NBA 2K14

If you've already invested in NBA 2K14 on your PS3 or 360, you'd be forgiven for assuming that the PS4 and Xbox One iterations are fundamentally the same. They are in the ways that matter most; the intricacies of its basketball simulation are still vast, and just about any conceivable piece of on and off-court strategy in the sport can be emulated in-game. But the modes and features that wrap around that core are completely different from the NBA 2K14 released a few months ago. This restructuring isn't completely successful, but most any basketball fan should find the next-gen version worth pairing with their new system of choice.

Taking to the court still feels excellent. This year's iteration mapped a bunch of ball-handling moves to the right stick, and all of that is completely in tact here. Using the stick to deke your way past the opposition or put some numbers on the boards still feels natural, though it's not without a learning curve. There are pages of specific stick movement patterns and button combinations in the menu, and it took me some hours to get to grips with all of it. Once you do, things begin to focus and more advanced moves become comfortable. It all feels at least as good as it did with the old scheme, from pump fakes to intercepting passes. Still, the game could be more consistent in its tutelage. One annoying sticking point is the shot feedback system, which feels pretty well broken at times. I lost count of how many times the game would praise the timing, quality and selection of my shot only for the ball to smack the board or tank entirely. Other times a “very late, D grade” shot would be nothing but net. It's a shame that some of the tools intended to transition you to the new controls fall so flat, but they're intuitive enough to make stumbling through a few games to get the gist fairly painless.

The LeBron-centric story mode from the PS3/360 versions of the game is completely excised, and the MyCareer and MyGM modes are near-unrecognizable in their design. Leaving those old modes behind turns out to be mostly a good thing. MyCareer is now the story-based replacement for the LeBron stuff, a storyline that follows a player you create from NBA try-outs to All-Star fame. When I say storyline, I mean it – MyCareer is filled with cutscenes, dialogue and even diverging options of what to say to set the tone of how a scene plays out. It's an interesting development of the “started from the bottom” types of career modes oft in sports games, though in some ways it's obviously a first attempt and what'll be something more down the line. Cutscenes have some pretty rough lighting and framing, and the voice acting is brutal. But it's also the beginning of an ambitious experiment for NBA 2K, and it's easy to get caught up in its mix of basketball and exposition as is. It'll be exciting to see how MyCareer continues to evolve over the next few games. Even in its current form, it was enough to get my attention.

The game attempts to rebuild the management side of things in its MyGM mode, but the undercooked story elements feel overly exasperating here. It's neat that it introduces the social intricacies of running a team alongside the spreadsheets of player and financial data. You have a GM avatar, and you'll have to talk with your players, team owner and other GMs to try and keep everybody content with their pay and sway. Having that extra layer of consideration will add to the simulation in a big way some day, but only once the dialogue and acting majorly step up. Conversations in MyGM sound like first takes from people who maybe haven't done much acting in their day. A lot of lines sound confused, as though the words were read without understanding their sequential meaning. It could use all kinds of work, in other words. Micromanaging your players, staff, arena and financial end is still here, but it's buried under a lot of bad cutscenes and clustered menus. If GM mode is key for you, holding off for next year's offering might be a good idea.

During my time with NBA 2K14, passersby glancing at my TV mistook the tremendously slick presentation for a real-deal NBA broadcast. At a quick glance, it's an easy mistake to make. The next gen versions of this game look superb, leaps and bounds beyond what was possible on the last round of hardware. Developer 2K used a facial scanning technique that allows player models to convincingly doppelgang their real-world counterparts, and the way animations seamlessly tether between one another is better than ever. Menus and overlays feel authentic to a TV presentation, and the commentary from Harlan and Kerr is vibrant and pleasantly reactive to your actions. Without a doubt, NBA 2K14 is one of the best-looking games around. The only true rough spot are the on-court interviews between quarters. The horrendous reporter and announcer models seem to be the only last-gen holdovers here. Their stoic visages and flapping mouths are sort of nightmarish, and definitely out of place. A very small issue, of course, but still jarring.

If you dig basketball and own some shiny new hardware, you should pick this up. Managing a team on and off the court feels as good as ever. The new modes feel a touch underdeveloped, but they augment the excellent action in some interesting ways that are worth checking out. Even if you already bought the last-gen edition, the stunning visuals and accompanying glimpse into where this series is headed are worth the upgrade. Aspiring GMs may be disappointed, but the quality of simulated ball on display in NBA 2K14 can't be denied.