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EA Sports
EA Tiburon
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Release Date:
September 29, 2015

There was a time when NBA Live was a dominant sports franchise, even rivaling the popularity and quality of EA’s other blockbuster IP, Madden . However, the series has inexplicably fallen off the map in the past five years. There was talk about a reboot in the form of NBA Elite 11 but it never happened and the franchise disappeared for a few more years, only to come back with the very mediocre NBA Live 14 . Now, EA Tiburon has tried to rebuild Live ’s good name with another effort and while it still falls well shy of the quality to which we’re accustomed, at least it’s a step forward. If you’re an optimist, you’ll manage to spot glimpses of promise for the future.

Perhaps the first reason to be optimistic is the graphics presentation. It’s actually quite a bit better than NBA Live 14 (and last year's installment) and in fact competes very well with this year’s NBA 2K16 . Granted, the latter still has it beat but the animations are excellent in the latest Live entry and stadium detail is pretty impressive. The visuals nicely capture the general ebb and flow of a basketball game, with authentic player movement and speed. Player models are a little lacking, though; these don’t appear realistic enough to me. However, aside from that small downside, I think EA Tiburon did a decent job with the technical presentation. For the most part, it looks and feels like real b-ball.

The audio category is another highlight, as the soundtrack is a really cool mix of hip-hop and electronic music, and there are actually 22 somewhat diverse songs. The announcing isn’t on par with the latest 2K Sports effort, as the commentators seem more wooden and less accurate overall, but it’s not exactly a huge drawback. The on-court effects are sharp and believable and the only downside is the occasional balancing issue. The bottom line is that while NBA Live 16 won’t blow you away with its graphical and sound excellence, both categories offer solidarity and proficiency and yes, that’s progress. I just wish they could’ve made a bit more progress, so EA can compete favorably with 2K.

And unfortunately, gameplay is where we find the most glaring problems, which is why Live still isn’t where it needs to be. The bottom line is that the core mechanics simply need more work, as the basic control is lacking. Maneuverability, responsiveness and accessibility are all questionable in one way or another, and it’s obvious the instant you set foot on the court. The players simply don’t move and react as they should. On offense and defense, there remain issues that detract from an experience that’s supposed to be a simulator, and you’re always on the verge of rolling your eyes. There are times when you just want to smirk and go, “come on, really?” It’s not terrible but when you’re on the verge of such a reaction every half-hour or so, you know something is definitely amiss.

I can’t decide if the developers wanted to emphasize momentum physics, thereby creating a basketball game that was indeed true-to-life. If this was one of their goals, they overshot; if it wasn’t a consideration, then it’s simply a big mistake. Every player seems to have concrete in his shoes because he never responds with the speed and flexibility of a finely-tuned professional athlete. Additionally, the game makes it very difficult to get into the flow of the action, often leaving you frustrated with the unfortunately unresponsive controls. I’m all for momentum physics and authenticity of movement but I can pretty much guarantee that LeBron can move faster than that . He can be sluggish, as we’ve seen, but this is a tad ridiculous.

Then there’s a button-mapping issue that I just can’t stand. I have no idea who thought it would be a good idea to use the right analog stick to spin around a defender, but it doesn’t work well. The control system just doesn’t make much sense. On top of which, certain mechanics just don’t work at all: I’m convinced I executed certain moves correctly on the controller but that wasn’t reflected on the screen. There’s nothing worse than having sluggish, seemingly uninterested and uncoordinated players, combined with an iffy button scheme. The result simply feels messy and annoying, as you desperately try to come to terms with a gamepad that, for years, has been comfortable and friendly. EA needs to take a cue from 2K’s fluidity and streamlined control, plain and simple.