The last of EA Sports’ 2016 season titles is now on court. NBA Live 16, still living in the shadow of this year’s 2K’s basketball entry, does it’s best to round off EA’s stunning collection of games aimed at the discerning armchair sportsman.
Of all the real-life sports that EA digitally mimics each year, basketball is the one that I have the most trouble with. As a sport, for me, it lacks the intensity of gridiron, the tactics of football and the all-out action of ice hockey. It’s also been years since I last played an NBA Live game.
Despite having been away from the franchise for years, and my general aversion to basketball sims, I was able to pick up the game really quickly. I don’t know if it is by design, but one thing that I seem to notice about EA Sports’ games is just how easy it is to get into the game using macro-level controls, whilst the game trains you in its subtle nuances and micro-level gameplay. I never feel like I’m being thrown into the deep end, unlike some over sports sims out there.
On the court I found the action very clean and easy to follow, there’s no doubt in my mind that the game plays a little more arcade-like than 2K’s game, but it worked for me. It only took five-minutes for me to get to grips with shooting and, more importantly, the defensive game- which is important in basketball game to stop the ball just pong-ponging from one side to the other.
Of course, a vague understanding of the game isn’t going to get you far. Thankfully the game has a suite of tutorials and drill to help hone your skills.
The Learn Live mode provides gamers with some essential training in the various mechanics of the game. Split up into Drills, Practice and How to Play, the game does a great job of equipping you with all the tools needed to succeed. There’s far too many move to remember in one hit, but each facet of the game is covered, revealing the NBA Live 16 game mechanics to be simple to pick up but hard to master- which is exactly how you want it.
Compared to the other EA Sports games, NBA Live 16 has a more muted presentation style, perhaps as an acknowledgement that the new-gen entries in the veteran basketball series have not previously been as well received as the publisher would have liked. Regardless of this, though, the game presentation is still as polished as you’d expect, with NBA Live 16 making full use of its ESPN licence to create a slick televised basketball game experience.
The commentary is some of the best across EA’s sports titles, with the dialogue flowing naturally and quickly adapting when replays are selected. The superb audio isn’t limited to the commentary as the awesome soul/hip-hop soundtrack makes for some great listening.
Little touches like the fully commentated half-time highlights really add to the awesome TV-style feel of the game.
Built using the same engine used across all of EA Sports’ titles, save PGA Tour’s use of Frostbite, NBA Live 16 looks superb. The courts look amazing and the players almost photo-real. The game features all thirty teams from the 2015/16 NBA league with most of the players faces digitally scanned. Not being familiar with the actual NBA players, I’m not too sure of the accuracy of the player likeness, but some of them do look a little generic. Whilst the on-court animations are really crisp and smooth, the supplemental animations in dead-ball situations are not as well refined. They don’t effect the gameplay, but I did notice them.
There’s a whole smorgasbord of game modes, many of which will be familiar to EA Sports fans. You can get straight into a single-player or local two-player game by selecting Tip Off, Head 2 Head does the same, but puts you against and online opponent.
Gamers can follow their own team with NBA Rewind, picking real-life games and selecting at exactly what time to pick up on the action, or complete challenges with Big Moments. For a bit more meat, the two career modes offer the most immersive single-player NBA experience with Rising Star allowing gamers to shepherd a player through his NBA career and, with Dynasty, embark on a career as the NBA general manager.
Live Pro-am allows up to 10 gamers to play 5v5 games in online competitions. It’s not a mode that I’d recommend for casual players, as you really need to be on top of your game to avoid being the team’s weakest link and evoking the wrath of your teammates.
As with all of EA Sports’ titles, the most addictive game mode is NBA Live 16’s version of Ultimate Team. Part fantasy basketball game and part collectable card game, gamers build a team using cards purchased using cash rewarded with each game win (or using real cash via the PSN/XB Live store). I spent hours honing my perfect team and taking them out on the court. There’s a real sense of achievement as your initially weak team bulks up and starts pounding the opposition.
NBA Live is often portrayed as the underdog, whilst it is most certainly the weakest of all EA Sports’ titles, it still has something to offer. The game’s four-year hiatus cost the franchise many fans who, quite rightly, moved over to the critically-acclaimed NBA2K series. Like PES vs. FIFA, fans of one franchise will rarely accept the strengths of the other.
NBA Live 16 still has a long way before it reaches the heights of those halcyon years gone by, but those that enjoy the presentation and play style of EA Sports games will find that there is still a lot to like.