NBA 2K14 Next-Gen Hands-On Preview
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been enamoured with Visual Concepts‘ NBA 2K14, arguably the best basketball game ever created and possibly the best sports simulation of the 2013-2014 period. Deserving so, with its polished controls refined over each annual revision and game play fine-tuned for that authentic NBA experience without having to lace up a pair of sneakers and hitting the court yourself, not that any NBA team would have me.
Already sitting pretty at the pinnacle of virtual basketball, you’d have to wonder where the series can go as the next generation of consoles loom just upon the horizon. I had my questions swiftly answered this week when I was given an opportunity to preview NBA 2K14 on the Playstation 4, putting to rest any doubts the dominating series may have run out of fresh legs.
First off, the most common misconception raised around water-cooler discussions is the next-gen version of NBA 2K14 is just a port of the existing one. Nothing could be further from the truth. Visual Concepts haven’t rested on their laurels, rebuilding the next-gen version of NBA 2K14, specifically tailored to meet the high expectations of the franchise faithfuls and quelling the voices of doubters in the process.
Employing their new Eco-Motion engine, basketball simulation has never looked or played so well before. If you want to talk about raising the bar, this is the new standard rival developers will relentlessly be chasing down into the foreseeable future. With the benefits of new technology, visuals have been further refined for crisper, cleaner animation leading to added realism and immersion.
It all looks and flows like no other NBA game out there, but at the same time has managed to retain that familiar feel and game play so many have grown accustom to. To achieve a ridiculous level of detail, Visual Concepts have gone to equally ridiculous lengths.
Blurring the lines between the real NBA and a virtual team under your control, nearly every player in the game has been painstakingly captured, from their facial expressions, mannerisms, to their movement and play-style. Each player’s proportions are now as accurate as possible with arm span and physical attributes scaled accordingly. Tattoos no longer look like out-of-focus blobs smeared on a player’s appendage but actually legible in more cases than not. Even the uniforms have been reproduced like never before. The stitching, the textures, the way the material drapes on a player’s body has all been taken into consideration and replicated to near perfection.
Eco-Motion technology now makes foot planting true to life, eliminating the sliding and phantom steps of so many NBA titles gone by. A side-by-side comparison instantly conveys just how far basketball simulation has come as physics and algorithmic equations are calculated dynamically as all the action unfolds. The ball is now a tangible object that interacts with a player’s hand and the court, spinning when dribbled as a real ball should. Although it’s the focal point of any basketball game it’s often overlooked, until now.
The biggest improvement to me is the reactive nature of animation sequences that respond to any given situation. A tight shot may cause a player to kick out less, or he may even keep his shooting arm lingering in the air a little longer as the ball swoosh’s down for another bucket. It’s simply beautiful to watch and adapts to your current moment for a unique experience.
The venues haven’t been forgotten either with enhancements made beyond the playing surface. Subtle details are littered throughout each stadium, such as the electrical wiring running up the back of the ring frame, gritty marks on the hoop surface, and even the announcers table hasn’t been forgotten, right down to the thumb print on the telephone display screen which you’ll probably never see in the game, but is there nonetheless.
More easily distinguishable details have been emulated, with special care taken to capture the intricate LEDs on the massive overhanging screen, recreating the colours and contrast as realistically as possible. All the stadium lighting has been accounted for as Visual Concepts went straight to the globe manufacturer to obtain the exact luminous rating before implanting the same number of lights into the right positions. It all sounds like something out of some wonderful basketball fantasy but it’s all real, and incoming.
The new Emotion Plus feature now takes into account a player’s personality, further reflecting their real-life personas. Responding to poor decision by the referee or getting fired-up from a successful pick-and-roll play adds an extra dimension to how a player can engage with their NBA stars, playing off their strengths and reining in their weaknesses. Opposing teams can also exploit these less desirable traits for their own benefit.
Micro management and control freaks are in for a treat with the new Points of Emphasis coaching system. Dictate and delegate how your team performs, in order to lockdown dominating opposition that may be breaking through your defence, or shift momentum back in your favour by strengthening the offense. If Ray Allen is getting far too many free looks from beyond the arc, shut down the 3-balls before they spiral out of control. I didn’t get to experience the Points of Emphasis for myself but the potential is certainly there for anyone obsessive enough to compete hard; even off the court.
As each developer from Visual Concepts proudly talked about their contribution to the next-generation of NBA 2K14, the passion they exude can be felt in every tech laden sentence. Building a library of textures to keep every element uniform may be overly geeky to most, but their level of dedication to their craft is the reason NBA 2K14 has garnered the success it has, stamping its authority on what’s to come in the weeks ahead, and well into the future.