While everyone loves rooting for a championship team, savvy fans know that there is joy to be found even if your club / franchise may not be contending for it all. Watching young players come up through the ranks and blossom, losing tough games that will help them learn for next time, and seeing brief glimpses of future success can be almost as entertaining as winning the title. As long as fans feel that the management of the team is doing the right things, they can be patient and wait for the ultimate prize. So it is with NBA Live 15.
It is not yet ready to stand toe-to-toe with NBA 2K15, the de facto titleholder of sim basketball games. However, massive improvements have been made in a relatively short time, and – quite simply – NBA Live 15 is a pretty darned fun basketball game. It firmly re-establishes the franchise name and injects some much-needed competition into the market that should prove entertaining for years.
Live’s improvements are noticeable from the moment you begin playing. A simple yet helpful tutorial gives you all you need to know to start playing well in less than ten minutes. Learning a few key moves, such as the nifty pick-and-roll mechanic, the button presses to generate space for shots, and freestyle passing arms you with more than enough to be successful when you head onto the court.
Live also makes it easy to feel like you’re playing with NBA superstars; instead of having to learn very complex controls and pull them off only at optimal times, it’s pretty simple to dunk, spin, and step-back your way to victory. Live seems happy to help nudge you along, akin to having a lot of the assists on in a tough driving game. For many – including me – this is a welcome concept. It’s a lot more fun to take LeBron to the hole for a highlight finish instead of a jump shot from 15 feet.
Shooting the ball – kind of an important thing in a basketball game – feels great. You have a good idea whether or not a potential shot is worthwhile thanks to a helpful icon underneath your player; it dynamically changes colors based upon whether it’s within your range and if you’re closely guarded. After you release the rock, you’re given feedback about the timing of the shot, further arming you with data that helps you quickly understand what’s expected. Other core controls in Live work well, from the stellar right stick dribbling to the button presses for Eurosteps and Step-Backs and the excellent left-trigger Pick and Roll mechanic.
Live plays smoothly for the most part, although the action can get a bit wonky in the post when a few bodies are clogging up the middle. Occasionally, players will ‘warp’ to a point unrealistically or get into a strange-looking animation, but these occur with much less frequency than last season, and no longer interfere with normal play.
NBA Live 15 also looks and sounds terrific. The dozens of player faces that have been scanned look very much like their real-life counterparts, and the super-slick ESPN TV-style presentation, combined with the picturesque courts, and arenas up the ante as well. The ESPN camera angle should have been the default view – why it isn’t boggles the mind – as it presents the best angle to see spacing between players. The crowds and arenas are particularly well done, giving Live an extra bit of oomph. As the game winds down, the raucous fans cheer loudly for big plays and go silent when bad things happen to the home team.
Unfortunately, the commentary from Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy falls flat; the observations of the outspoken pairing are buried in the overall mix and don’t have enough variety to be interesting. My personal favorite way to play Live is with the ESPN camera angle and the commentary off, as that lets me hear the buzz and intensity of the crowd and the arena noises without the occasional misstatements and repeats from the commentary team.
Where Live really begins to lose steam is in its core modes. Other than the innovative Head to Head Seasons mode – enabling you to battle random players in an ongoing competition to climb into higher divisions of play – many of the wider options in NBA Live 15 feel standard and dull. The modes with the most potential staying power let you compete alone in a multi-year Dynasty, take on the persona of a single created player in Rising Star, or assemble a fantasy team with virtual cards in Ultimate Team.
While Dynasty is functionally solid, giving you full reign to remake your team with free agency, trades, and draft, it doesn’t bring anything to the table we haven’t seen before. Rising Star is even more perfunctory; not only does it lack any real personality to drive you forward while you try and become a legend in the NBA, its utterly implausible gameplay lets you call for the ball every time down the court, and you can shoot with impunity. Greedy.
Live plays smoothly offline, but when going online to take on players head to head in Seasons, Best of 7, or Ultimate Team, things change. Some of my games suffered from pretty significant performance issues, while others weren’t so bad but still caused my shot timing to be way off. You definitely don’t have the same level of control that you enjoy offline, although – interestingly – when using Share Play (on PS4 only) the input lag is much less noticeable. If you’re looking to play a friend in Live online on the PS4, give that a shot.
There are also areas where Live offers less than what most fans would expect from a big-time NBA game. No legendary or foreign league teams are available, as you’re only able to play with current NBA clubs and rosters. You can’t adjust gameplay sliders, either, because there are none. Players are also locked down from edits of any kind, so you can’t change anyone’s attributes. Online co-op team play is not available, which is disappointing. On the flip side, Live does promise very regular updates to player stats and, as more face scans become available, their appearances. It’s not enough to make up for the lack of historic teams, sliders, and edit capabilities, but it is something.
The good news is that, after four years of having just one option, basketball fans finally have a viable alternative in the NBA video game space. NBA Live 15 is not better than NBA 2K15; 2K is slicker, deeper, and volumes larger. However, Live does many things right. Most importantly, it’s fun and inviting, introducing you to its core gameplay mechanics beautifully and offering an easy way to start having success early. While it clearly has more improvements to make in the future, NBA Live is finally back to a place where fans can enjoy it again. And that’s good for everyone.
This game was reviewed on PS4.