Finally, Doris Burke. After many years of just being a photo and a voice, Doris now appears as an in-game character, interviewing players at half-time and after the game. It’s a fantastic idea, and the players look and sound natural as they talk about how the game is going. Doris, however, stands next to them like a waxwork, stiffly holding a microphone in their general direction. Doris is trapped in the uncanny valley. She’s bought a house in the uncanny valley. She’s having her mail forwarded to the uncanny valley. It’s an example of a great idea being sullied by not-quite-perfect execution.
The next-gen difference
Player models and on court visuals are the most obvious differences. Facial textures are much lower res on PS3/360, while animations are smoother on next-gen, which makes gameplay quicker and more natural--ideal if you’re using the ProStick controls.
While My Career is all menus, messages, and waxwork David Stern on PS3 and 360, the next-gen version of 2K14 has brand-new cut-scenes and a proper story. And a higher-res waxwork David Stern. The pacing is different too--My Career on current-gen just throws you straight in, whereas PS4’s career mode tells a tale about your first game, your draft, your team-mate friendships etc.
Which brings us neatly back to the modes. My Career--the series’ most popular aspect of the game--has been transformed into a soap opera. Your character (I called mine Bagpipe Outlaw) now appears in cut-scenes where he chats to his agent, talks smack with rivals, and even drives to the stadium in his car. It’s a natural extension of the traditional career mode, and adds heaps of depth to the concept of ‘having a career in the NBA’, so the intention is admirable.
There are some neat moments, like when your agent pops round to your flat for a game of NBA 2K (so self-referential), or when you see your character fretting for their career at the draft ceremony. However, for every neat little scene, there’s an immersion-ruining let-down. Your character still has that generic voice that doesn’t quite fit any face, and for all the fancy new presentation, post-game press conference questions and pre-draft interviews are virtually identical to those in 2K13 and 2K12. It’s a real shame that old-game dialogue has been retro-fitted into this next-gen presentation.
The worst part, however, is the way that actual players and coaches can’t speak at all (because they haven’t been voice captured)--so while you chat to team mates, they stand staring at you like a dead-eyed serial killer while their portion of the conversation appears as a subtitle on the bottom of the screen. It’s a little… creepy. Recording dialogue from every player in the NBA, though, is a near-impossible task, so while this halfway house is a little unsettling, it’s understandable. I’d rather have the player interactions this way than not have them at all.
In all, My Career deserves big plaudits for breathing life back into the mode--it’s a welcome refresh, if imperfectly executed. My GM (former Association) has been given a presentation overhaul too, and you can now choose a specialisation when you start, to give preferable conditions on things like contract negotiation, training costs, team-mate chemistry, etc. It’s much more pleasant than digging through the imposing spreadsheet menus of the current-gen version, but the depth is still there. My Team? The new Park online mode? They’re still in the game, but I haven’t had chance to play them before release. 2K is promising tournaments for My Team, which will allow you to win rare players, so that sounds good at least.
Overall, NBA 2K14 on next-gen is ambitious, but flawed. While the majority of the on-court improvements are brilliant, they’re let down by certain aspects of the presentation that either feel old or imperfectly implemented. Don’t misunderstand: this is absolutely the best version of NBA 2K14, but despite the big visual and storytelling improvements, the game has brought plenty of baggage with it from current-gen. And no, I’m not putting those bags on the bus either, Elton…