NBA Live 16 Review: Steppin’ Up

With the returning game modes from last year, changes to the offensive side of the ball and an all new Pro-Am game mode EA sports has managed to cut the deficit in the basketball game rivalry with the NBA 2K series from down 20 to down ten in “NBA Live 16.” With limited changes that do surprisingly make the game way more fun than last, it’s still not enough to get it over the hump to effectively compete with “NBA 2k16,” but it’s a game that isn’t a waste of your time.

In this year’s game, EA has took an aggressive fast-paced approach to the offensive side of the ball which is very fitting to the cover athlete Russell Westbrook’s style of play. With smooth dribble hand-offs, effect crossovers and a good enough CPU AI to fill in the fast break lanes and spot up, the transition offense is incredibly fun and enjoyable because it gives you the feel of a real West-coast run-and-gun type offense.

The only problem is not every team should play like the ’05-’06 Suns or the 2014 Miami Heat. This style caters to teams with the younger faster rosters in the game such as the re-vamped Pacers, the Thunder and Raptors, making them almost unbeatable when you are at the helm. It becomes too easy to go from down 20 to up five in minutes, that you make defensive powerhouses like the Spurs and Grizzles look like Sixers. Visually, the game still has some robotic animations with certain dribble moves, but getting out on the break will keep you from having to use most of those stiff dribble moves.

The game is completely offense, which is fine if you aren’t looking for that authentic NBA feel, but the arcade feel really hurts the game since it is competing with another game that actually has that real feel. On breaks, your teammates will run with you and either spot up or keep cutting, but once in the half court that AI goes out the window. In the half court offense, unless you run a dribble hand-off or pick and roll, no one on your team cuts or does anything at all for that matter. They all stand around watching you dribble one-on-one as if you’re the Hawks or Cav’s under the Mike Woodson and Mike Brown coaching regime respectively.

All though they’ve made the game really fun on offense, the defense still needs some serious work. Defense in the game is random and unorthodox. The defense is far too easy with every guard, but most notably Rondo, Westbrook and Irving because you’ll be able to strip the ball almost every swipe. Now when you switch down to the low post, it’s almost impossible to block anyone. Sitting down on the low block with any big man in the game is like a gold mine of easy baskets. You’ll be able to dominate or be dominated without much effort or post moves being executed. Out of every ten post shots taken, a guaranteed nine will go in, leaving you or the computer to witness the horror that every center from ’98 til ’06 witnessed when Shaq was in his prime.

There’s not much to add with about the modes from last year like “Ultimate Team,” “Rising Star” and “Dynasty.” All the returning modes basically play exactly the same as last year, but with an updated roster. For the “Rising Star” mode, you get drafted by whatever teams needs you, but you have the option to be traded to your favorite team right off the bat. Again, you start in the high ’70s making it easy to dominate everyone in your rookie year and breeze through winning game after game til you win a championship (even on the hardest level.) Once again like last year, EA successfully managed to flub the rookie class with even more generic default faces, but this time it’s even worse. Last year Joel Embid and Elfrid Payton had the same generic face, but different hair-styles which was ok, this year Justice Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and a number of other rookies all have the same face, fair skin tone and bald head, yup they’re all bald. We all know this year’s National Championship Duke squad were infamous for their matching fro-cut’s- EA could have at least did them the justice with giving them the style, especially when the style is an option for your created character. Not only that but a number of rookies just look bad, real bad. D’Angelo Russell looks like Kyrie Irving and Willie Cauley-Stein looks like Kid in “House Party 3.” This might be fixable with a patch, but it’s something that shouldn’t be a recurring issue year after year.

The “Dynasty” mode is your basic bland dynasty, franchise or association mode in every sports game. You pick a team, set your goal for the year, make some trade’s to help your team make the playoff’s and win a championship or trade your stars in hopes of tanking and getting the number one pick. There aren’t many changes here, they added some detail in players satisfaction with the team, but it’s not as in depth as 2K’s GM mode which you have to talk to the media, pep talk your players to boost morale, satisfy your fans and deal with coaching staff member’s emotions as well.

The most dynamic and exciting part of the game is the new “Pro-Am mode.” The new mode is what really makes the game worth playing. The majority of real street ball games are run-and-gun, this game mode is really fitting to the outdoor nature of the game. Since the game already caters to that style of play, being able to run the fast-paced offense on the courts of Venice in Los Angeles or the infamous Rucker Park in uptown New York City makes it all worth it. Overall, it’s tournament style- you have to play four teams each in six different parks across the United States and Canada to unlock perks, clothes and sneakers. In each park some teams will consist of current NBA players who are native to those parks (i.e. Anthony Bennett will play in the Canadian park, Lance Stephenson in the Brooklyn park and Derek Rose in the Chicago park.) The further you advance in the tournament rounds, the games get harder and you’ll eventually randomly pick up NBA players on your own squad to help you compete against some of the stacked park teams. You can choose from any of the six parks to start with, but they are all a different level of difficulty. Canada’s “Dome” is the easiest, but there you’ll get your first sample taste of the exciting challenge by facing off against five pros in round one.

The “Pro-am/ Summer Circuit” mode is great enough to be a standalone game. It’s almost as if they took the “NBA Street” idea and turned it into a somewhat simulation style. It’s still arcade like, but it’s more organized and under control. If EA Sports was to take this game mode and turned it into a full tournament style based game to simulate all the summer Pro-am leagues across North America such as Rucker Park’s EBC, Toronto’s OVO Bounce and Jamal Crawford’s Seattle league, the game would be a solid hit.

While EA Sports has made some major changes to improve the game, it’s still not anywhere near worthy of the crown the series once wore. While the offense has improved the lack of defense, A.I. and easy to dominate gameplay give the game it’s repetitive arcade feel much like it’s had since “NBA Live ’07.” With an impressive new game mode to make the series interesting, it still doesn’t match up to the real-life game feel that the game’s in the 2K series have. EA’s “NBA Live” is slowly but surely cutting 2K’s lead down, maybe next year the changes might be enough to make the series war a two-point game.

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