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.
In last week’s Friday Five, I took a look at the five best features in subpar basketball video games. It wasn’t the easiest list to compile, since the main reason subpar basketball video games have that reputation is that they don’t have much going for them in the first place. However, even in the worst releases, there are usually some good ideas, and concepts that have merit.
This week I’m going in the other direction, as I take a look at five of the worst features in some of the best basketball video games. All things considered, this was probably the tougher list; while no game is perfect, great basketball video games don’t achieve that status by having too many game-breaking flaws. Nevertheless, some of the best games have had their weaknesses, and surprisingly disappointing features. At the very least, there might be a mode or feature that just doesn’t seem as good when compared to everything else in the game. With that said, let’s get started on the Five.
1. Create-a-Player in NBA Live 2004
At this point, I feel that NBA Live 2004 is old enough to be included on any list of classic basketball video games, and it was a great release in its day. It saw the first incarnation of Dynasty Mode, with a couple of features that we’re yet to see again in the NBA Live series. It was the first game in the series to feature gameplay sliders, and even out of the box, the gameplay was far more sim than NBA Live 2003. For a lot of gamers, NBA Live 2004 makes their list of all-time favourite basketball video games, and for very good reason.
But man, was its Create-a-Player ever disappointing! You could argue that in some respects, original players in NBA Live 2004 didn’t look quite as good as their counterparts in NBA Live 2003. That goes double for created players, due in large part to the lack of any headshape customisation, and a limited range of hairstyles and facial hair. As such, most created players in NBA Live 2004 ended up looking very similar. Fortunately, this wouldn’t be an issue in NBA Live 2005, as EA added a bunch of new facial customisation options to Create-a-Player.
2. Dunk Contest in NBA 2K13
NBA 2K13 is one my all-time favourite basketball video games. It’s the game that finally got me, a long-time franchise mode enthusiast, into the single player career mode experience. It introduced right stick dribbling controls that I didn’t like quite as much as what I’d experienced in NBA Live, but they still felt much more comfortable than the old approach to Isomotion ever did. It also saw the addition of the NBA Dunk Contest and NBA Three-Point Shootout. Well, they were added in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of NBA 2K13. They wouldn’t come to PC until the following year, in NBA 2K14. In any case, they left something to be desired.
To be fair, the three-point shootout was alright, and the dunk contest was at least functional, but it was certainly different to any dunk contest mode that we’d seen before. Instead of trick buttons and stick movements, it was essentially…well, Guitar Hero or Rock Band, except with dunks. Again, functional, but to be honest, I found it to be kind of silly. I wasn’t a fan of the choice, and thus I’d have to deem it the worst feature in an otherwise outstanding game. When it comes down to it, I don’t think any game has implemented the All-Star Weekend as well as NBA Live did from NBA Live 2005 through NBA Live 09.
3. Path to Greatness in NBA 2K14 (PC, 360, PS3)
It’s not that Path to Greatness was poorly done. It was something different for the prior gen version of NBA 2K14, to make up for the stuff in the new gen version that the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 were going to miss out on. That’s not a bad thing, and it wasn’t a bad mode. But as far as my interest in it is concerned…well, to me, it felt kind of pointless. It was creative, don’t get me wrong, but playing selected games in a couple of different predetermined career paths for LeBron James just didn’t appeal to me.
As such, I’d describe it as the weak link in NBA 2K14 PC, a game that I’d otherwise say is a worthy candidate for being one of the best basketball video games we’ve seen to date. Again, I’m not saying that Path to Greatness is terrible, just that it stands out as the feature I hold in the lowest regard, compared to all the other great things in NBA 2K14. If nothing else, it simply wasn’t on the same level as the Jordan Challenge in NBA 2K11, or NBA’s Greatest in NBA 2K12. It did predict that LeBron would leave the Miami Heat though; I will give it that.
4. The PDA in NBA Live 06’s Dynasty Mode (PC)
NBA Live 06 on PC is, to date, my favourite game in the NBA Live series. Although it’s been surpassed in most respects by recent NBA 2K games, I would still consider it one of the best basketball video games to ever be released. One of the reasons I prefer it to NBA Live 2005 – another favourite of mine, and a worthy entry on the all-time best basketball video games list – is that it adds a few new features to Dynasty Mode, improving on what was done the previous year. To put one example out there, I prefer the way that team staff and training are implemented in NBA Live 06.
Something that carried over from NBA Live 2005 that I wasn’t too thrilled about, however, was the PDA. In theory, the PDA was a good idea, and for some things, it worked out fine. It gave you an owner that told you how you were doing, and represented conversations with agents and other general managers. Unfortunately, it didn’t really represent “real time” conversations, meaning you had to advance a day or two in the calendar to get a response. This made hammering out trades more cumbersome than it needed to be. As such, I’m glad that EA eventually did away with the PDA, though I’d like to see them bring back a couple of the concepts in a more realistic (and user-friendly) manner in future games.
5. MyCAREER in NBA 2K15
I’m ending this week’s Five on what will likely be a very, very controversial selection, but hear me out. Technically speaking, MyCAREER in NBA 2K15 is not a bad mode or feature, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s deep, it’s functional (outside of one gamer’s very unfortunate issue), and it has fantastic production values. It also has some great ideas, and I know that a lot of people have enjoyed it. I understand why they do, and I acknowledge that this is a really subjective choice. So let me explain.
NBA 2K15 is, in my opinion, a great game, with great features across the board. So, when I say that MyCAREER is the worst feature in NBA 2K15, I’m talking relative to everything else in the game. That means, being as objective as possible, I’d still say it’s pretty good. However, I also think it’s the most disappointing mode or feature in NBA 2K15. The story is well told, but it’s linear. The character has personality, but it’s an unlikeable one that I don’t want to give my name or face to. There are RPG-like elements, but you can’t really role play. It’s a mode I should want to play, given how much I enjoyed MyCAREER in NBA 2K13, but the direction it took has lowered its appeal. That’s why, to me, it’s the worst feature in a great game, despite its quality.
What do you feel are some of the worst features in great basketball games, or the most disappointing features in games that you otherwise enjoyed? Let me know in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.