NBA Live 16 Review – Hitting the Hardcourt in Style

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The NBA season is rapidly approaching and what better way to tip-off then to jump into a virtual basketball game. Did NBA Live 16 improve upon it’s gains from last season, or did it fall flat on its face? Read our review to find out.

The NBA Live series goes back a long ways and started out as an annually released and top rated NBA game. After taking a few years off, the mess that was NBA Live 14 did not go over well with gamers. It had more than its share of faults and fails and really hurt the NBA Live brand name. EA took this harsh, but warranted, criticism to heart and retooled the game starting with a series of patches that were released during NBA Live 14‘s run that addressed quite a few of the concerns that gamers were more than happy to tell them about. Through the course of the ’14 season, the game improved to a playable level. In the end, ‘14 felt more like a beta than an actual game release. NBA Live 15 released prior to the next NBA season and all of the behind the scenes work done on ’14 helped make it a much better game and gave EA a solid platform to build upon with future releases.

Before even jumping into the game, we downloaded the free NBA Live 16 Companion App (iTunes/Google) featuring GameFaceHD. This app works in conjunction with NBA Live 16‘s Rising Star, Summer Circuit and Live Run modes and gives you a level of player customization not found in most other sorts titles. The face scan feature worked flawlessly for us and it’s uncanny watching yourself playing in a virtual NBA game. Character creation also lets you customize body size, hair and add tattoos and such, giving you the ability to create a unique character that is all you. You’ll get to choose your position, with a subset of options depending on that position such as height and weight, with your physical stats being affected by these numbers. A seven foot center will never have a speed of ninety nine while a six foot one point guard will never have ninety nine strength.

I wish I still had that hair

One thing that EA does better than other games in this genre is its gameplay presentation, player animations and graphics. This is the best looking NBA game on the market and its obvious that a lot of work has gone into player scans in an attempt to fully replicate players on the court. There were a few players that hadn’t been scanned yet, and if you’re a fan of the NBA you’ll probably spot them pretty easily, but for the most part the players looked exceptionally like their real life counterparts. If your favorite player looks a little off, don’t worry too much as EA continues to scan players throughout the season and adds them in with game updates once the scan is ready for prime time.

Rising Star mode starts you out with a rookie showcase to  see how you match up against other players available in the draft. Once completed, you’ll earn a player grade and then be drafted into the NBA. We ran through this scenario a couple times, and we were one-for-two on ending up on our team of choice. Once drafted, you’ll start out as a role player on the bench, with minimal playing time. How you spend those minutes, and how well you play, will determine your progression as a player. The game uses a dynamic grading system that starts you out at fifty and then moves up or down according to your choices on the floor. An assist will move you up a notch the same amount as driving to the hoop for a lay-up, so you don’t have to be Kobe the Points machine or Steve Nash the assist master, but can fall somewhere in between and still end up with more playing time.

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Upon completion of each quarter of play, where you got any court time, you are given an overall grade based on your playing time. Throughout all of your minutes you’ll also be earning Skill Points. Skill points are used to upgrade your custom character, and this really is the key to having the most NBA like experience regardless of which mode you decide to play. We strongly encourage you to play through a season of Rising Star with your character before taking them online as this will give you the boosts in skill you’ll need to be a decent online player. Upgrades come at different intervals and not at one small step at a time, with special gear unlocks and bonuses as well, so taking you custom character to the next level won’t take too long. Sticking to your man on defense becomes much easier once you have upgraded the defensive skills of your player, so keep that in mind if you are having a hard time on defense.

While playing with AI on the floor, you’ll probably find yourself a little disheartened at times when the guy your covering fakes you out and a team mate just watches him take it to the hoop when he should have at least tried to defend the basket. We’ve seen this go both ways, where sometimes the AI makes a move to defend and other times just enjoys the show, but in real life you would think he would defend the hoop every time. That has really been one of our main issues with gameplay as the AI, regardless of what their name is, can sometimes seem less skilled than they should have been. EA has been pretty good about addressing past concerns with simple issues like this so hopefully its something they can address with a patch.

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The physics of the game were upgraded and polished from ’15 and added in more than a few new items. Shot feedback is a welcome addition to help you time that release better and make you an overall better shooter. Whether it’s a free throw or a defended jumper, knowing how close you were to that sweet 100% release point will give you an idea of what the proper timing should be. Don’t expect to drain those threes at will if your shooting skill needs work though as that is still a determining factor on shot success. Your skills go a long ways in determining how the game plays so don’t expect to be able to just hold L2/LT on defense and just stick to your guy. Until your skills are upgraded, the guy can get away fairly easily. His skill level is a determining factor as well so don’t expect to be able to stop someone like Damian Lillard with a low rated rookie.

Playcalling and running the called play was made considerably easier this time around, with graphics and directional cues being added to the floor to assist you in that endeavor. As a point guard, you are given the option of either quick selecting a suggested play or selecting a play you want from the playbook. You can target specific plays that are designed for a given player or a play designed for that last second, game winning shot. Whatever you select, the play will be assisted with those dynamic graphics on the floor to help you run it successfully. No need to memorize each and every play and that is a definite plus. If the play doesn’t work out, you can always call for a pick to get an open look or open a lane to the hoop (hold L2/LT) and the pick graphic will show you which way to roll once your pick gets set.

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This year NBA LIVE 16 introduces LIVE Pro-Am, featuring the return of LIVE Run (5-on-5 matches) and the brand-new Summer Circuit. LIVE Pro-Am provides both competitive and cooperative online modes, giving you a chance to get in a run with friends on some of North America’s most iconic courts. Take in the sun and sand of Venice Beach, or head to the hallowed grounds of Rucker Park, or one of five other well known venues. LIVE Pro-Am games are designed to be fast-paced, so rather than playing a full four quarters all games go to 21, just like you’d see in pick-up gyms or out on the playgrounds. You’ll also earn RP and SP during these games, so you’ll be able to continue to make your guy look and play better.

Summer Circuit is designed as a cooperative online experience and really is best played with a group of guys that know each others tendencies and play styles. As you travel throughout Summer Circuit you’ll face off against NBA talent that have called each court home or otherwise have a special connection to the region. Each series of games culminates in a boss battle against some of each court’s most notable alums. For instance, the last game at Rucker Park sees you squaring off against a team led by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and the Venice Beach finale pits players against Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant and the NBA LIVE 16 cover athlete himself, Russell Westbrook.

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As you play games in Live Pro-Am and Rising Star you’ll also earn Reward Points that can be used in The Live Spot to unlock new shirts, shorts, sneakers and more to customize your player. The Live Spot features thousands of pieces of licensed gear from all of the NBA brands in use, including Jordan, NIKE, Adidas, Under Armour, Reebok, Converse and more. The options here seem endless with throwbacks to cool attire and enough stuff to make just about everyone happy. EA paid attention to detail here the same as everywhere else and these items all look great.

The card based Ultimate Team mode has returned for this go round and is always a fun way to build a dream team or recreate a current roster of players. New Specialist players, short-term players, throwbacks and more will give you plenty of squad options, and a helpful GM checklist will get you started on the right foot. Specialists can be used to shut down an opponent and the GM checklist is a must to complete for anyone new to Ultimate Team. Player packs are unlocked for completing different challenges within the game itself, so you can play UT and unlock new players at the same time.

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The NBA Live series has had its ups and downs over the past few years, and while NBA Live 16 isn’t without its flaws, it is a good looking game with a slick presentation that sets the bar in that regard. With only a few minor complaints, the other developers in this genre batter watch out because NBA Live 16 is is a real contender.

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