NBA 2K14 review: throw it down

Game Info
Platform PS3, 360, Win, xbox one, PS4
Publisher 2K Sports
Developer Visual Concepts
Release Date 2013-10-01

NBA 2K14 is the most incremental upgrade in the recent history of the acclaimed NBA 2K franchise.

The most noticeable improvements over NBA 2K13 come on the court itself, where developer Visual Concepts has delivered its most refined simulation of basketball to date. And NBA 2K's renowned presentation remains excellent, with its broadcasters still providing the best commentary in sports video games.

But there's a sameness to NBA 2K14 atypical of the franchise, a perennial contender for sports game of the year for most of the current console generation. NBA 2K14 is as competent as ever, but there isn't much in it that hooked me like previous entries in the series.

Visual Concepts has changed NBA 2K14's controls for the third year in a row. Dribble moves are performed by flicking and rotating the right stick, while the left stick controls the direction of your movement. (You can also perform basic dribble moves with the left stick.) To shoot, you hold the right stick in a particular direction and release it to let go of the ball. The left trigger — instead of acting as a shooting/dribbling modifier like it did last year — allows you to make flashy passes with the right stick, but trying that with someone who's not a skilled passer is just asking for a turnover.

I was frustrated being forced to re-learn NBA 2K14's revised controls


Nba2k14-screen-1

I was frustrated being forced to un-learn NBA 2K13's controls and come to grips with NBA 2K14's rebuilt implementation, but Visual Concepts may finally have hit on the best combination of analog stick moves and trigger pulls for digital basketball. I was able to grasp the controls more quickly than before, and it's impressive that the studio managed to tweak the system while retaining all of NBA 2K's existing functionality. The removal of the aforementioned trigger modifier means there's much less of a delay, however slight it was, between thought and action when it comes to shooting.

NBA 2K14's on-court action benefits from changes that sound subtle but have a material effect on the flow of the game. The offensive and defensive AI is noticeably improved: Players do a much better job of positioning themselves on the floor. They're always moving around, trying to create space or defend it — instead of causing a logjam. This change is hard to quantify, but NBA 2K14 looks and feels more like the real sport for it.

Players do come together occasionally, and audio cues like grunts make those collisions feel more satisfying and impactful. Contact between athletes is also more meaningful — if you're careless about collisions, they'll often cause turnovers. You can't just drive at defenders anymore, unless you're playing as someone with ankle-breaking dribble skills. You'll get bumped, smothered and stonewalled — and you'll come away without the ball, let alone any points to show for your trouble.

Nba-2k14-tall-screen

Editor's note: Online Play

The NBA 2K14 servers were unavailable during most of our review period, and we were unable to try the online portions of the game for this review. That includes the Crews mode, which returns after a two-year hiatus, and MyTeam, which now features tournaments and lets you play against your friends. We'll be testing these online features once the game launches this week and will update the review if they significantly impact our assessment of the game.

On defense, I routinely swatted the ball away for both steals and blocks, and I saw a higher frequency of goaltending calls, too. The ball itself feels more active than before, which is a boon to offensive/defensive balance; I'm still not a good defender in NBA 2K14, but I'm not as incompetent as I used to be.

NBA 2K14 also helps out novice users on offense with a new control: Press a button, and the game will select the best play for you and provide graphical overlays on the court so you can see how to run it. This is by far the best tutorial in a series that has always lacked effective guidance, since you learn something about how basketball works by watching the visual cues and executing the plays.

But the few truly new elements in NBA 2K14 don't do much to elevate it above previous entries in the series. There's one new mode, LeBron: Path to Greatness, which is based entirely around cover athlete LeBron James. It lets you play out two different roads for the next seven years of his life in the NBA. LeBron's future is the most hotly debated topic in basketball at the moment, so it makes sense that Visual Concepts would want to capitalize on that discussion.

Nba_2k14_screen_2

Here and gone

Visual Concepts continues to discard each year's special mode after just one game. I would have loved to be able to play the Jordan Challenge and NBA's Greatest events — from NBA 2K11 and NBA 2K12, respectively — but only the historical teams from those modes remain. Last year's Olympics squads, by the way, are gone.

Plenty of surprising, if unlikely, events occur, and the terrific commentary team discusses the developments as you progress through Path to Greatness, a nice touch. The mode is almost entirely scripted; the paths can differ depending on whether you win or lose a scenario, but, for example, you don't get to choose where LeBron goes when he leaves the Miami Heat. I was also surprised that in a mode named after LeBron, I was still playing as his entire team, not controlling him alone.

Initially, I had a lot of fun seeing the outlandish scenarios that the developers came up with. But the novelty quickly wore off, especially as the challenge ramped up. I'm indifferent to LeBron as far as fandom goes, which made it harder to find anything to appreciate here. Path to Greatness is joined by the debut of Euroleague clubs, but they're unceremoniously dropped into NBA 2K14's team-select menu instead of highlighted in their own mode.

The two major single-player modes, MyCareer and The Association, return largely unchanged from last year. MyCareer still requires you to know how to play good basketball, but doesn't do much to teach the sport to you. Eventually I figured out what not to do in order to prevent my grade from dropping — like never, ever calling for a pass — but that process felt more like learning by trial-and-error than a proper education.

MyCareer feels more like trial-and-error than a proper education

Wrap Up:

NBA 2K14 finds the series with slowed momentum

NBA 2K14 plays well enough on the court, but the rest of the game fails to match it. It's not a turn for the worse for the highly regarded series. But it's the first NBA 2K title in years that I can't unequivocally recommend — especially with next-generation versions of the game only six weeks away.

NBA 2K14 was reviewed using a retail PS3 copy provided by 2K Sports. You can read more about Polygon's ethics policy here.

About Polygon's Reviews

Score History

5.0 PS4
5.0 xbox one
NEW! Update: 01/09/2014

NBA 2K14 review update two

During the time I spent playing NBA 2K14 on PS4 for review, it was playable online with a bit of lag, although The Park was broken until a post-release patch. I had no other issues with connectivity in the main modes: MyCareer, MyGM and MyTeam. But since December 26, the game has been plagued with connectivity issues, visual bugs and crashes that have persisted on both PS4 and Xbox One, despite assurances from 2K Sports on multiple occasions that developer Visual Concepts had resolved certain problems.

Chief among the issues is downtime for the 2K Sports servers. MyTeam is an always-online mode because players' collections of digital cards are stored in the cloud, so server downtime leaves MyTeam completely inaccessible. I've been unable to enter the MyTeam mode on a number of occasions over the past few weeks; after another attempted fix this week, I successfully loaded the mode but was stymied by server issues when I tried to do anything.

MyCareer and MyGM are not technically always-online modes. But they are always-online by default because they use VC, the in-game currency; NBA 2K14 verifies save games with 2K's servers to make sure players aren't using exploits to get additional VC. The modes are still playable when the servers are down, but players can't continue with their existing save files; they must start from scratch with a new offline save game. I haven't had issues with MyCareer or MyGM myself, but I've seen dozens of reports of problems from other players.

Other issues are being reported in the 2K Forums and in tweets to the 2K Support account. Users on PS4 and Xbox One are suffering crashes to the console dashboard, as well as an inability to play private TeamUp multiplayer games with more than two people. (2K said a fix for the latter problem, at least, is coming in a future patch.) Odd visual glitches are also present in the MyCareer loading screen.

NBA 2K14's reliance on VC means that online connectivity is deeply integrated into the game, which makes it a problem that the servers are unreliable. The game isn't completely unplayable, but MyCareer, MyGM and MyTeam are its main single-player modes — that's where players spend the bulk of their time. And considering all the problems players are experiencing, it's tough to recommend playing the game at the risk of losing all progress.

8.0 PS4
7.5 PS3
7.5 360
8.0 xbox one
Update: 12/06/2013

NBA 2K14 review update one: PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

While the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of NBA 2K14 didn't feel like a necessary upgrade for the series, developer Visual Concepts has revamped the game for next-generation consoles.

NBA 2K14 is the best-looking next-gen launch title — you may actually mistake it for a televised basketball game. In the transition to the new consoles, NBA 2K14 loses a few things, most notably the LeBron James-focused Path to Greatness mode. But it gains a retooled single-player career mode, MyGM (formerly The Association) and MyCareer.

MyCareer is revitalized as a story-based mode, with cutscenes in which your created player encounters a fictional rival named Jackson Ellis. As sports tales go, it's clichéd, but engaging nonetheless — every time Ellis talked some trash before a matchup between us, it motivated me to turn in a great performance. My coach provided goals during those games that challenged me to shut Ellis down, building up that rivalry through gameplay. Veteran teammates engaged in lighthearted hazing with my rookie character, but they also came over after poor performances to reassure me and invite me to join them on the practice court.

MyGM puts you on the business side of running a team as well as personnel management. You're held accountable for your actions by the club's owner, its players, its fans and the media. When you tell your owner how well you think you can meet his goals, you have to live up to your words or risk losing his trust. Conversations often presented me with decisions I actually had to deliberate over, where my options fell somewhere between a rock and a hard place — a great virtual representation of the challenges of being a real GM.

But MyGM suffers by being inextricably linked to 2K Sports' in-game Virtual Currency (VC). As in MyCareer, you spend VC on upgrades for your GM's abilities, such as business savvy and contract negotiation skills. But the main way to earn VC in MyGM is to play your team's regular-season matchups; you don't get any VC for simulating games. So players who are more interested in the management-simulation aspect of this kind of mode than in playing the games themselves won't be able to make much progress unless they buy VC with real money.

NBA 2K14 also struggles online. Lag wasn't pervasive in the games I played, but it was persistent enough to throw off my pinpoint timing on shots. The game includes a new online mode, The Park, in which you and up to 99 other MyPlayer characters can walk around a virtual playground and play pickup games. This mode was completely broken for me until Visual Concepts patched the game earlier this week. I played a fiercely competitive 2-on-2 game and felt myself getting hooked, but it has the same technical shortcomings as other online modes.

Visual Concepts didn't pull it off completely, but NBA 2K14 looks and feels "next-gen"; it's one of the only launch titles to truly herald the arrival of a new console generation and give us a glimpse of what the future holds.

7.5 PS3
7.5 360
Initial Review: 10/01/2013

NBA 2K14 review: throw it down

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