Video Game Deathmatch: NBA 2K16 vs. NBA Live 16

NBA Live 16
NBA Live 16. EA Sports

To casual gamers, this may seem like a solid, fair match-up. To those who know sports game, it’s a bit uneven. “NBA 2K” has been dominating the basketball sports game market for so long that they essentially pushed EA Sports’ “NBA Live” out of the picture entirely, resulting in a few years in which the latter wasn’t even released. And games like “NBA 2K14” and “NBA 2K15” aren’t just good; they’re among the best sports games ever released.

And so when I first approached pitting these two titles against each other in a which-one-you-should-buy deathmatch (check out Vol. 1 here), I felt a little bad about it. It’s like buying tickets to the Sacramento Kings vs. Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s probably going to be a blow-out. That should teach me to ever underestimate the folks at EA Sports again, for they definitely hold their own this year against a down season for the 2K franchise. However, the intangibles keep the surging “NBA Live” from actually completing the upset in the end, although they’ve certainly made it so next year’s competition will be a hotter ticket.

NBA Live 16

Why not start with the underdog? The first thing you’ll notice about “NBA Live” is how much it looks and plays like “NBA 2K.” The button control is largely the same and the players move in a similar manner, although they often fall into awkward animations that aren’t as smooth as “2K.” Of course, there are only so many ways to crack an egg, and so each game is bound to share slight variations on the same modes from franchise control (I played several games of a Bulls season on both titles) to a variation on card-collecting like Ultimate Team to online play to individual player progression.

So if each game contains the same depth of mode and customization (with the small difference that you can actually put your face into “NBA Live 16” with an app) than the differences will come on the court.

“NBA Live 16” feels more like an arcade game than a loyal simulation. It’s easier to draw up plays, get into the paint, draw the foul, make the lay-up, etc.

It moves more quickly, although that’s not necessarily a compliment for those looking for realism over high scores. One thing I did notice is that the fellow team member’s AI was notably stronger. Players you’re not controlling move around the court smoothly, confidently and accurately—getting into position, rebounding, etc. Sometimes I want to scream at my fellow players in “2K” games, although, again, perhaps this is more “realistic.” It’s also worth noting that EA Sports and ESPN have a contract together, so the post-game wrap-up in “NBA Live” is way cooler complete with ESPN graphics and instant highlights/news.

Where “Live” starts to get annoying is in the glitches and presentation. The broadcast audio is notably inferior to “2K.” I heard Jeff Van Gundy not only say the same thing in a game but the same thing in a quarter. You’ll often notice the crowd barely moving, like the crowds of sports games from a decade ago. And there are notable glitches, including one in which an opposing player repeatedly lacked not only a shirt but an abdomen. It was just head, shoulders, blank space, legs. I've also had two corrupted save files already from updates, which is UNACCEPTABLE in 2015.

The game also doesn’t behave like “2K” when it comes to inherently obvious basketball things like instant fouling a close game with seconds to go. It’s a major step forward for EA Sports to get back into the NBA world with this degree of playable entertainment value, but they need to finetune the entire package if they’re going to compete.

NBA 2K16

This means the competition is an unqualified success then, right? Hold on a minute. The first song I heard while the game included the phrase, “And the game won’t change; it’s the same old thing.” Does that apply to this iteration of “NBA 2K”? Do you need to upgrade if you have “NBA 2K15” for the PS4?

The quick answer is no. The game looks nearly identical, down to the menu screens and the gameplay. I was woefully addicted to the last “NBA 2K,” playing almost an entire, frustrating season of Chicago basketball, and this year’s version looks and feels almost exactly the same. The camera angle is a little closer, and it’s actually more difficult for some reason (it’s harder to drive to the basket) but it’s 95% the same game.

So, what about that 5%? 2K does claim that there are new “rim to ball physics,” brand new AI, and over 10,000 new animations. There is also a new online ranking system, 12 new legendary teams, and 2K ProAm, a mode with five-on-five competitive gaming. That may sound like a lot, but I’m telling you that in-game it’s not that different. If anything, I found it slightly less enjoyable than “2K15.” It felt like the AI was more frustrating, playcalling more difficult and lay-ups inconsistent.

However, if “NBA 2K16” represents a slight downgrade from “NBA 2K15,” it’s still a championship-winning team. It still contains the best audio broadcast presentation of ANY sports game, way more fluid animations than “Live,” and the same depth of modes. So, in the end, even though “NBA 2K16” didn’t blow me away, it gets the edge over the return of EA Sports. My hope is that the overall quality of “NBA Live 16,” especially after they patch Mr. Stomachless, forces “NBA 2K16” to really improve for next year. As we all know, the best thing for an athlete is competition.

Winner: “NBA 2K16”

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