Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
NBA Live 15 is available now – on shelves and in digital format – and in the short time that it’s been out, gamers have been sharing their views on this year’s release from EA Sports. On the whole, the reception seems to be more positive than last year, with a lot of gamers feeling that while there’s still much work to be done, NBA Live 15 represents a noteworthy step up from NBA Live 14.
Personally, I’m inclined to agree with that sentiment. I certainly have my criticisms, and would like to see continued improvement in all areas of the game, but I’ve also enjoyed my time with it so far, and have seen quite a few things that I do like. I’ll be sharing plenty of detailed thoughts on NBA Live 15 in the coming weeks, but for this week’s Friday Five, I thought that I’d discuss some of my initial impressions of this year’s game. So, without any further ado, here are my thoughts on NBA Live 15 after the first few days of playing it.
1. It’s a significant improvement on NBA Live 14
As promising as everything sounded during the preview season for NBA Live 15, as much as it was shaping up to be an improvement on NBA Live 14, it’s something that I had to experience for myself by getting my hands on the sticks. I’m pleased to say that in my view, NBA Live 15 does feel like a significant improvement on NBA Live 14 in some key areas. Player movement feels better, the controls are more responsive, and it’s not as much of a struggle to do the things that I want to do on the court.
It’s nice to see more dunk and layup animations in NBA Live 15. While I do want to see them continue to get better, as it stands, they’re definitely an improvement on last year. I especially like that there’s a wider selection of shot animations in the paint. In NBA Live 14, and indeed most NBA Live games in years gone by, the variety of shots in the paint has felt very limited. Now we have a few up-and-under moves, half-hooks, sweeping running hooks, tear-drops, and so on. The physics are still something of a work in progress, but you do get some nice – or more appropriately, nasty – moments of players dunking on an opponent.
The gameplay is by no means perfect, there’s still depth that needs to be added to the game modes, and while there’s been a huge jump in the quality of the visuals, there’s still room for improvement in the animations. Still, my first impressions of the game are quite positive, as I feel it’s a noticeable and pleasing step up from last year. As rough as NBA Live 14 was, I could see its potential; ideas and tech that could be great with the right polish. The game still isn’t where it wants to be and needs to be, but it seems like the series is on the right track, with good concepts and a solid foundation.
2. Dynasty Mode is better than I expected
NBA Live 14’s Dynasty Mode wasn’t bad. It wasn’t as deep as I believe it needs to be, but as I pointed out in a previous edition of The Friday Five, it had some good features. Now, NBA Live 15’s Dynasty Mode doesn’t exactly come close to the astounding depth of NBA 2K15’s MyLEAGUE and MyGM, and a lot of the stuff that I’d really like to see in the mode will have to wait until NBA Live 16 at the earliest. However, considering that Dynasty Mode wasn’t the focus this year, I was happy to see some noteworthy enhancements.
The return of Sim Intervention is most welcome, and the simulation engine does seem to be producing some better results. When I was fooling around trying to make some trades, I liked that the CPU actually offered a reason as to why it declined an offer. I tried to pry Patty Mills away from the San Antonio Spurs, but they weren’t interested in overhauling their lineup, stating that their goal was to keep the team they had and compete for the championship. It’s great to see that kind of logic being implemented, as it means trades are no longer just a case of tallying up the overall ratings and ensuring that salaries match. The feedback adds to the sense of it being a negotiation.
I have noticed a rather unfortunate bug that hopefully can be patched: when I tried playing a game with 12 minute quarters (accelerated clock turned off), the automatic substitutions weren’t working properly, and the CPU ended up playing its starters the full 48 minutes. This doesn’t seem to be an issue in other modes and with shorter quarter lengths, so hopefully, it’s an easy fix. We can’t manually change player jersey numbers and there are a lot of features from MyLEAGUE/MyGM that I’d like NBA Live to borrow, but for a mode that was kind of on the backburner this year, Dynasty definitely wasn’t ignored. I’m looking forward to more improvements in the future.
3. Some important gameplay issues have been addressed
Getting back to the gameplay, I would say that NBA Live 15 is sim-oriented, but not full-blown sim. While that may sound like I’m splitting hairs, what I mean by that is the gameplay does strive for realism, and has a lot of the elements that sim gamers want to see, but the level of realism isn’t quite where we’d like it to be. Shooting percentages can be a bit high, it’s a bit too easy to finish at the rim, and there are some lapses in the AI. I’m also a little disappointed that we’ve lost manual control over bank shots, runners, and bounce passes. It’s not full-blown arcade gameplay – you’d never mistake it for NBA Jam – but for simheads, it falls short of the mark in some areas.
Having said all that, there’s still a lot that I’m liking. Pro-hop cheese has been cut down significantly in my opinion. Last year, it was pretty easy to get to the hoop with liberal use of pro-hops; this year, not so much. I personally like the timing on jumpshots, and the Shot Meter/Shot Feedback is proving to be a nice addition. While NBA 2K is still king when it comes to animations, NBA Live 15’s animations are better than NBA Live 14, and there are a few pretty good ones in there. Freestyle Passing feels good, and is quite effective in whipping the ball around the perimeter for an open look. Overall, I feel there’s less roughness, and more polish this year.
For the most part, the right players are taking the most shots, and the AI is good about taking advantage of defensive lapses, as well as hitting you with a double team when one of your players is lighting it up. Players don’t stand around as much, and the Quick Action button is quite useful when the play breaks down. There are a few too many blocks and steals, but on the plus side, steals don’t feel as canned as last year. More tuning is needed to really make NBA Live more of a sim – sliders would be a big help, so I’m hoping that they do indeed return next year – but it feels like the tech is there to make it happen. There’s room for improvement, but I’m having fun so far.
4. Ultimate Team, BIG Moments, and Little Touches
I must admit that I haven’t gotten into Rising Star yet, so my impressions of that will have to wait until another time. Apart from Dynasty Mode however, I’ve been checking out BIG Moments and LIVE Season, which feature some welcome enhancements in NBA Live 15. The Hot Spots Challenges – in which you need to make shots from the same spots on the floor as a player did in real life – make scoring challenges a bit more interesting. It looks like BIG Moments will be changing things up with a wider variety of goals and challenges, which I think will keep things fresh.
Since I logged into Ultimate Team within the first week of the game’s release, I received my ten Gold Premium packs. As a result, my team is fairly competitive right out of the gate. I don’t mind that though; as I said last week, it can be a tough slog early on when you’re trying to get by with benchwarmers and slightly above average role players. Auctions are a good addition, and pretty much everything about the mode has been done very well once again this year. Sadly, I forgot to change my favourite team in the game settings before logging into Ultimate Team for the first time, so I started out with the logo for the Boston Celtics instead of the Chicago Bulls.
I’m enjoying a lot of the little touches in NBA Live 15. The ESPN presentation is superb as it was in NBA Live 14, though it seems that the day one patch has glitched it. I imagine that will be fixed in short order. The number of timeouts remaining is displayed on the pause screen, which is a small touch, but very handy. Generally speaking, I like the menus, as they are easy to navigate and visually appealing. Hiding the control panel in Instant Replay also hides the target circle this year, which is useful for taking better screenshots. Minor stuff, sure, but it doesn’t go unnoticed, and I appreciate that attention to detail.
5. There’s still a ways to go
Now, having said all that…there is still a long road ahead of the series. There are some key improvements and additions that still need to be made, and some things that the game must have or achieve as early as NBA Live 16. Customisation is high up on that list: custom rosters, Create-a-Player, and gameplay sliders, to name but a few vital features. I anticipate that the development team will be patching and tuning the game as the season progresses, but sliders can be very useful in enhancing an individual gamer’s experience. Custom rosters are also a must moving forward, as they play a big role in adding replay value, and creating different and interesting experiences.
While the animations are a lot better, there’s still room for improvement. The controls are much more responsive, but I’d still like them to be a little more fluid. The modes are solid – again, I’ve noticed some subtle but very welcome improvements in Dynasty Mode – but seeing what NBA 2K has done in that regard, NBA Live’s modes have to get deeper. Again, there are sim elements in the game as far as team strategies, player movement, shot distribution and so on, but other elements such as shooting percentages and points in the paint aren’t as realistic as I would like. The gameplay has improved, it’s sim-oriented, but the realism isn’t quite where it needs to be…yet.
At the end of the day, my initial impressions of NBA Live 15 are that it’s enjoyable, and a pretty solid game across the board. Does it top NBA 2K15? No, I’m certainly not about to suggest that. That was an unrealistic goal to begin with, so I’m not disappointed that NBA Live still has a ways to go. It is, however, a significant step up from NBA Live 14, which it absolutely needed to be. The series appears to be headed in the right direction, and I think that NBA Live 15 is an encouraging sign of things to come. Anyone on the fence should try before they buy, but as for me, I can honestly say that I’ll be playing NBA Live 15 along with NBA 2K15 for the next year.
Once again, I will be going into more detail in future articles, as well as the NLSC Podcast, but for now, that’s an overview of my initial impressions of NBA Live 15. If you’d like to share any of your impressions of the game so far, or ask me any questions about the full version, please feel free to do so in the comments section below. As always, I also invite you to join in the discussion that’s taking place in the NLSC Forum. Thanks for checking in this week, please join me again next Friday for another Five.