I’ve never been a big sports guy. I know that’s probably assumed from a guy who’s trying to make a living writing video game reviews, but they just never really hooked me. Which seems weird considering the extensive amount of time and effort people put into them, knowing players stats, coaches’ behaviors, plays, and strategies. Given the time and effort I’d put into something like an RPG, it’s sort of strange that I never got into sports, since they’re basically the same.
The last basketball game I actively remember playing was NBA Jam on the Super Nintendo, so I was very interested to see how far we’ve come in the simulation of men throwing balls into baskets. And I tell you, what a difference! Gone is the simplistic form of two on two, action-packed and frantic for a more methodical, “realistic” approach to the sport.
Honestly, I found the whole affair pretty confusing. The lack of a tutorial (well to be fair there is one, but it’s pointless) made it very confusing and overwhelming when jumping right into a game. What’s more, once I did learn the controls by digging around in the pause menu, I never really felt like I had any control of what was going on. Now, that’s not to sound like I’m bashing the game because I wasn’t dominating the court, but very basic things like blocking, stealing, or guarding never felt like they had any weight, and my attempts to try and keep guys from shooting were always fruitless. Moreover, because I don’t know what constitutes a foul in basketball, it became frustrating when what I thought were basic things like trying to get the ball of someone resulted in a foul for whatever reason. Even something like switching between characters is strange, as sometimes players have specific buttons above their head, which I assumed would be like Madden in the way you press a button to switch to that character, but every time I tried to switch it was random as I learned changing players is mapped to one button.
I didn’t spend a lot of time in the free play mode, but I did try my hand at the career mode, and to be honest, I had an even worse time. While I did like the shift in focus as you only control one player, develop their skills, and grow them into a pro, I hated how it seemed like my team was doing absolutely nothing, maybe due to the fact that we were a rookie team, and I quickly got frustrated as it seemed like I had to do 90% of the work. I’m not joking, there were times where my team each took a man, but seemed to only do that and players would just run down the centre and dunk on me. I don’t know if it was bad AI or maybe I was just sportsing wrong, but it became an act of attrition as it felt like I was commanding offence and defense while never feeling in control.
Also, I didn’t really get the game’s “performance record” which grows or sinks during a game depending on how you play. Often I would get penalized for attempting three-point shots, being told I shouldn’t be taking shots out of my range, and I thought, “Isn’t part of sports taking risks and trying for those ‘hail mary’ plays?” It’s an interesting feature and I did like how it adapts to player performance, simulating scouter or public perceptions of players.
Despite my own frustrations with the game, I can see how people who are into basketball would like this. Visually, it looks really good, but personally, I’ve thought these games have looked good for the past nine years, even if the main menu is a bit distracting, structured a lot like the XboxOne menus with big square icons and too much going on. The attention to detail however, is superb and the create-a-player face capture feature actually works pretty well. The in-game commentating is solid, as both commentators react dynamically to what’s happening in-game (although it was kind of frustrating how they were basically criticizing me for not being good at the game).
Overall, NBA Live 2016 is another sports game. I did have fun while I was playing it; however, it seemed like there was a serious barrier between my understanding of basketball and how much fun I could have. Serious basketball fans will no doubt enjoy it, but if you’re not a serious basketball fan, while it might make a decent game for when you have friends over, I think Mario Party would do the exact same thing; And at least no one needs to understand Mario Party to enjoy it.