It’s been a long road for the NBA Live franchise. Since the debacle that was NBA Elite, EA Sports has been doing everything it can to bring back the credibility of the once lauded franchise. In the series' absence, 2K Sports came along with their NBA 2K franchise and dominated the basketball video game world.
Things didn’t get started on the best foot for NBA Live 16. There was a demo released for the game a couple of weeks before its release that showcased a game between the Thunder and Cavaliers and the Pro Am mode. From my perspective it was a sign of confidence and swagger to release such a big demo before the release. Sadly, the game had a couple of odd glitches that felt reminiscent of the NBA Elite misstep that have taken over much of the good will I believe EA hoped to get from the demo. The most talked about glitch was that of Kevin Love taking free throws and shooting at the basket behind him. Not something you want blasting through social media right before the release of the game.
Luckily I can tell you that in over a dozen hours with NBA Live 16 I didn’t have any such glitches. In fact I would say this was by far the cleanest performing NBA Live game on this generation of consoles. A lot of the weird technical bugs from the past two years are gone. The biggest problem I had was in the career mode, where a couple of times, when my player was subbed in, the crowd noise would drop and I was left with an eerie quiet arena, the commentators none the wiser to the change. It did give me a chance to check out some of the often repeated banter from the players on court, but otherwise left the game with an eerie silence.
Despite a lot of gameplay improvements, NBA Live 16 still feels like it has a long way to catch up to the competition. Action on the court still feels sluggish. Ball movement, though improved, isn't fluid. Try to string a couple of passes together and it will hitch just slightly before each movement. It’s odd too because dribbling is so fluid that it makes the slow pace of passing and shooting feel even more out of place, a sad realization given the incredible work put into the dribble mechanics. I’ve always been a big fan of how NBA Live handles the ball and it continues this year. You have even more control over your dribble which makes passing up a defender or breaking free to get an open look even more satisfying.
The shooting mechanic is more of a mixed bag, comparitively. I’m not positive on past versions of NBA Live, but I don’t remember shooting percentages being as prominently placed as they are now. Right as you shoot there’s a meter that pops up and the goal is to time the release at the perfect point. Regardless of how well you time the meter based on your player’s abilities and how contested the shot is will give you a percent chance of hitting the shot which is displayed right after you shoot. Feels very much like an RPG, but it works despite being a little distracting. I know that behind the scenes there are stats at work at all times, but the fact that I could have an open jumper and have a 75% shown right above my player after release just feels like an insight into the backend of the game that I don’t want.
In terms of modes, this is by far the deepest NBA Live game we’ve seen on this generation of consoles. You have a full franchise and career mode to sink your teeth into. Although there haven’t been major updates in these modes, there’s a ton of content and the modes are well done. New this year (well sort of new) are the Summer Circuit and Live Run modes. Summer Circuit is just a mode where you and 4 other friends (or random online people) team up and play against the computer. The mode I loved seeing return was the Live Run mode which is a 5 on 5 mode online. I played in ten of these games and they ranged from everyone taking the ball and running to the rim to a few games where there was some significant passing and setting up plays to beat the opponents. This mode is helped greatly if you can play with one or more of your friends. It’s also allows multiple levels of skill to come together and just enjoy shooting some hoops.
One of my biggest problems with NBA Live 16 is the commentary. It’s atrocious. I enjoy Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy doing the real deal but in the game they come off stale and often times don’t come close to calling the action on the court. Whether you compare NBA Live’s commentary to other sports franchises in EA’s lineup or the competition in NBA 2K, the results are the same, and it’s not good. I found myself muting my game and enjoying a podcast or music instead of hearing the often wrong or delayed commentary in NBA Live 16. The ESPN integration feels odd as well. It just not fully realized and comes across half baked.
NBA Live 16 is another step in the right direction but it still feels far from the polish it needs to have to compete in this space. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before the game finds its footing. There are elements like ball handling that I think are fantastic and aspects like passing that I think still need a lot of tuning and work. Summed up, NBA Live 16 feels like a game that has a lot of good pieces but it’s still looking for its James, Bryant, Durant or Curry to help get it to the next level. Until they find it, NBA Live will continue to be a middle of the road game of basketball.
I'm the Owner & Editor in Chief of Darkstation.com. After spending seven years as the reviews editor I took over the site in 2010. The rest is history. Now I work with our amazing staff to try and bring you the best possible video game coverage. Oh and I really like sports games.