While EA Sports' FIFA franchise to this day is considered pretty much the king of football games, NBA Live can be regarded as EA Sports' black sheep of its lineup of sports games.
With a widely negatively met last entry, NBA Live 14, EA Sports' basketball franchise is still playing catch-up with its competing rival series NBA 2K, which critically seems to always outdue it.
NBA Live 15 therefore comes off as another attempt to win back the crown. Great visuals and detailed player models are pretty much a given with EA's Ignite Engine here, but does NBA Live 15 actually raise the bar to really make and impact?
Updated Core Mechanics - "Dunkin' Do-Nots & Other Problems"
NBA Live 15 fits perfectly in line with EA Sports' other releases this year in terms of sheer accessibility. When booting up the game for the first time, the game does a respectable effort of teaching you the basics of the basketball mechanics that quickly grow on you and become an intuitive part of your experience. For players that never played any basketball game in their life, NBA Live 15 is very easy to pick up and to head straight into the match - yet NBA Live 15's accessibility comes with a great price - the loss of actual teamwork.
NBA Live 15 sure is easy to get into its controls. Dribbling, shooting and dunking are fairly easily pulled off, while shooting mechanics in particular have learned quite some lessons from the franchise-rival NBA 2K15: now, a half-circle below the ball carrier indicates the chances of a successful shot depending on your location and defensive positioning on the field. Additionally, with every player having the same release point, getting the hang of releasing the shooting-button to execute a perfect score is a nice easy-to-learn-hard-to-master affair when in the heat of a match. Though it occasionally can get hard during a match to actually see and focus on the shot-meter below your ballcarrier when he is constantly moving, it's a good mechanic overall that requires a fine sense of finesse from the player, comparable to FIFA' 15s shot-meter.
|The shot-meter - Learning a lesson from your rival NBA 2K15.|
Unfortunately though, NBA Live 15's shot-indicator is heavily underutilized to the point from which it becomes almost redundant to use it at all, due to the game's extremely overpowered dunking and driving through the lane. Even despite the fact that the shot-meter requires a respectable amount of precision from the player, the ridiculously unbalanced other play maneuvers your player has to offer, rob the entire game significant amount of depth, strategy and teamwork.
With that said, dunks and lay-ups are very easily exploited in NBA Live 15's matches. Especially performing lay-ups, which have a defending enemy be blocked automatically by a nearby teammate while having the ballcarrier locked into position makes matches sadly feel very artificial, unengaging and not accomplishing at all.
Making matters worse, while attacking and scoring is done fairly easily, defending becomes excrushiatingly hard in the game. Mostly due to clunky movement controls, most of the time it becomes a guessing game when to exactly jump into a throw and into which direction to stop a thrown ball. An even worse situation is only when an enemy player flatout drives through the lane making him seemingly unstoppable and his score-attempts unavoidable.
Basketball is a full-on teamsport, yet with all those problems, NBA Live 15 too often just feels like basketball-players are basically going "Rambo" to try to dunk as many times as possible while aimlessly jumping around trying desperately to defend. And since simple aiming and shooting the ball is generally "unnecessarily" harder to pull off for players, especially online matches quickly devolve into redundant dunk-fests, in which the question is not who the better player is but rather who can score more dunks first.
Another factor that makes matches highly inconsistent is how the game treats fouls. Spotted fouls happen seemingly at total random. While it's often sadly the best option to spam the steal-button continously while running aside an enemy player to get his ball, it not always gets spotted as a reach-in and foul. While spamming the steal-button still is one of the best options to get a hand on the ball without (hopefully) getting caught fouling, the uneven foul-mechanic in NBA Live 15 furthermore results in a ridiculously big amount of free plate shots during matches.
|Get ready for a Dunk-Fest.|
Modes - "Building on Flawed Fundamentals"
Outside of standard season play, NBA Live 15's Rising Star mode has you play as an individual custom character with the primary goal of becoming the best of the best the NBA has to offer. With 13 different playstyle combinations to choose from ranging from perimeter shooter to inside driver, there's quite a nice variety to choose from. Additionally, just like in other EA Sports titles focussing on your custom character, you can upgrade your own player's stats through experience that you gain on the field. Of course upgrading your own character from a tiny wimp to a full-on pro player always grants a sense of reward, yet NBA Live 15 highly diminishes that feel of accomplishment through its very flawed core mechanics. Aside from the fact that even with a highly upgraded player matches never truely seem to change in the way they are played, making it to the playoffs or getting promoted is always only announced with simple text and no fanfare whatsoever.
Other than that, The Ultimate Team mode present in all other EA Sports titles this year is of course also present in NBA Live 15 and functions with the very same card oriented mechanics, yet now including an auction house to trade with other players. Additional motivation for this mode is delivered through 109 challenges that reward you with additional currency and card packs. And it's honestly those tasks that are one of the stronger aspects of NBA Live 15's whole. Some challenges have you defeat a team of the best three point shooters while others have you faceoff against a team of the best rebounders. The challenges truely come off as not only a fun diversion but true matches that put your "skills" to the test.
|Ultimate Team and the other usual suspects.|
Furthermore, there is Dynasty mode which is the game's general manager mode. It's pretty much as simple and straightforward as general manager modes get, while it's always nice to have the option to witness basketball matches from another perspective. Yet, just like Rising Star, Dynasty mode also quickly falls flat in keeping your interest since the accomplishments you make there don't fare much better. Won games and playoffs are also only celebrated and indicated through bland text messages making it all quickly boring. The feeling of accomplishment or teamwork also isn't delivered in any real form here.
However, there are some additional modes that are more interesting since they coincide with the real-life current NBA season.
Big Moments takes real-life NBA scenarios from the past and offers leaderboards and XP rewards when you dare to replay those iconic matches. What evolves this idea even further is NBA Rewing, which lets players jump into each night game immediately after it happens with up to the minutes, stats and scores.
Much like in the unexplored potential of NHL 15's extra modes, Big Moments and NBA Rewind come off as nice additions for hardcore basketball fans, yet their game-and-real-life-fusion is nowhere near enough to make up for the game's essential problems.
|Big Moments and NBA Rewined is connecting your gaming with real life.|
As for the multiplayer, each of the aforementioned modes is of course open to be played online with other players with the card based Ultimate Team and standard season matchmaking against other players' teams being on the forefront.
However, the huge problems with the game's core mechanics still remain in the game's online suite making many matches with other players sadly very unfun affairs since players quickly notice how easily NBA Live 15's mechanical shortcomings like the overpowered dunking can be exploited to a shameless and redundant level.
When soly looking at the game's player characters, NBA Live 15 is truely amazing. Player models feel alive with sweat drops running down their faces and jerseys realistically flapping on their bodies during movements. It's by far no exageration to call (most of) NBA Live 15's player models the most life-like human models the next-gen has brought us to date. Also the player models' movements actually feel very realistic even despite the fact that actually controlling a player is a very clunky affair during matches.
Stadiums are a mixed bag with great lighting effects on the court floors, yet with terrible crowd animations. In that sense, there is nothing really wrong with individual crowd members but rather with the crowd as a whole. Movement cycles of a crowd member are repeated far to often, making crowds often feel terribly robotic and paste-and-copy-like with dim stadium lighting only partially trying to cover it up in a way.
Commentary is easily as robotic and hands down the poorest of this year's lineup of EA Sports titles. The commentators' lines often lack the necessary enthusiasm like shown in game's like Madden NFL 15 or FIFA 15 to make it stand out. The comments of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy are delivered so bland that you will most of the time completely forget that they are speaking in the background at all.
|Sad to see such great character models go to waste.|
NBA Live 15 might be a very accessable game for newcomers to basketball video games, yet the game sacrifices strong fundamentals and most notably strategy and teamwork in favor of said accessibility. The result is a game with extremely flawed and easily exploitable core mechanics featuring overpowered dunks, inconsistent foul-detection, aimless defend maneuvers and clunky controls that render its only good aspect, NBA 2K15's adapted shot-meter, almost entirely ineffective and pointless.
Even though NBA Live 15's respectable array of standard modes in addition to the Big Moments- and NBA Rewind-mode are nice attempts to give players various ways to explore the game, they are far away from making up any of the game's big problems. After all, you simply cannot expect to build a great game ontop of poor basics.
While NBA Live 15 can sure to some extent show off with their amazing looking player models, they still need another attempt to really (re-)develop and refine their core mechanics if they truely want to matter again and compete with their greatest rival franchise - NBA 2K.
Final Verdict: 4 out of 10
Big thanks goes out to EA for providing us with a review copy of the game.
Big thanks goes out to EA for providing us with a review copy of the game.