Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher: 2K Sports
ESRB Rating: E, for Everyone
Grade: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
For a franchise experiencing exactly zero competition at the moment ("NBA Live" returns from hiatus when the new consoles roll out), you can't fault 2K Sports from reveling in the moment as king of the pro-hoops mountain. Others have gone the arcade route and done street-ball games featuring pro players, but no one can compete with how the "NBA 2K" series simulates hard-court action.
The folks at 2K continue to tweak and alter the gameplay to create as lifelike an experience as possible. In this edition, the game goes all-in on the dual-stick dribbling and movement it flirted with last year. Fully committing to it means players hit the lane and attempt spin moves, up-and-under shots and floaters with more realism than ever.
Plays unfold in incredible ways: I hit a teammate breaking for the hoop on a backdoor run during a broken play and it was exactly what I wanted him to do, but it wasn't drawn up. Considering that in real life this guy is more prone to just stand and stare hoping some form of magic occurs, it was refreshing to see the artificial intelligence read the situation and respond better than a real-life counterpart. This level of freedom and movement from players makes the games flow in an exciting new way.
After several years of living the Michael Jordan experience in this franchise, his greatness steps aside to let the king take the spotlight. LeBron James gets a gameplay mode all his own, with two paths to direct him toward NBA immortality. One path keeps James in Miami to continue building a dynasty in South Beach, while the other route sends him to another team as a free agent. The mode remains fascinating, no matter which way you go.
The in-game commentary gets better each year. The trio of Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr offers insights to the teams and individual players. But after about a dozen or so games, you likely will want to blast some music rather than listen to them drone on. Arenas continue to improve from a lighting and interactivity standpoint, with games looking more like broadcasts and less like digital facsimiles.
Overall, the game has pushed hardware and software limits as much as it can before the new consoles dramatically shift our perceptions of what is possible in video-game visuals. If you plan to wait before jumping into the Xbox One or PS4, know that "NBA 2K14" won't disappoint you through this next NBA season.