NBA 2k14 iOS

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Here’s one to add to your list of weird sequels: NBA 2K14. Expectations for annual sports sequels are not that high: update the rosters, bump up the graphics, maybe tighten the controls, and throw in a cool new feature or two. Yet, with NBA 2K14, 2K Games has managed to sort of butcher even these simple expectations. Unsurprisingly, it takes NBA 2K13 as a base. That’s fine and all, but it’s really hard to say whether or not its changes are an improvement — and, more importantly, if it’s worth another $7.99.

his year, 2K Sports has teamed up with LeBron James in a big way. He graces the game’s cover as well as being responsible for curating the game’s soundtrack (a task he inherited from Jay-Z). On top of that, a new game mode called “Path to Greatness” offers two different playable paths that follow the next seven years of James’ career.

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Well, let’s start at the surface level and then dive in. The menus look fine and your first taste of LeBron’s soundtrack. It’s actually pretty great — spanning several genres and feeling fresh despite a handful of older tracks. It features Coldplay, Imagine Dragons, and Daft Punk right along with Jay-Z, Kanye, and Drake. I really like the variety and was thoroughly enjoying the tunes as I explored the menus. That is, until the songs started stuttering. It started happening on Clint Eastwood by Gorillaz, noticeably skipping forward every few seconds. I could hardly believe so I stuck around for the next song which did the exact same thing. There’s got to be something wrong with the audio files or else the menu has performance bugs, either way, it certainly doesn’t make a good first impression.

Anyway, exploring the menus reveals that your options are identical to last year’s installment, except that the “Greatest Games” mode is replaced with LeBron’s “Path to Greatness”. For those that didn’t catch 2K13, the other options are Quick Game, Multiplayer, Multiseason, and Practice. There’s also a settings menu that lets you adjust things like the quarter length, difficulty, fatigue and injuries, free throw help, and iCloud saving.

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The virtual controls look and perform exactly the same as they did in 2K13. They feature a virtual stick for movement as well as a small set of buttons for passing, shooting, and alley-ooping. On defense, the buttons are for stealing, jumping, swapping players, and toggling “Intense D”. The virtual controls work okay and definitely give you the best control of your players. They’re not very tight, but they’re usable. Your shooting accuracy is determined by how long you press the shot button. There’s no meter or anything to help you time this properly, all you have to go by is your player’s animation. The timing definitely takes some getting used to, but once you have it down you can nail three-pointers pretty reliably.

The game still offers its one-touch control option that debuted in NBA 2K12. Here taps and swipes replace most of the buttons and a three-option radial menu in the right corner lets you adjust your overall strategy on the fly. In general, these controls are looser but also more forgiving. The one-touch controls take player movement out of your hands, so all you have to focus on is timing your passes, shots, steals, and blocks. The biggest problem with these controls is that there is nothing in the game that teaches you how to use them. That said, it was pretty easy to figure out over five minutes of goofing around. Oh, and you cannot use this control scheme in the LeBron James mode even if you really want to. That seems like a bit of an oversight to prevent your controls designed for mobile from being used in your only new game mode.

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LeBron’s Path to Greatness limits you to virtual controls as well as 5-minute quarters. It features two different paths (which are really just two different set of teams to play in his 2014-2020 seasons) that each comprise seven games. Each game along the paths comes with a brief story to explain the context of the game. These are, of course, narrated aloud. The writing and narration are so humorously intense that I can’t help but be reminded of superhero cartoons. The actual gameplay is the same as if you did a Quick Game, except that you’re in control of LeBron the entire time. When a teammate has the ball, the Pass button causes him to throw the ball to you, LeBron, even if you are on the opposite end of the court. The best part? Like 2K12 and 13, NBA 2K14 features commentary. The commentator’s will call many of your teammates and opponents by their last names, but LeBron? He’s called “Number 6” every single time. It cracks me up just how bizarre that is. I’m pretty sure the announcer knew LeBron’s name in 2K13.

Speaking of the commentary, it has made a steep turn for the worse. Whereas 2K12 and 13 featured two commentators, 2K14 features just one. The commentary is far less reactive and does a much poorer job of actually describing what’s happening on the hardwood. Calling some players by their number is understandable — there’s a lot of players. Calling your cover athlete by his number? That’s just stupid. The commentary has all kinds of weird bugs too. One time the Spurs’ Diaw made a simple field goal and the announcer bellowed “DWAYNE WADE…. THREE!” (to 2K’s credit, the announcer said the exact same thing when I made a three with Wade immediately afterward). Another time, he declared that a successful shot had been “assisted by…” and then just cut off. The commentary is terrible and makes it really hard to take the game seriously.

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Like NBA 2K13 before it, NBA 2K14 is a lazy sequel. It’s shocking to look at videos of the two games side-by-side and see just how identical they look. The visuals aren’t pretty either — the audience looks terrible and some of the player models are downright inhuman. The only reason to get 2K14 is its updated roster and its LeBron James mode. Lebron’s Path to Greatness barely feels new considering it is replacing playable Michael Jordan highlights in 2K12 and the “Greatest Games” mode in 2K13. If you already have 2K12 or 2K13, NBA 2K14 is almost certainly not worth its asking price. 2K’s NBA games tend to get excellent reviews on consoles but it’s just not the same on mobile. The controls aren’t great, the visuals are ugly, and the AI is terrible. When I win, I want to feel like I overcame a tough opposing team instead of janky controls and incompetent teammates.

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