Gamescom 2013: NBA 2K14 Hands-On Preview – The Path to Greatness
Written Tuesday, August 27, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Last year, Jay-Z was the man producing NBA 2K's music. For NBA 2K14, cover star and Miami Heat forward LeBron James hasn't just been involved in hand-picking the game's soundtrack, but his fingerprints are all over this year's iteration, with a massive career mode entirely dedicated to the NBA All-Star. Make no mistake, with LeBron on the cover, NBA 2K14 is all about his continuing rise.
It seems that helping the Heat to two consecutive NBA Championships is just the start for King James, and in NBA 2K14, you'll actually be able to play through what's next in his NBA career, thanks to the new, modestly-named 'LeBron: Path to Greatness' mode. Looking ahead to LeBron's fantasy future, you'll play a hand in the next seven seasons as the man himself, either shaping his status as an NBA legend who makes it into the Hall of Fame, or as a failure who limped through seven seasons of air balls and bricks after ten years at the top.
LeBron: Path to Greatness is the backbone of NBA 2K14, but there's a lot more being crowbarred into the game beyond this new addition. Crews are back for starters, giving you the chance to pit your MyPlayer against other MyPlayers online in 5v5 games for the first time since NBA 2K11, complete with leaderboards, stats and such. MyTeam also returns, with new single and multiplayer modes and tournaments to participate in. Then there's the 'Dynamic Living Rosters', that ensure everything is kept bang up to date, reflecting a player's performance with daily stat updates from Stats, Inc. Actual real life hot and cold streaks will effect a player's rating in the game, keeping a player's attributes true to their real NBA counterparts.
This feature sadly doesn't apply to the 14 new Euroleague teams, although you will be able to pit the likes of Real Madrid, Olympiacos Piraeus, CSKA Moscow and FC Barcelona against any of the teams in the NBA. Classic NBA teams also make a comeback for NBA 2K14, meaning legends like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson are still in the game, even if they don't get to star in their own mode anymore.
Obviously, NBA 2K14 couldn't tack that all-important '14' bit onto the title were it not for a glut of new gameplay refinements, which this year starts with the honing of the game's 'Pro-Stick'. Now you use the right analogue stick not just for shooting, but you now tap it in any direction for dribbling moves, whereas holding the left trigger down and tapping the stick will execute a stylish pass for some razzle dazzle in your game. Passing targeting has also been improved, while steal success has been tweaked, post game has been rebalanced, and blocking animations have been made more fluid.
In fact, the entirety of NBA 2K14 has been made smoother thanks to a breakthrough with compression freeing up extra space on the disc for 3000 new animations and more realistic collisions between players. There's the 2K SmartPlay feature too, that makes calling a play far simpler thanks to the AI sorting it all out for you at the touch of a button. Of course, if you fancy yourself as a Pat Riley, Phil Jackson or whatever, then you can still orchestrate your own plays.
Going hands-on, the new Pro-Stick gubbins prove hard to get to grips with, making shots almost impossible to sink, even when you're wide open and free of defenders waving their hands in your face. In fact, playing against the San Antonio Spurs as the Miami Heat, we were subjected to a 14-2 drubbing in the first few minutes, as LeBron failed to even finish a lay-up and Dwyane Wade consistently failed to deliver from the three-point line. Frustrating stuff.
We're told there's a learning curve to the new Pro-Stick controls, so perhaps in time mastering its intricacies will unlock a multitude of instinctive moves and accessible tricks, but currently it feels like there's simply too much being assigned to the right analogue stick. A short hands-on can't really do justice to what is historically a multi-faceted and detailed basketball game, so only time will tell whether the increased functionality of the Pro-Stick will cause NBA 2K14 to fall flat on its face. It's still one of the best-looking sports games on the market, and the wealth of aforementioned features ought to keep all but the most demanding basketball fans happy. Even the ones who hate LeBron James and/or the Miami Heat.
NBA 2K14 is full to bursting with modes and features like pretty much every iteration before it, and while the LeBron James: Path to Greatness mode might polarise the audience, the return of Crews (not for the Xbox One version) and MyTeam (also not in the Xbox One version) will keep the majority of fans happy. We just have misgivings about that over-subscribed analogue stick, and hope that some proper time spent with the controls will dispel any worries we have about the game. With Visual Concepts delivering a great NBA 2K title year in, year out, however, we see no reason why NBA 2K14 won't bring its A game to the hardwood once again.
NBA 2K14 is out on October 1st in North America and October in 4th in Europe for Xbox 360, with the Xbox One version to follow.