NBA Live 14 was the worst reviewed game in a series which has been running since 1995, so let’s get to the good news first, NBA Live 15 is a massive improvement.
From the presentation to animations and overall stability, there’s no comparisons between the two games. The 3D scanned player models are incredibly detailed with the Ignite engine rendering individual muscles, sweat and facial expressions that looks great, especially in the cut scenes and replays.
And it plays a lot better too, with an opening tutorial that takes you quickly through the basics of dribbling and shooting as well as new mechanics like a move which draws a friendly player to you, giving you some cover to make a break for the hoop.
Hosted by young cover star Damian Lillard, this tutorial eases you into what it’s going to take to get you around the court, which is where you expect the game to then segue way into some kind of story mode or let you create a character. Instead, it dumps you suddenly into a full-on game.
Now while the initial tutorial is useful enough its far from comprehensive, leaving me in my first game without ever being taught a single thing about defensive play. The match quickly devolved into a floundering back and forth, with plenty of scoring but no sense of strategy or rhythm.
That oddly jarring transition if fairly typical of what it’s like to play NBA Live 15. Nothing feels particularly smooth and well-thought out, like Big Moments – a mode which puts you into a critical instant of an important game. Man up, take the shot and win the point… then you’re just dumped back out to the menu.
The presentation at least has its moments, thanks to some ESPN licensing which brings in names like Mike Breen and Jalen Rose for commentary and analysis. Product placement is also everywhere, but it actually adds an air of realism to proceedings. Plus makes me want to buy some Nikes...
Game modes are familiar – Rising Star lets you track your self-created basketball whizz through his career and it’s the easiest to sink yourself into but some positions will have an easier time of it. The Dynasty team management mode remains the same and Ultimate Team is back for those who are interested. There’s also plenty of online play, including the chance to play a full season, and the game is arguably more fun with another human.
But there are always little frustrations – stemming from elements as fundamental as just shooting the ball. There’s no on-screen indicator for when you release your shot, with only a quick message afterwards to say too-early or too-late. In fact, the actual lead time is very short, more of a tap on the x button, which gives you no wind up and makes the timing harder to replicate.
NBA Live 15 has a bit of a split personality. On the one hand you can launch yourself into plays very easily and score some unlikely points in a way that has the feel of an arcade title. But the number of controls and the rather austere nature of the thing feel more like a simulation.
The middle ground means it doesn’t have its own unique personality and with serious sim competition from NBA 2K15 it might be better suited to heading into zanier territory if it wants to carve out a niche that will appeal to players.