NBA Live 14 is a next-gen game, but not for the reasons you'd expect. Its graphics aren’t amazing, nor does it offer astounding, never-seen-before gameplay. In fact, for the first time ever, a major-label sports game arrives on store shelves as a work-in-progress. See, Live is wholly dependent upon a constant, daily stream of updates that the Xbox One and PS4 were designed to facilitate. The Live that you play today will not be the same one you’re playing in a few months. But on launch day, it arrives as an ambitious effort that has a bevy of terrific ideas, surprisingly strong gameplay in some areas, and a baffling number of problems in others. Where it goes from here will be very interesting indeed.
Live’s weaknesses are easy to spot. The on-court gameplay doesn't look very next-gen-like, especially when compared to its NBA 2K14 counterpart. Player models are nicely detailed when viewed up close and during replays; when you’re playing the game from standard camera angles, however, the player, coach, and referee faces look as if you’re viewing them through smudged glass. The camera struggles when players go up for rebounds, and there are plenty of awkward bounces of the ball coming off the rim and blocked shots. With scattershot animations and regular hiccups, it’s an uneven visual experience overall.
Underneath that rough exterior, however, NBA Live does offer some interesting options for individual and team control in the standard 5-on-5 game modes. Much has been made about the integration of Synergy Sports data that powers the behavior of players not directly controlled by the user, and it’s evident when playing a standard game just how powerful that can be. You’ll often notice particularly smart patterns of positioning and screening by your teammates, based on their real-life individual strengths. You can feel the weight of the players as you move around the court, and their momentum forces you to be smart about your actions.
Newcomers will easily be able to pick up and play, thanks to mercifully simple basic commands to pass, shoot, and jump. Plays are called with the click of the d-pad, and modifiers allow for deeper options that open up several variations of screens, isolations, and post ups. A multitude of pass types are available as well, and after some experimentation you’ll be able to toss a bounce or lead pass with ease. Calling for screens--always a key to success--is brilliantly done with the left trigger; hold it down to set the screen then release it for the screener to return to their regular spot on the floor.
Discovering the correct timing for successful shooting, though, is pure trial-and-error. Blink and you’ll miss the indicator that you shot the ball well from the top of the jump--and because different players have different timing, it’s extremely frustrating at the start. Even more troublesome is foul shooting, which has no indication at all of how and when to release the ball. The lack of a practice mode to hone your skills or training area to learn how to shoot--much less study the deep controls--is a gaping hole that needs to be filled. Several other expected modes of play are unfortunately MIA as well, including online leagues and team up. There are Online Head to Head Seasons, though, which is something at least.