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NBA 2K14 is a mobile port of probably the best NBA basketball game on consoles. But unfortunately, just like last year's game, the iOS version of NBA 2K14 looks great on its surface, but fails at nearly everything that makes the console versions great. This is especially insulting when the game goes for the premium price of $7.99 at the time of this review.
The game has some good qualities
There are a few positive things about NBA 2K14 for iOS, and before I get to the negatives, I'll talk about them here. One is the overall look. While you're not going to get the smooth graphics found on consoles, 2K Sports has done a good job of making the arenas and teams look pretty good. As you play, the game has cool graphical details like reflections on the hardwood floors, there are great player animations with signature moves for star players, and the faces are pretty recognizable for most of the players. In other words, at least it looks good while you're playing.
The other redeeming quality of this game is that it's probably the most authentic basketball simulation on mobile devices. Unfortunately, that isn't saying much. There simply are no other games in the App Store that can compare with the visual realism, sounds, and NBA action in NBA 2K14. It's pretty much the only show in town, and while I admit that it's cool to be able to play a game with my favorite team on my iPad or iPhone, it's the gameplay and other features that make the $7.99 price tag seem way too high.
Fortunately, there are a few game modes to choose from to keep it somewhat interesting. You can play single exhibition games, choose a team to play a full season (and continue on to subsequent seasons), a couple of special modes where you can play as Lebron James (the star on the cover of NBA 2K14), and Bluetooth or online multiplayer.
Lebron James special content
This content is called Path to Greatness and is divided up into two modes where you play as James with no player switching. Heat Dynasty (because the Heat were last year's champions) lets you play through consecutive championship series to see how many times the Heat can get back-to-back championships. The game chooses likely Western Conference champions that would face the Heat each year, starting with the Houston Rockets. With each game, you'll have three additional challenges that require, for example, that you keep a certain player under 15 points.
Fantastic Journey lets you experience challenges for each year as it follows James through each season on the road to the championship, with landmark battles against big-name teams. Each of these games also has an additional set of three challenges. Heat fans will probably enjoy these modes the most, but what makes them less fun than they could be is my next subject: gameplay.
Gameplay and announcers are both lacking
The main problem with NBA 2K14 is the oversimplified gameplay (compared with on consoles), making it more of an arcade game than a simulation. You can't call plays, which means you'll mostly be going for one-on-one matchups. Computer-controlled players come off picks occasionally to give you the feel of orchestrated plays, but it's not enough to formulate any sort of strategy. Even when you want to pass to a cutting player, there is no way to pass to specific players beyond pointing the control pad in the direction of the player, which -- on a touch-screen device -- isn't precise at all.
There are also no skill move buttons, making even one-on-one matchups difficult. You can get your players to make dribble crossovers by randomly moving the gamepad around, but even when you succeed, it feels like an accident.
While not relating to actual gameplay, the announcers are probably the most annoying element in the game. When you make a successful shot, for example, the announcer will call out the number rather than the name of the player. So even in the specialized Lebron James content, you'll hoist up a three, only to find the announcer doesn't know the featured player's name: "Number six!" Oddly, the announcer's amnesia goes away during fouls, which makes it all the more annoying that there are no names called during regular gameplay. I also noticed a pretty big bug. At one point Jeremy Lin was shooting two free throws, and after his first, the announcer shouted out "Number six!" presumably from the shot I made the previous trip down the floor (I was playing Lebron James on the Heat). Audio glitches like this one seemed to happen fairly often during many of the games I played.
Is it worth buying?
What all this amounts to is an adequate arcade basketball game that looks good and will provide some enjoyment, but lacks the depth that would give it much replay value. It can be fun to play a quick game with your favorite team if you can get past the shallow arcade gameplay, but it will get boring quickly. In other words, the game is fun, but it sure isn't $7.99 worth of fun.
In the end, NBA 2K14 seems like a lazy port of an otherwise fantastic game, with little beyond being able to play licensed teams and players using basic controls. Some might say it's the most we can hope for in a mobile version of the award-winning game, but to me it needs a little more depth to measure up to the legacy of the console versions.