Two years of dismal offerings from the NBA Live camp had me completely skeptical about this year’s offering. Still, I was excited about all that I heard coming out of EA for this year’s edition of NBA Live. We’ve heard about the NBA Live Companion App, the Pro-Am and the improvements to the gameplay and visuals, however, the question remains: Will NBA Live 16 deliver after 2 years of disappointment?
Game Name: NBA Live 16
Platform(s): Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Publisher(s): Electronic Arts
Developer(s): EA Tiburon
Release Date: September 29th, 2015
Price: $59.99 ($53.99 via EA Access on Xbox One)
*NBA Live 16 was reviewed using the 10-hour EA Access full game trial on Xbox One*
I suggest you take a look at my review of NBA Live 15 at this link to prepare you for this review.
I think the first thing that impressed me with NBA Live 16, especially after the thrashing that I gave NBA Live 15 just a year prior for all it failed to do, was the gameplay improvements. Live 16 is a far smoother game than Live 15, and it definitely shows itself in various ways. While there are little things that bug me, such as the AI’s intermittent lack of attention on defense, with an improved shot feedback meter, a refreshed play calling mechanic, and improved man-to-man interactions on both defense and offense, NBA Live 16 is overall an improvement, and that’s an absolutely good thing.
Last year, you had to really work to get open for a decent shot beyond 10 feet, and even moves in the post or the paint were a chore. EA fixes this in NBA Live 16 with a relatively revamped and reworked dribble move system and post play mechanic. It’s not much easier, but you’ll get rewarded if you do put in the necessary work to open yourself up to make plays anywhere on the court. You’ll find yourself looking to utilize the clock more as you begin to find better looks and exploit mis-matches around the perimeter and paint in a more efficient manner. Player movement is also slightly more fluid this year, as opposed to the stiffness that plagued last year’s release.
The control scheme is still a little wacky, that shouldn’t be of much consequence. I’m still not a huge fan of holding down the Right Bumper for Icon Passing, however, I do love the Touch Passing mechanic, which hasn’t changed, but remains an effective way to run a quick touch offense, much like the Spurs in the 2013 and 2014 finals. Playcalling is fairly easy as well, as holding the Left Bumper brings up a whole set of player specific plays, as well as the ability to check out the full playbook, all by highlighting the option with the right stick and letting go of the bumper.
A nice touch this year are the shot meter and the contextual hints, that can be turned off in the options if you’re familiar with the game of basketball. Little hints, such as the 5 second inbound, and the 8 second halfcourt violation popup when you’re within 4 seconds of the impending turnover, so it’s a great teaching tool for those unfamiliar with the basic possession rules of the NBA. The shot meter is very useful for getting used to the timing of player’s shots, and it also features a new feedback system which lets you know the exact situation for the percentage of success the jumpshot will have, such as if you’re guarded, or if you have a low inside or 3PT rating.
Live Ultimate Team hasn’t changed at all, it’s the same old micro-transaction heavy mode that all Ultimate Team games are, so if you’re not into LUT, I’m not blaming you. Dynasty and Rising Star haven’t changed much from last year either. The only major changes to Rising Star are the sound presentation at certain points, where the arena audio is dimmed and you’re hearing on the court banter and the terrible commentary (which I will get to later,) as well as the presentation of the mode, including the tattoo shop with Randy Harris, but honestly, features like the tattoo shop and the Live Spot do not make up for a lack of changes in the presentation of Rising Star. Now, I understand that NBA Live is still about 3 years old in its current incarnation, so taking chances with the mode isn’t necessarily somehing that EA Tiburon’s looking at, but to offer nothing? That’s annoying, at least to me.
Pro-Am might honestly be the one mode that I believe will get the most play from anyone, hell, it might be the best mode in the game. Summer Circuit is an insanely fun game mode that lets you play as your player (which you create on first boot) at various venues such as the world famous Rucker in Harlem, New York, Terminal 23 in Herald Square, or Brooklyn Park in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass,) Brooklyn (I’m from East Flatbush, btw,) in competitive 5v5 games to 21 to unlock different pieces of gear (21 pieces to be exact.) Every arena is set up under a different difficulty, with 5 different games and 3 different objectives per game to clear per court. So for example, Toronto’s Hoop Dome is the easiest court to clear, but Terminal 23 in Herald Square, Manhattan is the hardest, as apropos for the gym that was created for elite ballers. Live Run is pretty much 5v5 games of 21 without all of the objectives, but you up to 9 of your friends can play a competitive pick up game at anytime, so if you need to settle a beef, settle it on the virtual blacktop.
Speaking of Pro-Am, it is purely an online experience, and the online experience was smooth for me, but I was playing this game during the EA Access period, so that may change for the first few weeks of NBA Live’s life. The netcode was amazingly smooth, with little hiccups, and matchmaking was painless, as you were thrusted into the Summer Circuit game after 30 seconds, so if you find yourself with no human players on your team, your CPU teammates should suffice
This year’s soundtrack is once again curated by MICK (formerly DJ Mick Boogie,) and it features significantly better music than last year’s offering. This summer’s sleeper hit, Classic Man by Jidenna is featured as a remix with Kendrick Lamar on the track, as well as some fairly big names like Wu-Tang’s Inspectah Deck (with CZARFACE teammate MC Esoteric,) Ty Dolla $ign, Future, 2 Chainz, Fashawn w/Busta Rhymes and even Underground Hip-Hop kings, Skyzoo and former Swollen Member Moka Only, the latter of which is featured on Illa J’s All Good, Pt 2. You can check out the soundtrack at this link.
My major beef with the game’s presentation is that the arenas don’t necessarily have their individual flair. Everything’s pretty much the same from an audio sense, but the arenas look amazing, and the players look really detailed this year. On the court sounds like blocks and sneaker squeaks sound amazing. Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy’s (more Van Gundy than Breen) commentary is still unbearable, and unbelievably dull, and Jalen Rose doesn’t sound as dynamic this year as he did last year, which is a real disappointment. It feels phoned in, and I know ESPN has more dynamic commentators (Mike Tirico, Tim ”Legs” Legler, ‘Pardon the Interruption’s’ Michael Wilbon, Hubie Brown, and Jon Barry come to mind.) Hell, Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith probably would have been better than this phoned-in commentary. Yes, I said SKIP AND STEPHEN A. Again, too bad NBA 2K has Doris Burke, but come on, son, y’all couldn’t get Lisa Salters?
Despite the commentary issues, the ESPN presentation is still top notch, and makes me wish at times that 2K would pick up a TNT presentation to rival NBA Live in a way (even though it seems like they’re actively doing that slowly, but surely, but that’s another topic for another review.)
Does NBA Live 16 have any legs to stand on?
NBA Live is a true comeback kid.
In a throwback to last year’s review, Daniel Bryan would be chanting YES! YES! YES! to this game. While it still has a ways to go in terms of being THE basketball sim, NBA Live 16 has made the necessary strides to at least be competitive against NBA 2K in the market. The improvement to the overall gameplay, and the strides to help new players to the series make for an inclusive game environment that anyone of any skill level can get into. Pro-Am mode is remarkably immersive and expansive, even though there are just two components to the mode. Other areas of the game still need improvement, some more than others, however, this game is a really good milestone for the resurgence of the NBA Live series of basketball sims.
- Gameplay is vastly improved
- Players and arenas look amazingly life-like
- Pro-Am is the best mode of this game.
- Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Jalen Rose’s commentary is dreadfully robotic
- No real changes to Dynasty and Rising Star
- Arenas have no auditory personality