Developer: Visual Concepts / Publisher: 2K Sports / Played On: PlayStation 4 / Platforms: PS3, PS4, PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One / Release Date: November 15, 2013
When I recently chatted with a developer from NBA 2K14’s studio Visual Concepts I had this—in my opinion, reasonable—assumption that the versions on PS4 and Xbox One would be out early 2014.. In actuality, NBA 2K14 is coming in hot; the representative was happy to clarify that it’s actually a launch title, and not to be confused with “launch window title.” That’s quite an achievement, especially when these next-gen versions of NBA 2K14 are being developed from the ground up. After getting fifteen minutes of hands-on time, I could not help but be convinced that this truly is a “ground up” project.
The facial captures of the myriad NBA stars are certainly excellent, but what always attract me are the little touches. Even if such features have been in the series for years, the improved fidelity of the overall presentation made those little things all the more noticeable. I’m talking about how backboards rock after an authoritative dunk or how varied the crowd looks (of course, there’s still some audience copy and pasting). I first noticed Visual Concepts’ attention to detail with uniforms back in the Dreamcast days and it’s crazy to see what they’ve managed to pull off with jersey animations on the PS4. Yet, what truly made me wide-eyed was how the heads of players on the bench followed the arc of one of my free throws. Then I realized that the bench follows the ball at all times, just like in real life.
At the demo stations, 2K set us up with a prime time matchup: Warriors versus Heat. With Stephen Curry on my team it was natural for me to attempt a few three-pointers. With his accuracy stat set appropriately high, it was satisfying to nail most of my shots, though I still had to work hard at properly timing my button holds and releases. I had just as much enjoyment making the most of the passing game and looking for brief openings to drive Andrew Bogut for a dunk or layup.
2013 appears to be the year that sports game developers figure out foot planting, the importance of which can’t be overstated. I was sold on realistic foot planting with this year’s NCAA Football and Madden 25, and it was even more of a joy to see the same kind of subtle, but realistic motions in this game. The next time you watch a video of NBA 2K14 on next-gen, pay attention when players are making last minute direction changes. We’ve watched basketball and football players move like they’re on glass for far too long, so seeing these advancements in traction is a relief.
Beyond the court, Association Mode has given way to My GM Mode, putting you in control of a franchise. I stop short of saying “full control” because you have to instill harmony with your staff and team. You also have to keep your fans and the bottom line happy by making sure that food and souvenirs are priced well (among many other management duties). Your interactions from daily check-ins with your players to significant drafts determines how long you keep your job.
We’ve all put up with disappointing sports game ports launching on the Wii U, PSVita, and 3DS. After this brief hands-on time, I began wondering how long it’s been since there was a sports game for a launch console worth paying attention to like NBA 2K14. I’m thinking it was NFL2K which—no surprise—was also developed by Visual Concepts.