NBA Live 16, at its core is a decent basketball game, but never really goes above and beyond that. It offers some great mix ups in the Pro-Am and Rising Start modes, allowing the player to make some great choices that affect their custom player’s life, but a mind-boggling scoring system, audio cut-out, and general glitches keep this year’s hoopster from truly taking the title.
Feature rich, but foundation fouls
NBA Live 16 is on the heels of the struggling past few entries, and some real progress has been made in this year’s entry. With some big changes like Live Pro-Am, a new physics mechanic called Live Motion, and other touches, the game has a ton of stuff to do, the problem is that a few of the key modes weren’t a blast right off the bat, and the more played, the more the cracks started to show.
Live Pro-Am is the big new addition, a section of the game carved out for competitive or cooperative play online with other players, Pro-Am aims to add some real agency to the in-game created player, making the gamer at home take true ownership of a career both in the big games, and in the summer circuits. Pro-Am consists of Summer Circuit, a cooperative summer league of varying difficulty on different courts across the country, and the LIVE Run, which is a team based 5v5 competitive mode.
Pro-Am holds a ton of potential if you’ve got a decent team together, as the chemistry of the team is paramount, and progression through the Summer Circuits upper levels is wholly dependent on teammates that can make smart decisions in passing as well as shot selection. The struggle with reviewing this mode before release is there were no other players, so the mode being populated by CPU players was fine, but the teammates never seemed to make the right decision in a timely fashion. Computer players routinely would miss their open shot window, or pass so late that it was beyond the optimal timing, resulting in a covered receipt of the ball, or totally grinding the flow of a play to a halt, if they didn’t throw the ball away. The problem is that the mode without human players that make errors on defense and players on your side that can capitalize on those errors, you start taking all the shots, and when that starts happening, the game ticks away at your personal performance rating for being a ball hog. Essentially the game becomes at odds with being a team player, as your teammates won’t take or make shots, and you are penalized for taking too many, resulting in a frustrating poor performance rating, and a loss in more instances than should be.
Rising Star is the other focal point of NBA Live 16 offering players a way to bring their same player created for Pro-Am into the big leagues, playing in a similar fashion to comparative modes in both FIFA and Madden. The difference in NBA Live 16 is that while Rising Star is indeed a bit more fun than a CPU filled Pro-Am, the AI and marking systems seem to have it out for the player, causing some downright puzzling situations where the player loses points for a reason they either shouldn’t have, or can’t explain.
Both Pro-Am and Rising Star score the created player on a performance rating, which at the outset of each game starts at 50, moving up or down based on some factors like smart shot selection, making a shot, setting up an assist, or just good performance in the way scoring and defending. Failing to mark your man, letting him score, or hogging the ball will result it loss of points. A slight majority of times the scoring is fair and seems to be balanced, but it was noticed and frustrating when the game would dock points for letting “your” man score, when the game switches the man you’re marked up against in the middle of his drive to the hoop, or when you’re across the court from them. As mentioned about the Pro-Am scoring as well, if your team is not sinking baskets necessary to take a lead, most players would try to take it upon themselves to make up the difference. NBA Live 16 punishes the lackluster AI by telling the player they’re a ball hog for taking too many shots, when the PC will take much worse shots. Even worse, if the player passes the ball or lets a teammate take a shot that’s open, but the player is also open, the player then gets docked for “passing up the open 3”. The scoring, in concept is actually a neat way to progress and even learn the game as you play, but in practice it scores in some confusing and sometimes completely unjustified ways.
Your player gets a few tips as the game progresses too, with coaches offering up suggestions as to what to do. Most of the time they’re pretty accurate and give a little direction, but other times there are just strange sayings in there like “give 100% on defense” when a player already has 2 blocks, 2 steals, and 4 rebounds in the first quarter. Another interesting one was the negative assessment of “we look forward to seeing what you can do” which of course gave no real input, and could’ve just been left blank. More constructive or helpful would’ve been what exactly the coaches go for, are they looking for you to be aggressive, defensive, support teammates?
When finishing a game in Rising Star, players are greeted with their individual and team performance summary in the form of a few great looking ESPN SportsCenter style sections complete with the graphics of the broadcast, making the game feel a bit more like a true edition of some nightly basketball. Following this you’ll also get your rewards in the form of SP and RP, SP being used on Skills, while RP is used on everything from tattoos and shoes to shooting forms and celebrations of the greats for your player to mimic. The unlock progression is pretty fair, as unlocking Lebron’s celebration will cost quite a bit more than Lin’s, but everyone should just be doing the Harden anyway.
Customization options in NBA Live 16 are deep, as there are shoes from every big name out there including Jordan, Reebok, Adidas, and more, as well as sleeves, leggings, socks and more for your player to stand out on the court. Surprisingly well done are the tattoos, looking as realistic as seen in few games before, they look as though they could exist on any player in today’s game. A strange thing to notice but this coupled with a few other touches like the very good looking and accurate faces, reflections on the court mimicking the lighting above, and the ability to import your face via a mobile app add some depth to the game and make it a little more attractive at the same time.
Glitches, Hitches, and Slogging along, oh my
NBA Live’s physics seem like they’re centered in the real world, but almost seem to lag. Numerous times you’ll feel the press of the Y button to go up for a block, and see either hesitation or no response from your player. Spinning the right stick around to execute a juke or move seems responsive for the most part, but that too didn’t want to execute on a few tries, even if hesitant.
I was also privy to getting rejected by a ghost-Nowitzki. As I faked to go for the shot, he went up, I allowed time for him to hit the ground and on his descent I went up for the true shot. The ball was flung out of my hands and back the other way down the court and my Rising Star sunk a big chunk in his performance rating. I wouldn’t have questioned it normally, but with other things like the game audio cutting out the buzzers, commentary, and shoe movement earlier, I thought there might be something going on. After watching the replay a few times, there was no one that could’ve blocked the shot but Dirk’s guardian angel.
As mentioned, the audio cut out sections of the commentary, the buzzers that signify the end of quarters, the motion of players squeaking around the court, the crowd, and more in three games straight. One was especially disappointing because my precious Denver Nuggets pulled off a second overtime win with a 3 from my own created character, and as excited as I wanted to get it was still weird as the crowd all of a sudden fired back up from a silence and roared my winning the game. These small little glitches and cut-outs were indicative of the entire product; looks great and for a good majority of the experience it’s fine, but when the game decides to falter, it’s immediately noticeable and utterly frustrating.
The Bottom Line
NBA Live 16 is a competent basketball game with a great slew of features and modes, however the core of the game has some issues with random glitching, cutting out, and some seriously indecisive AI. Teammates will hold the ball with 10 seconds remaining while down by 2 and let the clock expire, handing you a loss while you scream at the screen, or perhaps laughing and rejoicing if you’re on the other side of the ball (both happened once during my time with NBA Live). These flaws unfortunately can’t be overlooked, and while they can be corrected in the course of updates and tweaks from EA, the game as it stands at launch isn’t a fun experience the whole time you’re playing. There are flashes of greatness in Pro-Am and Rising Star, as well as deep customization and unlocks available, but they can’t mount a comeback in the fourth for this one.