NBA 2K14 on PS4 and Xbox One practically sells itself. I mean, look at it. Look. At. It. Here is a game whose visuals are so beautifully realistic that you almost have to stop and try it, regardless of how much you like basketball. Not since Fight Night Round 3 in 2006 has a sports game lured me in with its stunning graphics and kept me hooked with rock-solid gameplay the way NBA 2K14 is capable of doing. Only the new set of modes unique to this version of the game, which differ but don’t quite deliver on their full potential, keep next-gen 2K14 from dethroning its cousin.
Laudably, the new 2K14 and its smart AI and NBA-accurate pacing plays almost exactly like the excellent 360 and PS3 version -- complete with this year’s new Assist Pass and improved dribbling controls. That’s a disappointment to anyone hoping for a whole new experience from the new generation of consoles, but it’s hard to complain that it plays like one of the best basketball games ever. I only have a couple of issues. First, the ball behaves like its own physics object now, and seemingly because of that it ends up loose or bouncing off a guy’s back more often than it should in a game about pro ball players. Also, though the players look and feel noticeably more planted to the court and less floaty than we’re used to, I still occasionally caught someone magnetizing over to his nearby assignment.
And then there’s the obvious: NBA 2K14 is sexy. But why? Running 1080p resolution at a smooth 60 frames per second on both consoles establishes a gorgeous foundation, but it’s the attention to detail -- always a calling card of this series but dialed up an extra notch here -- that guarantees you rubbernecking roommates anytime you play it. The players -- and for the first time, coaches -- look convincingly realistic. More importantly, they move that way too. Animations both big and small -- everything from myriad dunks to Ray Allen’s smirk when he nails a big three-pointer -- sell the realism, as does 2K14’s array of lifelike facial animations. The players look alive -- it’s not quite a T-1000 level of convincing, but it’s damn impressive.
Rounding out the impeccable broadcast-style presentation, the usual Kevin Harlan-led commentary crew is as on-point as ever, but the addition of sideline reporter Doris Burke’s interviews with a player orcoach at halftime and the end of the game -- where you hear a contextually accurate real-life voice clip, lip-synched and all -- is something I can’t help but be impressed by.
The biggest graphical sin is when something goes visually awry in a game that looks so amazing -- for instance, one of the infrequent but far-from-rare clipping bugs -- because it really, really stands out, like a glitch in The Matrix.
Though it bears the same name, NBA 2K14 on next-gen is, in fact, a totally different package than the one that released in October for PS3 and Xbox 360. Instead of the LeBron Path to Greatness and Crews, the next-gen version introduces several new modes (and a refreshingly simplified redesign of the menus). Notably, MyCareer has you create a player and take him through a everything from a pre-draft showcase to Draft Night to working your way up from benchwarmer to starter. It’s loaded with fully acted cutscenes and played-up drama, and much of it is laughably cheesy. Neither the dialogue nor the voice acting can ever be taken seriously, and when you get accosted by an angry DeMarcus Cousins (since I was drafted by the Kings) after a game for not getting him the ball, it’s especially jarring when he’s a mute who speaks only in subtitles.
MyGM is a fresh, considered take on the age-old franchise mode. You control everything from roster moves to coaching staff to budget to hot dog and merchandise prices, and you have to keep your owner, coaches, players, fans, and the media happy along the way. It’s deep and gets rather engrossing, though you won’t earn many GM-related unlocks (such as influence in contract negotiations) unless you go in and play the games yourself, which adds a ton of time to a mode that should allow me to focus on the off-court parts of the NBA if I want to.
And Park is an evolution of the Blacktop mode from NBA 2K on 360 and PS3; in this incarnation, up to 100 players on each server can either play or be waiting for the next game in either 2-on-2 halfcourt, three-quarters-court 3-on-3, or full-court 5-on-5, all with custom-created MyCareer hoopsters. The three-on-three is the sweet spot for me, as everyone gets involved enough (including on-mic trash talk) without the streakiness that a 2-on-2 halfcourt match is prone to or the chaos of a 5-on-5 showdown. But it needs more structure; you can’t form crews or leagues, or otherwise conveniently meet up and play together unless you coordinate externally through your console’s Friends list.