Can a player be bigger than the game? While the jury may still be out here, despite the best efforts of Sonny Bill Williams and his management team, in the United States NBA superstars have been calling plays, influencing rosters, and getting coaches fired for years. Now, the release of NBA 2K14 leaves no doubt what, or who, is the most important thing in the NBA. It is not tradition, it's not a team, it's not the title, it is LeBron James. Win, lose, or draw; LeBron is more important than everything else in the NBA. A third championship, a scoring title, another MVP, or even if he is injured all season and the Heat crashes and burns, this season the biggest story in the NBA will be LeBron James.
NBA 2K14, the latest basketball blockbuster from 2K Sports, is all about LeBron James. As soon as you load up the disk King James is there staring at you like Joffrey Baratheon on the Iron Throne. Telling you how great he is and how hard you'll have to work to reach his level of greatness. Before moving you on to the main menu where the only mode flagged as new is LeBron: Path to Greatness.
In LeBron: Path to Greatness you get to play through his future greatness either by staying with the Heat and building a Miami dynasty, or focussing on his own fantastic journey through free agency. Path to Greatness is a challenge mode where you control LeBron’s team (whoever they might be), not only playing to win games, and get LeBron his seven championship rings, but also to get individual - and team - stats and scoring achievements.
Sure, LeBron: Path to Greatness assumes that we all love LeBron. But it is a pretty cool mash-up of teams and players, pitting LeBron against some old friends, old rivals, and a few new fictional phenoms. And, providing you’re lucky enough to zone out during LeBron’s thoughtful and inspirational voice overs, and just enjoy Pharrell and Thicke on the soundtrack, it’s a challenging and fun look into the hypothetical future.
While Path to Greatness is the only new game mode on the NBA 2K14 menu, there are the usual seasonal upgrades. The biggest change I noticed is how easy it is to play through the training mode. In the past there have been complex step-back cross-over fade-aways that you just seem unable to pull off. Complex moves that just stop your progress through the training, dead. There’s nothing like that now.This year all the basics, and there are still a lot of basics to go through, feel even more natural and intuitive. Move with the left stick, hold and release the right stick to shoot. Hold the trigger to dunk, and tap B three times to flop. The control system makes NBA 2K14 an absolute joy. Now all I have to do is get my 3PT shooting guard to stop blowing lay-ups and I’ll die a happy man.
Along with the great control system most of the series’ familiar teams and modes are back. MyPlayer is virtually unchanged. Create your player, and play well in the pre-draft game to move up in the draft. Give crap answers to interviews with crap teams, so they pass on you. Get picked up by OKC. Drop a few threes, off the bench in key games, so you get noticed and sponsored by Nike. Earn enough skill points to buy and equip the catch and shoot buff, and fill in for Kevin Durant when he picks up a knee injury in the middle of the season. MyPlayer is the same, and is still pretty great.
MyTeam is also back with single and multi-player tournaments. You can also play seasons or just the play-offs. Blacktop returns as well. You can choose from a long list of current players, or legends from the last fifty years, to play up to 5 v 5 on the neighbourhood court. Online’s up and running for those with an Xbox Live Gold account so we all can take on the world alone or invite a crew to fill up our team with their user created players. You can also spend real money to buy virtual coins. With VCs you can get to get temporary boosts, licensed shoes, and street clothes for your created player. All this delivered in 2K’s typically faultless manner. Great graphics, dramatic game intros, and in game commentary that not only keeps up with the play, but effortlessly handles all the unpronounceable names. Names that are included this year because NBA 2K14 has gone European.
Well, not entirely European. Fourteen teams from the Euro league now join all the current, and legendary, NBA teams on the roster. While it’s not a big deal in New Zealand, Kirk Penney’s Turkish side not making the cut, it adds a new wrinkle to the game. Especially with the Euro teams having very average overall stats, but killer attack ratings. If there’s one thing those little white guys can do, it’s knock down threes.
A much bigger deal is the pride of Aotearoa Steven Adams. The first thing I did when I got NBA 2K14 was play a quick game between the Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. A pre-game check of the roster showed Steven Adams the second rated center on the roster. 20 years old, 7 foot, laid back attitude, and an overall rating of 57. I quickly switched his minutes with starting center Kendrick Perkins and seconds later he was winning the tip-off. 2K14 is surprisingly kind to the big Kiwi kid. He matches up physically with anyone in the game. He runs hard, defends well, and can finish in the post. And according to NBA 2K14, or at least while I was playing it, Adams is as likely as Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook to be the game’s best player.
I Know. NBA 2K14’s not about Adams, it’s about LeBron. If LeBron’s your guy you’ll love 2K’s latest release. While there’s not a lot new, aside from the compulsory King James worship, the game is a fitting end to the current console cycle. It looks and sounds fantastic. Yes, it loves its stars, maybe a little too much. But, if that’s the game’s biggest fault, with gameplay this good, even I can get over it. And if they stay this good on the next-gen consoles I’ll still be playing 2K’s NBA games when LeBron (resigned sigh) inevitably gets that seventh championship.