NBA Live 16 demo impressions

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Posted September 17th, 2015 at 5:45 pm

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Last year with NBA Live 15, EA Sports was able to get the series back to a level of respectability. It still lagged far behind the competition in just about every aspect however and question remained on its viability in today’s marketplace.

For NBA Live 16 the company is going all-in with two new online modes, both of which fall under Live Pro-Am, and continued improvement to gameplay. Will that be enough when the rest of the game is essentially unchanged? 

The demo for Live 16 went out earlier this week and it’s an important one for EA. They need the game to gain some traction in the weeks before its release given that competition is coming from all angles. It’s not just NBA 2K16, but the eight other sports-related games that release within the same month, and any other games on the market to be considered. Consumers aren’t going to take a risk with their money when there are so many other, safer options.

The structure is key to potential success here with the demo. There’s a lot to try out and it could appeal to those that don’t feel ties to the 2K franchise. Not only are there the typical one-off NBA games to play (with six teams to choose from) but tutorials and scrimmages in the very slick Terminal 23 court and the new online cooperative modes.

As far as gameplay goes there’s definite improvement to be found. Off-ball movement is better and the new play-calling system is useful. The new shooting system is brilliantly done, offering the kind of in-game feedback that has been sorely needed. It’s easy to understand and eliminates the frustration of wondering why a shot was made vs missed. The game immediately comes across as being fun to play.

Obviously it still has it’s rough spots and is not completely refined. There’s an issue with responsiveness that quickly became apparent. Getting a shot up quickly, jumping to block a shot, making a pass to an open man…those kind of opportunities are often lost because the actions simply don’t trigger fast enough after pressing the buttons. Animations are also troubling, particularly in the paint and on contact (if a guy doesn’t just glide right by) and the game still plays a little stiff.

NBA Live 10 had arguably the best atmosphere in a basketball game ever when it released, and that remains a strength here. The crowd is into the game (you can change the atmosphere settings from regular season to Conference Championship or NBA Finals) and there are some good touches of authenticity throughout. Commentary has its moments but also too many dead spots. The courts look amazing but player faces are hit-or-miss.

EA is selling NBA Live 16 on its new Live Pro-Am mode. That’s really all they have done this year – a significant undertaking of course, but its troublesome that all the other modes in the game have been neglected in the process. Dynasty and Rising Star were¬†very poor two years ago and really haven’t advanced since then.

Live Run is one of the two Pro-Am modes, and similar in make-up to adidas Live Run which was popular in NBA Live 10. Instead of NBA players however now it’s all created players. There have been smart design decisions made in choosing the type of player and what that means for their ratings, as well as how players progress over time.

The actual games have been okay but hardly thrilling. There’s some cheese being seen already, responsiveness is even worse online – half the time my guy doesn’t jump when I try to block a shot or get a rebound and more mistakes happen with directional passing – plus the occasional use of licensed music will irritate those who stream or post videos. On the plus side having different venues is refreshing and they’re very well done. Ultimately these team-up modes will be more fun when friends get together for them but with a game struggling to generate sales that may not be a realistic scenario for those with potential interest in picking it up.

Summer Circuit is intriguing and again the variety of venues really adds to the mode. This one is more of a true co-op, though you can play on your own too, with up to five players going up against CPU teams of professionals through a series of challenges. The games have definitely played differently against the CPU rather than other users. It’s a good change of pace and different type of challenge from the more hectic nature of Live Run.

The companion app is out, giving people the opportunity to scan their own faces into the game for their player. It seems to work well for some but many have had issues with it. That can be seen clearly through the app’s ratings. It only has 3 stars on iOS and is currently at 2.5 on Android with nearly twice as many one star ratings as five star ratings. It’s also incompatible with many devices that it really shouldn’t be.

There’s a lot to like in the NBA Live 16 demo, and it may draw interest from a crowd that doesn’t typically buy NBA games or has been waiting for the series to get back respectability and introduce unique ways to play online. It’s impossible to ignore however that it really doesn’t offer a whole lot to differentiate itself from the competition, and it gets decimated in a comparison of feature sets. That’s not going to change no matter how much enjoyment is found in the demo.