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NBA Live 14 review: Bricklayer


For years, EA has toiled away at revitalizing its basketball series. In 2010, this meant retiring the NBA Live brand and replacing it with NBA Elite, which would only get canceled later that same year after a demo introduced us all to The Pose – a glitch that saw a random player locked in a bizarre pose at half-court.

Three years later, EA has finally gotten around to putting out another simulation basketball game. NBA Live 14, however, is hardly indicative that those years were spent rejuvenating the flagging series – or even deconstructing the competition's formula for success. I can't rightly say how that time was managed, but the result is clear: NBA Live 14 is a mess.

Gallery: NBA Live 14 (Fall Preview) | 3 Photos

NBA Live 14's foundation is built on the "BounceTek" dribble system, which allows you to perform various maneuvers by tapping the right analog stick in different directions. Timing it with the dribble speed of the player in question allows you to chain moves together, and a modifier button on top of that adds even more nuance via player-specific actions.

The main problem, however, is that NBA Live 14 does nothing to help you learn and embrace this system. The only tutorial for BounceTek, which is an entirely new system to any person who picks up NBA Live 14, is a brief video clip on the front-end menu. This video doesn't show stick movements or have any graphical overlays; you watch a player dribble the ball while a narrator gives a very basic overview of how BounceTek works. No specific directions are given.

It's very unfriendly, and it puts the onus for learning how to master the system squarely on your shoulders. Even the game's built-in manual offers no aid, simply labeling the right analog stick as "Dribble Moves." Considering that successful play hinges entirely on grasping BounceTek, it's pretty disappointing that EA doesn't do anything to foster understanding and appreciation here.

Rising Star mode, the typical career campaign we've been seeing in sports games for years, is the main time-sink in NBA Live 14. Rising Star is a barebones offering: You create a player, join to a team and try to outperform your match-up.

All of the narrative emphasis on actually rising as a star in the league is your own to imagine. You don't have the drama of trying to establish your place on a team or taking a franchise into the future, you just have a schedule for the season and your end-of-year option to be traded, re-up your contract or strike out on your own as a free agent. Rising Star has no semblance of presentation polish and, aside from improving your player's attributes through in-game performance until they're forced to retire, it offers no incentive to invest your time. It's lazy and lacks the grandeur befitting a professional sport, and it certainly doesn't stand up to the level of detail seen in the NBA 2K series.

There's also the requisite Ultimate Team mode, which follows the same blueprint seen in other EA Sports games. In Ultimate Team, you collect cards to form a custom squad, which you can then take through a series of different scripted or online games. While it's fun to continually unlock new cards, manage contracts on established players and generally get stuff, Ultimate Team's overall worth as a mode is dampened by the fact that if you lose a connection to the EA servers during any of these challenges – which happened to me several times – you're instantly booted out and must attempt it again.

Lackluster modes might have been forgiven if NBA Live 14 offered a worthwhile basketball simulation on the court, but it fails here as well. The two major problems with NBA Live 14's hardwood game are its AI players and poor visuals. I was able to consistently throw long, off-screen passes across the court without interceptions. AI-driven players threw balls into other players' backs. I easily forced a lot of blocking fouls for extra free throws by clumsily driving the lane over and over again while holding down sprint. On multiple occasions, the AI would go into convulsions or just stand there dribbling, never acknowledging the other players on the team.

And it doesn't help that NBA Live 14 is far from easy on the eyes. Player models look like plastic renditions of real-life people, with chunky, embellished features and rubbery skin. You only have a handful of customization options when creating a player. Sometimes the basketball simply teleports to the correct position so a player can finish the required animation. Watch this full-court chain pass and see if you can spot the half-court ball teleport from the floor to a player's hands as he makes a pass – not to mention the blissfully unaware AI defense.

NBA Live 14 feels unfinished and, when compared to its only competition, NBA 2K14, is an unappealing retail product nowhere near deserving of your time or money. The BounceTek system is the only redeemable part of the experience, but EA does the bare minimum to introduce the mechanics, let alone teach you how to master them. BounceTek should clearly be the focal point of NBA Live's future, but the current state of the series is something I just can't recommend.

EA has a lot of work to do, and it already knows that. NBA Live 14 is a bungled attempt to produce a viable basketball simulation, and its failures are likely to linger in the minds of players for years to come. Let's just hope EA doesn't forget this flub as it attempts to move forward with its next game.

This review is based on a retail copy of the PlayStation 4 version of NBA Live 14, provided by EA.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no."Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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