CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The "NBA 2K" franchise has been living in the past. First, players were treated to a look at the career of the greatest player of all-time, Michael Jordan, in "NBA 2K11." That walk down memory lane continued in "2K12," which allowed gamers to take the court as some of the greatest teams in NBA history. And just last year, the original Dream Team made its debut in "2K13."
As a sucker for nostalgia -- and a huge Larry Bird fan -- I've thoroughly enjoyed looking back at the golden years of the NBA through the lens of developer Visual Concepts. But in "NBA 2K14," history class is over.
Rather than offer another look back at what has already occurred in the NBA, "2K14" treats gamers with a chance to peek into its future -- and the future of its brightest star, LeBron James. In the Path to Greatness mode, players can continue LeBron's run with the Miami Heat or opt out of his contract and begin down a new road that takes him to New York and, eventually, back home to Cleveland.
Path to Greatness mode is a fun change of pace from what recent 2K games have offered. It was especially cool to see how the developers saw the landscape of the league changing in the coming years, with new super-teams forming and current stars seeing their skills diminish. But as neat as the idea is, it is but a small part of what makes "2K14" the best basketball sim I've ever played.
The "NBA 2K" series has always prided itself on delivering a top-notch basketball experience on the floor and in "2K14," the action has never been better. The game has struck that perfect balance between being a true simulation for the hardcore crowd while still being easily accessible for those less-committed players. As someone who rests comfortably in the middle, I loved that I could finally have enjoyable, competitive games without being run out of the gym by AI that, frankly, has felt cheap at times in the past.
Not only has the gameplay been tweaked and balanced to near-perfection, but a handful of new features have been added to make the game feel even more alive. Most notable among these is the new pass modifier button that allows you to attempt flashy no-look passes (which are great when you have a two-on-one fast break). Pulling off precision dribbling moves is easier thanks to the more responsive right analog stick and working in the post feels as intuitive as ever. Defensively, the AI does a great job of "learning" your tendencies and denying your favorite plays, while player contact -- which there is now much more of, thankfully -- results in plenty of fouls and turnovers.
"2K14" maintains the series' excellent presentation, from the clean menus to the outstanding pre-game intro videos. The three-man commentary team of Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr is the best in sports gaming and the crowd audio is electric. This is one area in which Visual Concepts has long excelled and I can't wait to see what they have in store for next-gen versions of the game moving forward. I'm also looking forward to seeing some new player models, as those in "2K14" are starting to show their age.
As far as game modes go, everything you'd expect to find is here, from Association (online and offline) and Season to My Career and Blacktop. Players looking for something different may want to check out one of the 14 Euro League teams, while those who enjoy taking their created player online will be happy to see the return of Crews, which lets you and your friends team up to take on others in full 5-v-5 matchups. Sadly Association Mode, where I've always spent the majority of my time with "NBA 2K," didn't see any major upgrades. Play Now games, however, should be much more intriguing thanks to the debut of Dynamic Living Rosters, which are updated daily to reflect how every player in the league is performing at that particular time.