Splash Brothers Inc.
On the first day on the new NBA season, EA Sports gave to me, one copy of the awesomely fantastic game NBA Live 15. Okay, well maybe not completely fantastic, but it's certainly taking strong steps towards it. As many may know, NBA Live had been one of premiere basketball titles for quite some time. Like with most sports titles, EA bolstered exclusive NBA licenses other companies longed to have. But as time wore on, the spotlight on Live slowly began to fade, until finally they decided to pack it up for good.
For three years from 2011 to 2013, Live’s hiatus left the door wide open for another franchise to swoop in and step onto the front stage. And that’s exactly what 2K did with its NBA series. Fans had been wanting a solid series they could invest time and money into. Sure, there were games like NBA Jam and NBA Ballers, the latter a product of Midway, but they weren't supposed to be taken seriously.
With NBA 2K now running the show, there was no way EA could just take a back seat if it wanted to catch up. After taking the time off, reworking, retooling, and preparing for the future, NBA Live regrettably returned with a dreadful showing of the ‘14 edition. But come ‘15, a whole new “everything" has arrived, from graphics, to mechanics, all the way down to presentation. It’s all fresh, like Doug E from back in the day.
Starting with the bad, the new physics, while much improved, still feel slightly rigid and sometimes unresponsive. The pace of the game is at an even flow but tends to slow down when in half-court sets. When playing defense, if you were to guess the wrong direction of the ball handler or go for a missed timed steal, recovering can take a long time. In reverse, when coming off screens, passing seems delayed and kills a number of potential assisting dimes.
Interactions between players have greatly improved, with a focus on paint area contact, but still not quite to the standards desired. When going up for layups, dunks, or rebounds, the players will shift and contort their bodies in a more appropriate fashion when colliding with others, but the set-up leading to these actions feel and tend to look a bit unnatural. Players almost snap into place in anticipation for what is to come next.
Perimeter shooting has an awkwardness to it as well and could have had more easiness. Raising difficultly settings makes things tougher gradually but with those mid- to lower-range settings, shooters like Curry or Thompson just need to be mildly open, shoot with a good “green” release form (with your help), and knocking the ball down in the bucket is just about automatic.
However, even with funky exchanges in the paint and splash-threes all day, scoring is fun as hell. The simplicity of dropping buckets reminds me of those high-school times playing against buddies for schoolday bragging rights, when team scores would top 120 and your favorite player would finish with a quadruple double.
The most notably new addition has to be the reworked controls. This year’s edition emphasizes a simpler, yet effective, button layout. Expect to see far fewer “modifiers” and combination sequences with your controller. The most thumb/finger workout you’ll get will come when setting up for pick and roll situations. Features like this help illustrate how important timing and strategy are to the game of basketball. Depending how long you hold down L2/LT, the screen man will either slip, roll, or pop. Utilizing each move can yield great success if executed correctly.
After learning all of these new skills, it’s possible to take your game into a handful of available game modes. Familiar modes include Live Ultimate Team, online head-to-head, and dynasty career. Other playable content like “Big Moments” and “NBA Rewind” are fun challenges that can be played throughout the regular season, being inspired by some of the exciting games we have seen or will see on television this year. (More challenges will be updated into the game as the season progresses.)
Rising star is also a major mode, centered around building your own personal player and dragging him through the gauntlet of NBA life in hopes of becoming one of the all-time greats. Do your best playing within your “role” while tracking your growth from game to game, and you'll turn your rookie into a star. Depending on your position and job, positive or negative points will be added to your player’s development based on your performance.
All of these magical moments are captured with the presentation. Having the ESPN license adds to the dramatization of the game. Sit back and allow Jalen Rose to tell you how winning means scoring more points than the other team (duh) in his halftime show narration. Sound effects are loud and precise, and sights are bright and detailed. Even players shooting free-throws imitate their real-to-life counterparts. I mean, check out that Kevin Durant shoulder shimmy.
NBA Live 15 is all about playability and redemption. It’s catered to fans who have played basketball games for years as well as beginners to the franchise. In some ways, we’re all new fans after last year's installment, if you can take a leap of faith and give Live another chance. This year’s installment isn't the most polished basketball title or even the best hoops title in general. But it’s absolutely safe to say NBA Live has returned and will be sticking around as a contender, as long as it continues to take these positive dribbles forward. Plus, they have the Flatbush Zombies in the soundtrack. Who doesn’t like ratchet music to listen to while they dunk on their friends?