NBA Live 16 Review
NBA Live 16 is the best game the series has seen in over half a decade. It is reliably fun, has a few decent game modes, including the surprisingly well-made Summer Circuit, and does not attempt to reinvent the wheel of basketball simulation.
Despite large strides, the game still has a tendency to look and feel like a chicken with its head cut off. There is hardly ever any consistency -- whether it be clunky commentary or odd decisions on the part of the CPU -- and it starts to take away from the fun if you're looking for a true simulation experience.
The series certainly is not where it needs to be this year, but NBA Live 16 is not a bad game to keep building on moving forward.
Perhaps the first thing to notice is how well Live is spaced. One-on-one matchups actually exist within the context of the court, which is nice because it's one of the few ways ratings really play a role in the experience. Plays work well enough -- something that has been a stable of good NBA Live games since the franchise began -- and it's easy to beat your opponent with good passing.
The simplicity of the controls is fantastic, for the most part. Being able to hold the left trigger for a simple pick and roll feels smooth and the same can be said for the hand-off controls. These aspects combined with the spacing provide a really unique experience in that matchups feel important. Keeping your "lockdown" defender on the other team's best shooter can be difficult if the hand-offs and play-calling are effectively utilized. That being said, driving players (whether they're good at driving in real life or not) are too dominant because the animations seem to favor the driver rather than the defender.
That being said, the problem still ultimately boils down to certain aspects not being handled effectively by the AI. The CPU tends to rely heavily upon charging into the center of the lane and beating you. The problem is, especially on higher difficulties, this tends to work. Defense can be incredibly frustrating because the game often takes player control out of your hands and buckles you into an animation that is going to cost you points. This would be fine if the animations were well developed and used properly, but they are not. Not only are there too few, but they also seem to come into play at the wrong time.
For instance, there will be moments where a player backs off as if he's been shoved when a player is going from left to right instead of toward the basket. You will also see plenty of the super-strength box outs where an offensive player will receive what feels like infinite space between the rebound and the basket.
The problem here is that, unlike a few other sports games, NBA Live 16 does not seem to experience an AI change when you turn the difficulty up or down. Instead, the CPU just gets less and less fair as you turn the challenge up. Shots that have no business going in are sunk on a regular basis while playing on Superstar difficulty.
One of my favorite aspects of NBA Live 16 is its unique little halftime (and end of game) show. You get a rundown of some of the best plays in the game, highlights from both the best and the worst players in the game, and some general discussion as to what has happened so far. The commentary atop these shows are chunky and hard to listen to at times, but that does not keep the show from being something you'll regularly want to watch without skipping through it.
Speaking of commentary, Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy do their best to work with what is otherwise an awful script. It is not that the voice work is bad, it's that the commentary does not have much to say and seems afraid to get too involved. There is very little talk of anything not strictly related to what's going on in the game, and Van Gundy does not offer a ton of contextual insight, either. As a whole, it has the tendency to feel awfully dry, which is too bad because the game's peripheral sounds don't do much to help.
The crowd noise is a mixed bag of sounding just right and sounding like someone put it together with a few friends in their garage. When the crowds are going nuts and everything is clicking, it's truly impressive. That being said, you will also sometimes hear chants that sound like someone is yelling them right into your ear, which can be an immersion killer. In-game sounds can be just as bad. It sounds like someone is using a fly swatter against concrete every time someone gets even a finger on the ball for a block. There's also not a whole lot of noise coming from the players outside the occasional squeak of the shoes against the floors.
Outside of that, the presentation is not half bad. NBA Live 16 is not overly impressive in terms of graphics, but it gets the job done. The lighting is generally pretty good and animations look nice until they've been repeated a hundred times. There is one in particular -- a guard spinning the ball back into their hands after an inbound -- that is repeated so frequently that it's easy to wonder whether or not it's a glitch. Lastly, you have to cross your fingers and hope that you dig one of EA's built-in camera angles as they don't let you customize the look at all. For the most part, as long as you're okay with a typical broadcast view, you'll be okay.
First things first, there is little to no customization in the game. If you are someone who likes to throw together draft classes, edit rosters and make the world your own, NBA Live 16 is not for you. There are no excuses, here. Having more options is never a bad thing and EA completely fell flat in this department.
Though, one of the things NBA Live 16 has going for it is the simplicity of its game modes, particularly Dynasty mode. There are a lot of things to complain about if you regularly invest hundreds of hours into franchise modes like Dynasty mode, but this particular mode seems pretty clearly built for players who prefer something easier to understand and take on. And, to be clear, overall this game is much less daunting to take on than something like NBA 2K -- for better or worse.
For starters, Dynasty mode is not the living, breathing world that most franchise modes have come to offer. Commentary rarely reflects upon the season at hand, there's not much in the way of Dynasty news outside of a small news wire (which, to its credit, provides player quotes and a healthy amount of updates), and there's no weekly radio show or anything like that. NBA Live 16 works well with what it has, but you regularly feel alone on the journey to an NBA Championship.
The game seems to simulate statistics well enough that you should not feel scared if you want to take on more of a general manager position. There is not anything special to the management of your team except trying to keep your players satisfied, but even losing teams don't seem to struggle too much with that.
Unfortunately, the charm of simplicity does not carry over to the Rising Star mode, NBA Live's version of a typical My Player mode. It carries the same RPG elements over from other games, only there is not a true focus on your player. Much in the same way of older iterations of MLB: The Show, Rising Star stays true to a simple formula: play your games, improve your character and move on. There might be some fun to be had if you're interested in focusing on a single player against the CPU, but otherwise, Rising Star has very little to offer over other My Player modes.
This is where things get good. In a day where a working online experience is akin to seeing a unicorn, NBA Live '16 not only provides some consistency, but a lot of fun. There is definitely some lag here and there, but as long as both players are on a decent connection you should be more than fine.
Live Run makes its return in NBA Live '16, and while it's not an entirely unique concept, there is a lot of fun to be had if you can find a few friends to play along. The mode is essentially a street basketball game of 5 on 5 consisting entirely of players online. As expected, this usually results in quick scoring and very little defense -- especially once teams get inside the key. It can be frustrating, sure, but the better team usually wins, and if you get some decent teamwork going you aren't going to lose a ton of games.
Summer Circuit is the newest addition to the plethora of game modes, and also the most fun. Reminiscent of NBA Street games, Summer Circuit allows you and a few other players online to take on increasingly difficult CPU opponents. Moving on from tier to tier gives your created player some added gear that does not otherwise seem available. Though, because the AI never seems particularly fair, things can get frustrating in a hurry. Nevertheless, that does not stop Summer Circuit from providing one of the few unique experiences in NBA Live '16.
NBA Live '16 is an assortment of fun ideas adequately executed and mixed together with the unexciting status quo. The gameplay provides something a little different and is certainly a step forward, and given the disaster this series was a couple of years ago, EA deserves a lot of credit for righting the ship. In fact, in more ways than one, this year's iteration seems like a callback to the NBA Live of old. It does not quite get there, but it would be of no surprise if it does soon.
There is not anything here that would justify a full price tag, but if you're looking for something a little different, NBA Live '16 should meet your expectations.
Score: 6 (Above Average)