How do you follow up one of the worst sports games of all time? Better yet, how do you review the follow-up to one of the worst sports games of all time? It almost has to be a better game than the last by default, so any talk of improvement is almost damning with faint praise. It’s started so far behind its closest competitor that any comparison to that game feels unfair, even as, considering its release date, comparison to the competition seems inevitable.
So, let’s say that the game is somewhere between NBA Live 14 and NBA 2K15 in terms of quality, just as a baseline of comparison. Fine. But the better question is this: where on that spectrum does it lie? And, perhaps more importantly, is it worth your money and time?
NBA Live 15 does some things quite well. The control scheme is streamlined, with few modifiers or dual-use buttons/sticks. Having a dedicated hop-step/gather button is quite useful, though the dedicated alley-oop button feels unnecessary. Shot releases feel faster than they perhaps should, but the release point is more consistent from player-to-player, and a handy meter under your player’s feet, broken up into a segmented, color-coded bar, offers a quick reference point on shot quality that is clear and easy to read.
I still don’t like the game’s passing, though, as the animation for passes is limited, and, typically, overwrought and overlong. Players seem to whip passes at each other, even from close range, and there aren’t any touch passes, nor is there any granular control over your type of pass. This causes frustration, as the contextual passing sometimes results in a pass being chosen that is just incorrect for the situation. This is especially frustrating when confronted with an opponent fronting the post, as occasionally your player will just throw a simple chest pass instead of attempting to lob the pass over the top of the defensive coverage.
That overlong animation problem isn’t just limited to passing, either. Most of the game’s animations are too involved, and this increases the blocks that happen, especially around the rim. Guys who can jump straight up and lay the ball in instead will often jump and contort their bodies into awkward positions, leaving the ball exposed to easy shot blocks. It’s seemingly the only way to combat scoring around the rim, however, as players will push through contact effortlessly and convert at the rim pretty easily otherwise. Players with a head of steam that enter a dunk of layup animation are extremely hard to stop, as there’s very little by way of substantial contact that happens in the paint. It does happen, but it’s cosmetic and seems to not actually materially affect shots taken.
Inside shooting isn’t the only aspect of scoring that feels imbalanced, as outside shooting tends to stray on the easy side. Even contested shots feel like they go in more often than not, resulting in inflated scores and efficiency on offense. If NBA 2K15 perhaps leans too much towards the defense, NBA Live 15 swings the opposite way, as any decent player can put up points in a hurry in the game. Generally, shooting percentages for both the user and CPU peak above 50% from the field and 40% from 3 with very little effort. This, obviously is a problem, and it’s compounded by the fact that there are no gameplay or tendency sliders in NBA Live 15. There’s no way to adjust the success at all aside from moving up a difficulty level, but even on the hardest difficulty, shots fall way more often than they should.
It’s sort of a boon, however, as offensive AI and playcalling in NBA Live 15 is more or less useless. The playcalling menu pulls you away from the game, and simply tapping the LB/L1 button to create a nebulous idea of “motion” seems to result in players milling around with no real purpose. You can’t call plays by player, and the plays themselves have awkward naming that makes it hard to decipher what exactly is being called. Sure, this is a problem that competitors have, but NBA 2K15‘s “smart play” option and the way playcalling works with Points of Emphasis make it easy to call specific types of plays to attack defenses, and the ability to call plays by player at least helps you target specific matchups, even if it might be difficult to predict exactly what’s going to happen once you select a play. In NBA Live 15, playcalling feels like a waste of time, making the bulk of any offense holding the LT/L2 button to initiate a pick.
Even then, the manual pick system is as cumbersome as it could possibly be, as the option to “roll” or “pop” feels like it comes up a beat or two too long, stagnating movement on offense and removing a lot of the explosion from playmaking.
Live still does AI defensive coverages better than NBA 2K15, as teams actively try to push pick and rolls baseline, and different teams will employ different coverages based on the players involved in a play. This was the best part of the game last year, and it still is.
Yet, many things remain unfixed on the court. The CPU still looks for post players more than it should, and though the baseline spin isn’t as overpowered as it was, the CPU still seems to have an ability in the post that the user just doesn’t have access to. Post play in NBA Live 15 is static and, instead of feeling like a struggle, usually feels like a stalemate. It doesn’t feel like a viable option, except in the high post where players like Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are able to spin off defenders and nail fadeaway jumpers.
In general, static is one of the best descriptors for NBA Live 15‘s on-court play. It feels like most of the game is just running back and forth, calling a pick on offense and attacking, or defending the post and then closing out on shooters. The chess match present in NBA 2K15 just isn’t here, yet.
Jalen Rose returns to NBA Live 15, and he seems infinitely more comfortable this year as opposed to last year. His commentary is given a chance to breathe and NBA Live‘s halftime and post-game shows benefit greatly from it. It looks, sounds, and feels like an authentic TV broadcast, which goes a long way toward establishing credibility as a high-quality product. It’s missing some of the small details that are present in NBA 2K15, but its commentary is better, which gives it a leg up there, as well.
Additionally, the crowd sounds and music are top-of-the-class. The sound mix is great, so the crowd comes through clearly and you can hear their loud cheers of “threeeee!” and “ohhhhhh” when something great happens. Playoff crowds near the end of games are amazing in the way they rise and fall with the action, and when the home team is struggling, they feel tense.
It’s a small thing, but the soundtrack showcases a ton of hip-hop from a mix of known, semi-known, and unknown artists that is far-reaching in scope. It’s a smart approach because it allows EA to license a bunch of tracks at a lower cost, which helps with repetition. I still think there should either be an option to play the uncensored versions or instrumental versions of the songs should the user choose, but sound and sound design is a place where EA dominates this year.
Graphically, the game takes a big step forward in most cases, with player models and faces being mostly representative of their real-life counterparts. The courts and lighting overall look better than NBA 2K15, although the players in Live feel slight for some reason. Player models in NBA 2K15 feel larger-than-life, though not in an unrealistic way, while NBA Live 15‘s models are impressive in less-obvious ways. But, considering NBA Live 14 looked like an HD remaster of a last-gen game, the improvement is welcome with open arms.