NBA Live 16 Review: Hoop Gawd Save Us
Ryan Bloom / Nov 2nd, 2015 No Comments
Since EA Sports revived NBA Live in 2013, the franchise has been facing an uphill battle. Nobody expected the game to compete with NBA 2K out of the gate, but after three installments you’d think there’d be a noticeable trend toward respectability. Instead, the series’ comeback has been more like when Michael Jordan came out of retirement the second time to join the Washington Wizards. NBA Live 16, the latest installment in the franchise, still feels like a last-gen game with current-gen features. You root for it to be great, but it only lets you down.
Heart of the City
NBA Live 16’s biggest step forward is its sheer offering of game modes. All the modes you’d expect from a modern basketball sim are present, including a franchise mode and the RPG-style Rising Star. Of course, EA offers its signature Ultimate Team mode in Live as well, but the card-collecting aspect isn’t as rewarding due to the lack of players, and this makes playing the mode feel like a grind. It is relatively easy to acquire cards, but top-tier players rarely reach the open market.
NBA Live Pro-Am is the game’s most exciting new feature. Created players can take the court in five-on-five pick up games on iconic courts such as Rucker Park, Venice Beach and Jordan Brand’s hyper-exclusive Terminal 23. Pro-Am also features an innovative co-op experience — called Summer Circuit — in which teams of players take on the best hoop stars from different regions across America. It is an interesting way to integrate co-op gameplay in a sports sim.
Unfortunately, Pro-Am is hampered by Live’s poor gameplay and lack of install base. Additionally, the game asked me to create a player by scanning my face through a companion app, but the app wasn’t compatible on my Android phone. While you can outfit your created player in authentic gear, creation customization tools are lacking.
Will Someone Just Call a Timeout?
For the first time since its return, NBA Live has the tools it needs to be successful, but it can’t capitalize on this because its core basketball gameplay is just not good. Players stiffly lumber across the court like robots and animations are clunky. AI is terrible, allowing players to make drives straight to the lane for easy baskets or fouls. On the defensive end, players are discouraged from attempting to block shots as it almost always results in an offensive rebound. Overall, it is too easy to defeat the AI, and this quickly turns the gameplay experience into a boring, methodical process.
On the court, many players look passable, but rookies and bench players often look nothing like their real-life counterparts. Combined with a poor default camera angle, it can be difficult to distinguish the athletes from one another. This can be curtailed somewhat by switching the camera angle.
The ESPN-branded presentation is especially impressive during halftime and post-game shows, but the ugly, pointless highlights diminish the suspension of reality. In-game commentators Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy excel at times, but this is ruined by moments when Van Gundy rambles on constantly about calling a timeout. Continuing a recurring theme throughout NBA Live 16, there is so much potential in the presentation, but the execution fails.
NBA Live 16 is a better product than its predecessor, but that’s like saying the 31-win Philadelphia 76ers of 2015 were better than the 29-win 76ers of 2014. The improvements are marginal, leaving the game feeling outdated and apathetic. Gameplay modes are aplenty, but the core basketball gameplay is just not fun. Unless significant changes are made going forward, it may time for NBA Live to hang up its Air Jordans again.
NBA Live 16 was reviewed on Xbox One using a copy of the game provided by the publisher.
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tags: ea sports , nba live , NBA Live 16 , NBA Live 16 Review , review