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NBA 2K14

Starting Next Gen With A Swish

What a long, strange trip my first NBA season has been. After dominating my rival at the rookie showcase, I expected to go in the top five, but after the Phoenix Suns shunned me for that same rival, the New Orleans Pelicans grabbed me sixth overall. Being a high draft pick, I expected to get regular minutes, but with Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon cemented in the starting lineup, I was relegated for the bench for my first few games. Only after Gordon twisted an ankle did I get my first taste of the NBA experience.

From here, unpredictability was the rule of the day. I faithfully suffered through rookie hazing by agreeing to carry Jason Smith's luggage for every road game, but drew the line at wearing a clown nose during press conferences. A few good games boosted my league popularity and earned me more minutes, but then I hit a slump. During this rough patch Holiday acted like a true leader, taking me under his wing and spending off-hours watching film and practicing with me.

My game rebounded, and after a particularly strong performance some teammates encouraged me to join them out on the town. I obliged and woke up the next day with a crippling hangover already late for practice. Photos emerged on social media of me leaving a club at 6 a.m., and management was none too pleased. At a sit-down with the GM following my transgression, he suspended me a game for conduct detrimental to the team. Later at practice, I had a heated run-in with Smith, the player who invited me out, after taking him to the floor while running though his pick. Reports of the scuffle emerged on social media, again casting my reputation in a negative light. Welcome to the life.

Since it debuted the MyPlayer mode in NBA 2K10, Visual Concepts has been at the vanguard of the single-player sports experience, allowing you to shape the career of a professional basketball player from his performance on the court to his conduct in press conferences. To kick off the next generation, the studio has doubled down on this mode (redubbed MyCareer last year) by incorporating these storytelling elements, which hasn't been present in a video game since NBA 06, the Sony title that chronicled the life of an NBA player but never had the gameplay to support it.

While playing the actual games is still the centerpiece of MyCareer, you now get a deeper glimpse into the life of a professional athlete by managing relationships with teammates, conversing with the general manager and coach, and carrying a rivalry throughout your career. Much of this is handled via cutscenes with a Mass Effect-like dialogue system. All of your choices have repercussions. If you lean on the general manager for more minutes, it may fracture your relationship with your head coach. If you don't stand up for a teammate who gets fouled hard in the middle of a game, your chemistry with the team suffers but you avoid taking a hit to your public reputation. Turning down that offer to hit the town after the game costs you a valuable opportunity to bond with teammates, but doing so also keeps you out of trouble. 

This depth of storytelling creates a greater degree of immersion than any other sports game I've ever played. That said, the mode would benefit from another layer of polish. Some major locker-room moments, such as star players getting injured or the general manager trading for new blood, go by without so much as a news update. The dialogue also jarringly alternates between spoken segments with the fictitious characters and written conversations with real players and coaches (an understandable hurdle that won't likely be cleared any time soon). Because the story plays such a big role in the mode now, you cannot sim to key games like you could in previous versions, either.

Visual Concepts took a similar kitchen sink approach to rebuilding MyGM. Much like the MyCareer mode, this new version of Association mode puts you in the role of a fledgling general manager responsible for overseeing the draft, signing free agents, keeping players happy, and working together with a staff that oversees finances, coaching, and training. Many of your duties are surfaced in a conversation system, so you don't spend hours diving into menus to make sure you don't miss a scouting opportunity or a chance to sign your star player to a contract extension. As you win games and perform tasks assigned to you by the owner, you earn virtual currency (VC) to spend on upgrading skills that affect your ability to sign free agents, make palatable trade offers, improve team facilities, and manage the organization's budget.

If you play every game, it's easy to progress. By simming, you can only earn the paltry amount of VC awarded for completing the ownership goals. This leaves you at a major disadvantage when it comes to upgrading your abilities, spending VC on player improvements, or responding to the wishes of your coach. Rick Adelman constantly requested that I build a film room so the players could study, but in three years of managing the organization via simming I still didn't have enough VC to even unlock the ability to buy new facilities.

Though I generally appreciate MyGM's new approach to franchise modes, it has its share of birth pangs. Sometimes the conversations you have seem completely out of context. While my team was on a 9-1 tear, my starting point guard (who has a happiness rating of 100) came to my office to complain about the team's direction. You also can't look at the list of prospects during the draft, which makes it tough to assess whether or not you want to trade up or down. Since the mode operates on auto-saves, if you accidentally hit the wrong option when negotiation a contract you have zero recourse for going back. If you set up your MyGM while your console is online you have to be connected online to continue since it operates on VC, which is stored on 2K servers. As an alternative you could create a purely offline MyGM save file by disconnecting your console and starting up the mode.

On the court, don't expect much of a difference between the next-gen version of NBA 2K14 and the current generations outside of the drastically improved graphics. Player models look fantastic, especially the facial animations. The only other major difference is I saw more clipping than I remember seeing while reviewing the 360 version, particularly when players are banging in the paint.

If you prefer playing online, your options aren't great. Most of the basics are here, including MyTeam, head-to-head matchups, and an abridged online season that caps out at 56 games. A blacktop mode called The Park (which is oddly hidden within MyCareer mode) lets you play pickup games with your MyPlayer, but it lacks a proper league structure and suffers from wildly inconsistent performance. I had trouble getting into The Park at all on most attempts, and when I finally was able to play a game the framerate was far from smooth. If you're looking for an online franchise mode, you're out of luck.

Rather than simply port the current generation version of NBA 2K14, Visual Concepts deserves praise for drastically renovating its two most popular modes for its next-generation console debut. Both MyGM and MyCareer are promising redesigns that take the franchise and single-player modes in interesting new directions, making this the definitive version of NBA 2K14 to own if you prefer to play this way. But once again, Visual Concepts has left online fans wanting.

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