When you play a sports game you know it's going to be light on story, and that's certainly the case here. Of course story isn't important in a sports game, it's all about the game modes. The good news is that all the modes you've come to love – MyPlayer, MyCareer, MyTeam and Association – all return for another season.
They've been joined by an all new game mode known as LeBron: Path to Greatness, which focuses almost exclusively on the future of the game's cover athlete, LeBron James. Path to Greatness spans five seasons and your first choice is whether you want LeBron's future to be with the Miami Heat, or whether you'd like him to go on a ‘Fantastic Journey', where he joins other teams as the seasons pass.
In this mode you play a selection of games rather than a full slate. If you play the Heat Dynasty you start off in the game six of the NBA finals and are tasked with winning the game as well as earning LeBron ‘Player of the Game' honours. If instead you opt for the fantasy career your first game is the 2013/14 season opener against the Spurs and your job is to light it up with LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
Also new to NBA 2K14 are fourteen of the top European teams, including Barcelona, Real Madrid and Olympiacos Piraeus. These fourteen teams are complete with authentic rosters and uniforms, which is bound to please European fans. Alas us Aussies have been overlooked.
Aside from the addition of Path to Greatness and the European sides, none of the returning modes have received much of an overhaul. MyCareer still has dull Q&A sessions before you're drafted, as well as questions from the press after each game. One of the most glaring omissions last year was a fleshed out tutorial or training mode, and sadly it has been overlooked yet again.
Happily there have been a few improvements on the court. Last year your teammates weren't very capable when it came to rebounding, but this year they have been significantly improved. The same can be said of blocking – whereas last year it was very difficult to rack up blocks, this year it is much easier. It's not too easy; you'll still get called for fouls unless you're careful, but picking up a block or two per game is definitely achievable.
One niggling issue that arises from this is it shows off how slow your teammates are to react. Too often I'd be beaten at the three-point line and my opponent would stroll past three defenders who were content to watch him go uncontested to the basket while marking their own man. Duble-teaming that guy with the L1 trigger should help, but doing I didn't have much success with it. Even going into the menus and adjusting my defensive strategy to make the defenders play tighter didn't pay dividends.
Online play returns largely unchanged, but this is a good thing considering how well it ran last year. You can do just about anything online – play quick match, invite your friends to a game, take your MyPlayer online, join a tournament or play the Association mode. Returning this year after a hiatus are ‘Crews'. A Crew is basically a club for you and your friends to join that enables you to play with 5-on-5 against other crews with your MyPlayers. Given there is often in excess of thirty-thousand people online there is never a shortage of other Crews to go up against. Most importantly the game runs smoothly online with little to no lag in the games I played.
Advanced dribbling moves and shots are performed with the right-analogue stick, which is referred to as the Pro-Stick in-game. Tapping the Pro-Stick performs dribbling moves, while holding it down shoots the ball. This is itself led to problems for me initially as I'd shoot when I was trying to dribble. You will get used to it, but in saying that there are going to be a vast number of players that never come to grips with, let alone explore the full potential of the Pro-Stick.
While I applaud the depth of available moves in the game, it's past time for 2K to include a decent tutorial that will help newcomers settle into the game. As it currently stands the NBA2K franchise does absolutely nothing to welcome new players or get them familiar with even the most basic moves. That was probably expected or acceptable a decade ago, but it's hard to excuse these days.
As always the visuals in NBA2K are first-class. The player resemblances are uncanny in some cases and very good in others. The amount of detail Visual Concepts has put in the game, from tattoos to free-throw routines and slam-dunk animations makes this as close as you can get to the real NBA.
The presentation too is of the highest quality. There is a pre-game spiel that sets up the game very well and only gets repetitive after many games. At the end of the first and third quarters you get promos for upcoming games, while the half-time highlights package is really well done. My only gripe is that even though the presentation is well done, it's becoming a little bit too intrusive and harder to completely skip when you want to. Still, that's a small complaint at most.
As far as the sound goes, NBA 2K14 does a fantastic job replicating a real-life broadcast. The play-by-play team of Clark Kellogg, Kevin Harlan and Steve Kerr returns and they breathe life into each and every game. They have detailed discussions during games about certain players or scenarios (e.g. talking up Kobe Bryant's comeback from an Achilles injury during 2013/14 season modes) that are both interesting and informative.
The in-game music has been selected by LeBron James and he's selected music more to my taste than Jay-Z did last year. If you're not sick of Robin Thicke's ‘Blurred Lines' yet you'll be happy to hear it in-game, along with songs by Daft Punk, Macklemore, The Black Keys, Coldplay and even Phil Collins. It's not the best or deepest set of songs in a game but what's here does fit in well enough.
NBA 2K14 is a mighty fine game of basketball all in all. There aren't many significant upgrades on last year's game but that's no great surprise considering how good last year's game was. Unfortunately that creates a little bit of a conundrum – without much improvement it's hard to recommend to returning players, while the complex controls and absence of any (useful) in-game help does nothing to make new players feel welcome or comfortable. In other words if you're interested in NBA 2K14 rest assured it is a good game, but for the first time in a long time it isn't in the 'must-have' category. Having said that the upcoming next-gen version may offer some vast improvements so we'll be checking that version out upon launch later this year too.
Review By: Mike Allison