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NBA Live 15 / 7th of November 2014

The last basketball game that I ever owned was actually NBA 2K10 on the Xbox 360, and the most recent iteration of EA’s Live franchise that I had the pleasure of partaking in, was only slightly further back, coming in the form of NBA Live ’09. Whilst it certainly wasn’t in the same class as Visual Concepts’ efforts, it succeeded in indicating that Live was seemingly back on the right track. Last year’s effort, however, was by all accounts a complete disaster, with every aspect of the game failing to succeed in offering even the most basic of functionality, which is undoubtedly why this year’s release can lay claim to including more than five hundred improvements, and clearly these were all rather vital too, because finally, NBA Live isn’t actually that bad again.

It is rather hard to get excited about an NBA Live release though, the series has seemingly had more downs than ups, so whilst I am still far from proclaiming this to be a Lazarus-like second coming, there’s no getting away from the fact that EA Tiburon have created a thoroughly solid game here, it definitely isn’t perfect, but it is such a immense step in the right direction for them. And given that NBA 2K15 has had its fair share of problems this year, the gulf between them may not be as far as most would actually suspect.

As one might expect from an Xbox One/PS4 interpretation of the sport, the visuals are very strong throughout, the crowd are quite varied and seemingly reactive to the on court action, whilst the hardwood floors reflects all of the lights and razzamatazz that surrounds the game. Player animation is typically solid, though there are certainly times when they appear to be moving somewhat faster than the animation would indicate (not a stranger to sports games such as this), regardless, player likenesses are very strong and their faces are generally rather expressive too. Cloth physics look pretty good, and watching players become doused in sweat as the game progresses is very impressive indeed.  Likewise, audio components are also very strong, with solid commentary and excellent crowd noise, which successfully creates an excellent atmosphere at each and every game. Superb stuff.

NBA Live 15’s gameplay is almost as good too, with the series’ freestyle passing making a return to the action, seeing this iteration benefit as a result, allowing for sublime breakaways, which are essential because space is at a premium in Live, it can be rather difficult to create enough space to fire off accurate shots, which can indeed be a little problematic. At times, it appears as though there is little or no logic to the shot system, with some of the sport’s best players frequently missing attempts that they could probably make with their eyes shut in the real world, and in all likelihood, they do this because an opponent is standing within a few feet of them. There are also no visual indicators to help a player time their shot, though the game does provide feedback after the fact, yet there are almost no differences between a shot taken too early or too late, and even making a perfect effort can still see the ball bounce agonisingly back off of the backboard or rim.

Evidently, all players are required to find some space in order to be able to make any shot seem viable, and thankfully, there are a couple of other nice additions to the game to help ease this problem; by pressing the left bumper (L1), the player can send their teammates scuttling towards the basket, ideal for the use of an alley-oop to snatch a vital two points. Likewise, if the player presses and holds the left trigger (L2), a teammate will move towards them to run interference, creating a gap in the opposition’s defence to allow the player to charge through for a layup or dunk. Naturally, this is not a sure-fire way to score, but it certainly helps, and successful plays do feel enormously satisfying too.

There are plenty of game modes, as one might expect from an EA Sports release, including the now staple addition of Ultimate Team, Live Seasons, two different career modes and two different replay modes. The latter consist of Rewind, which sees players tasked with replaying a recently passed game from the real NBA calendar, and Big Moments which challenges them to replicate some fantastic feat, which is ideal for enjoying a short piece of NBA action. Among the two career modes, players will find Rising Star, Live’s equivalent of FIFA’s Be a Pro mode, seeing players create a virtual pro to take on a career spanning journey through the rigours of professional sport. In this particular mode, it becomes much easier to spot that NPC AI isn’t too bad either, with some players rightfully ignoring my calls for a pass when I was in poor positions, and instead opting for another teammate or a shot themselves proving that in this mode, the player isn’t the be all and end all, basketball is a team sport, after all. In short, NBA Live 15 is a comprehensive basketball simulation, even if it isn’t a spectacular one.

After frequently floundering in the face of competition from Visual Concepts’ brilliant NBA 2K series, EA have finally started to come good with this latest iteration of Live, it may still be lagging behind its superior brethren somewhat, but there is certainly no denying that EA have made magnificent progress this year, and that is all that anyone can ask of them. With additional tweaking and balancing, NBA Live could be a very good game indeed, so with enough time, there really aren’t any reasons why EA couldn’t realistically pose a challenge to 2K’s dominance again, as, for the first time in years, it would appear that the future of the NBA Live series is actually looking bright.  

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