Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (reviewed)
At one point, EA Sports dominated the basketball field. You couldn't get me to stop playing NBA Live 95 on the Sega Genesis. Fast forward 20 years, however, and…it’s a different story.
After a cancelled NBA Elite 11 (one week before its release) and a troublesome "rebirth" with the poorly received NBA Live 14, it made me wonder if EA would ever find its basketball footing again – especially in the face of the far superior NBA 2K series, which continues to evolve with this year's 2K16.
But I'll admit, this year's NBA Live 16 did make some strides forward, compared to last year's somewhat weak NBA Live 15. The addition of a new Live Pro-Am mode brings back some blacktop vibes we experienced in NBA Street Homecourt (without the high-flying, of course) and Ultimate Team does hold some promise. However, like previous games, it's all about the gameplay – and it still can't "buy a bucket."
The Set-Up Is There…
As I stated, NBA Live 16 provides a lot to do. The new Live Pro-Am mode takes you to the streets as you face off in five-on five online contention. This mode works very well, with smooth online play and plenty of interaction with players to feel like a real pick-up game, rather than something that's just been jumbled together. In addition, you can gain experience points that help you level up in the Be a Pro mode, so you actually earn something from it, rather than just goofing off.
In addition, Ultimate Team makes a difference here, just as in other EA Sports' titles. You'll earn cards by completing certain goals within the game, with over 150 challenges to take on. It'll take a while too, as some of the challenges are quite daunting in scope. That is, if you can get used to the gameplay. (More on that in a second.)
Finally, the other modes go a long way for basketball fans as well. Rising Star enables you to try and take your basketball career to the next level, while Dynasty challenges you to, yep, create something that the likes of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers have managed to do in years' past. Both are loaded with plenty of options, which fans of the sport may be willing to appreciate. There are just some problems to overcome…
…But the Execution Is Weak
As with previous games in the series (most notably NBA Live 14), EA Sports struggles to find that comfortable groove with its basketball series – and that problem persists in NBA Live 16. Not that the gameplay is completely broken, sometimes it clicks. But sometimes just isn't good enough for players that look for genuine consistency on the court.
Most of the problem lies in the game's ebb and flow. You'll see defensive players rush in and make dunk plays spectacularly, with no problem. You do the same and all of a sudden you end up making a ridiculous looking lay-up, coming across more as a clown than a genuinely talented player. It's frustrating when all you want to do is execute the pick-up play.
There's also a notification system, similar to NHL 16's, that's supposed to help you become a better player. Unfortunately, it's not as accurate as EA Sports was hoping. Case in point – I used this system in an attempt to master the three-point shooting to help bring the points up for my team. But even when I mastered the system, the shots aren't always guaranteed to go in. Yes, even if you get a good rating on the meter, that doesn't always mean you get the reward. It's like busting your butt to finish all your homework, getting "A" ratings, and then having your parents take you out for a nice piece of celery. You don't get rewarded for your efforts.
On top of that, the gameplay is flawed because of the somewhat lackluster AI – on both sides of the ball. Your own teammates are practically terrible, forcing you to do all the work yourself when it comes to scoring. They can't block that much at all, and when you call for an alley-oop, you'll be lucky if an opponent even reads it accurately. I played a game with the Golden State Warriors and they were nowhere even close to the talents of the actual team. Since when does Stephen Curry hesitate? Since never, that's when.
The other side of the playing field isn't that great either. At times, the opponent AI can be on fire (like with that aforementioned dunk). But during others, they simply don't know how to defend the right way, and you're stuck trying to adjust to defensive procedures that they aren't picking up on. Again, it ruins the flow of the game, and it just never comes together like EA Sports intended. It's like half a basketball game when you're craving the whole thing.
A Decent Presentation, To a Point
NBA Live 16 does look a little better than last year's game, with impressive 60 frames per second-speed animation, some good-looking courts, and some smooth animations. But it also jars the experience with some strange player movements, as well as crowds that just aren't as much into the action as, say, NBA 2K16's. At least some of the replays look good, and being able to summon them on command is a neat feature. If only there was more that needed to be replayed.
As for the commentary, it's dry. Very dry. NBA 2K16, at the very least, has a commentary team that's involved, while here, the guys simply go through their cycle and barely emit any sort of emotion, even after a big play. The ambience in the arena is pretty good, at least, but it's not enough. This series needs a commentary team that actually cares about the sport they're covering, not just guys that go, "Well, I'm here, might as well talk about basketball." Sigh.