gamers, reviewers and even the developers themselves.
EA Sports already has an arcade basketball brand in NBA Jam which has seen a great release in NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, so sim is absolutely the way to go for NBA Live 14. What does sim mean, exactly? It means players that play and perform like their real life counterparts; in other words, true-to-life tendencies and abilities, signature moves and so on. It also means teams utilising real plays (with branching) and strategies. In a nutshell, it means a good representation of the sport and the individual teams and players.
With EA Sports’ new IGNITE engine and their continued partnership with Synergy Sports, it seems like there’s plenty of potential to get a lot of realism into the game. We can’t expect absolutely everything to go right in NBA Live 14, but it’s vital that the results are at least satisfactory, promising and a noticeable step forward from what we’ve seen in the past.
2. Good, polished animations, balanced with responsive controls
The gameplay also needs to be aesthetically pleasing, with the user feeling like they’re in control of the action. Personally, if there are more positives than negatives when it comes to the gameplay, I can overlook player models that are a little off or the odd animation that isn’t quite right. All the same, NBA Live should ideally be striving for good results in this department as it arrives upon a new generation of consoles, so if nothing else the animations at least need to be satisfactory for the most part.
At the moment, it seems like both NBA Live and NBA 2K are trying to find a good balance between animation quality and control responsiveness. NBA 2K’s animations have been more impressive in recent years, but the price of an animation heavy game is that it occasionally feels clunky and heavy, with out of control moments. While it’s important that NBA Live 14’s animations are an improvement on what we saw in NBA Elite 11 and NBA Live 13, they need to be well balanced with controls that feel responsive and uncontrived. The return to the more familiar right stick dribbling controls is an encouraging sign and impressions coming out of E3 have been promising.
3. At least one good, relatively deep game mode
While the core gameplay experience should be the top priority, a successful sports game also needs at least one solid single player game mode. The lack of Dynasty and other modes in the Xbox 360 version of NBA Live 06 did the game no favours whatsoever, making it a fairly barebones experience on top of the complaints regarding gameplay.
Ideally, there should be at least a couple of good single player modes to choose from, the way NBA 2K caters to different players by having both Association and MyPLAYER/Creating a Legend. To that end, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if NBA Live 14 does include some equivalent to MyPLAYER, giving the game a career mode that can be expanded upon in subsequent releases.
There does need to be at least one good, deep mode though and the mode that’s closest to being that in NBA Live right now is Dynasty. If NBA Live 14 features a Dynasty Mode that has good simulated stats, intelligent player movement, plenty of team management and player development options (sidenote: please bring back the traditional Reorder Roster menu!) and a couple of other bells and whistles, it will be very solid. It sounds like Dynamic Season is coming back as well and I’m in favour of that. If Dynasty Mode is brought up to code, a career mode is introduced and Dynamic Season is brought back, along with a standalone Playoffs mode and perhaps even a barebones Single Season mode, NBA Live 14 will be in pretty good shape as far as its single player experience is concerned.
4. A robust online experience, with a few different options
This is one area where NBA Live 14 can certainly distinguish itself, as it’s an area that NBA 2K hasn’t necessarily done all that well; if nothing else, there have been issues with connectivity. While Sim City 5’s server issues caused EA quite a few problems to say the least, when it comes to online stability they have a much better track record with the NBA Live series (and more recently, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition).
As with the offline modes, there needs to be an online mode with a decent amount of depth and a couple of different alternatives. Online Team Play was quite popular when it was introduced in NBA Live 08, so I would definitely be in favour of bringing it back. Ultimate Team is heavily rumoured to be in the game and it would be a suitable replacement for NBA Live 10’s adidas Live Run mode, being a somewhat similar concept. An Online Dynasty/League mode is also a must, so it would be a good time to launch the EA Sports Basketball League that was intended to debut in NBA Elite 11. Throw in the standard option of playing unranked games with the ability to set up games with a friend and I’d say the game would be delivering the goods in terms of the online experience…so long as the gameplay is enjoyable, of course.
The updates from Synergy don’t hurt, either. NBA 2K’s official roster updates haven’t exactly been well-received and are often criticised for being incomplete or inaccurate. If NBA Live 14’s roster updates add missing players in a timely fashion while keeping tendencies and other data up to date as of the hour as advertised, that will go a fair way in delivering some good online content. Pushing through some official art updates as 2K has done the past couple of years definitely wouldn’t go astray, either.
5. Provide some good customisation and save/media sharing options
It’s already been confirmed that NBA Live 14 won’t be coming out on PC, which means our modding community will be focused on NBA 2K14. We’ll probably never see the same kind of modding taking place on the consoles because of issues with intellectual property and technical limitations, but in the absence of a PC release – and yes, we do want to see that happen again at some point – it would be great to have some better customisation and sharing options for the consoles.
That means more than 50 slots for created players and the ability to edit all aspects of a created player’s bio data, from tendencies to Draft information. Better face editing options would be nice too, though with other aspects of the game being a higher priority, we can make do with the existing tools. Features such as Create-a-Team and custom Draft Classes are also worth mentioning here. Truth be told, I’d gladly drop a few bucks on an Official Roster Editing Kit. It’d make for far better downloadable content than a Guitar Hero-like Slam Dunk Contest or NBA 2K12’s Legends Showcase.
Even if we don’t get much in the way of new customisation options, it’s important that at the very least, we can easily share our custom rosters, sliders and settings. The EA Locker has been adequate in that regard, but the need to add a user to your friends list is an annoying limitation. It makes it harder to share custom content without constantly accepting friend requests and vigilantly cleaning up your friends list when it’s full, so that you can accept new requests. An approach similar to 2K Share or Community Creations in the WWE games would be far preferable. Finally, the ability to upload screenshots and replays should be retained as well. If there’s some way we can also export boxscores, Story Thread enthusiasts should be set.
Once again, it isn’t feasible to expect that everything we want to see will make it into NBA Live 14 or that everything will be done to absolute perfection, but if the game can deliver in most of those areas, particularly the first four points, it’s in good shape to resurrect the series. We’ll of course continue to cover news on the game as it emerges but in the meantime, let me know the things that you feel NBA Live 14 must do or have in the comments below, as well as take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. Thanks for checking out this week’s Five, please join me again next Friday where I’ll be taking a look at the things that NBA 2K14 needs to do or have.