Review: ‘NBA 2K14’ fit for a King

Review: 'NBA 2K14' fit for a King
LeBron James appears in 'NBA 2K14.'

Video game publisher 2K’s longrunning pro basketball game has paid homage to Air Jordan, Larry Legend and Magic. This year, it’s all about the King.

Miami Heat superstar LeBron James becomes the focal point of NBA 2K14 with a clever game mode charting his path to legendary status. As for NBA 2K14 as a whole, it maintains a consistent level of quality on display during previous seasons.

The NBA 2K series has slowly transformed into one of the sports genre’s top video game franchises, with an impressive level of depth to its controls and authentic player animations that capture movement with high accuracy.

Developers have also come up with some smart ways to leverage their cover stars, such as NBA 2K11, which maximized the role of Michael Jordan with a Jordan Challenge revisiting some of his best games.

NBA 2K14 uses cover star James to create Path to Greatness. When starting, players choose one of two options: Heat Dynasty or Fantastic Journey. In Heat Dynasty, James stays in Miami and works on a South Beach dynasty. Fantastic Journey has James testing the free agent market. Both modes require players to secure as many championship rings for James as possible.

Instead of playing through multiple seasons, players will drop into critical games through James’ quest. For example, in my run through Fantastic Journey, James played against the Lakers in an MVP battle with Kobe Bryant, followed by a Game 7 in the NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder (LeBron would jump to the New York Knicks next season).

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Players earn points after each game based on the final score, LeBron’s stats and other details, with players earning a max of three stars. Overall, it’s an entertaining concept, largely due to James. Like his real-world persona, digital LeBron is unstoppable.

The other big change is the continued refinement of the Pro Stick, used to dribble and shoot. Previous releases allowed for control of shooting and dribbling one on stick by using a modifier. So, the right stick would allow players to perform crossover or behind-the-back dribbles until you hold down the left trigger to use that same stick to shoot jumpers or pull off dunks.

This year, developers have seamlessly integrated the two mechanics with no modifier. Players tap the right stick for dribble moves, and hold the stick in the preferred direction to shoot. Surprisingly, it works well, but still needs a little tweaking. There were moments where I’d want to pump fake on a shot and ended up shooting anyway, or I would want to execute a layup and perform a dribble move instead. It’s not common, but might happen periodically.

For players new to NBA 2K14, the simplicity is welcome. However, if you’re a veteran player, and loved the ability to have more control over your shots or dunks, you might find yourself frustrated.

Other on-court options include a pass modifier for players wanting to execute bounce passes or move the ball in different ways, and a Smart Play button to easily run half-court plays. Several game modes remain, including The Association for running franchises and MyPlayer for those who want to focus on creating their own superstar.

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NBA 2K14 is a solid hoops package, although it seems adjustments this season are subtle compared to what developers introduced in earlier games. However, NBA 2K remains one of the better sports video games around.

Publisher: 2K.

Developer: 2K Sports.

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360.

Price: $59.99.

Rating: E for Everyone.

Release Date: Oct. 1.

Score: 3.5 stars (out of 4).

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