Also On: Xbox One
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
What made NHL 16 great was that it knew how to make hockey exciting and engaging even if you weren't a fan of the sport. Like I wrote in my review, I don't know when I last sat down and watched Hockey Night in Canada or cared about who won gold at the Winter Olympics, but NHL 16 was so engrossing I didn't even mind watching the game just play out in front of me as my created player sat on the bench. It captured the speed and grace of the sport, while at the same time made it easy enough to play that even a relative novice could get into it.
NBA Live 16 does none of those things. Rather than portraying its sport in the best possible light — like NHL 16 does — it makes everything about basketball seem like a dull, grinding slog. The players move like they're trapped in molasses. The AI is braindead. The camera is slow. The controls are sluggish. Essentially, if there's a way for NBA Live 16 to make basketball more boring, you can be sure it does it.
I don't want to leave you thinking that NBA Live 16 is bad, though. No, bad would be memorable. It would be funny, provided you hadn't paid too much for it. It would have a personality. This game has none of those qualities. Rather, everything about the game feels dutiful, like it's doing what it does because it's what you expect out of a basketball game — nothing more, nothing less.
Take the career mode, for example. Instead of letting you feel like you have total control over your player's appearance, it gives you a few generic options — a few different skin tones, a few faces, a few facial hair options, and that's it. There is the possibility of taking a picture of yourself and importing it into the game, but…well, ask yourself if you've ever seen that pulled off correctly, and then think about whether this game, of all games, is going to be the one to figure it out.
From there, it's your generic road to NBA stardom. You get drafted in the first round, you start as a benchwarmer, you work your way up to an impressive career: it's precisely what you'd expect. If you want a deeper dive into the full NBA experience, you'd be better off looking at the NBA 2K series, because you're not getting that in NBA Live 16.
The other modes are equally perfunctory. GM Dynasty mode, quick play, Ultimate Team — nothing will wow you, but none of it could disappoint you if you don't hope for too much.
The gameplay doesn't offer much more than that. Everyone, from the lowliest created player to LeBron James or Kevin Durant, moves at a snail's pace; while this may prevent any terrifying glitches from happening, it also means that you constantly feel like you're watching the game unfold at half-speed. You'll get to see the occasional nice move, but even when they happen — say, when Stephen Curry blows past defenders to get to the basket — it feels oddly pre-rendered, as the animation takes over for that one specific player doing it, while everyone around him moves at their slower speed.
I probably shouldn't complain too much about the sluggish movements, though, since if the players moved any faster, I don't think the camera would be able to pick them up. For a game that takes place within an awfully confined space, it's astounding how poorly NBA Liva 16 picks up everyone's movements or shows the ability to tell you where players are at any given time. This is particularly an issue in the game's career mode, since the game frequently cuts to angles that don't include you, and you only know you're somewhere on the other side of the floor because an arrow is unhelpfully pointing in your general direction. If any aspect of the game could truly be said to be bad, this would be it.
The rest of NBA Live 16, though? It's just kind of…meh. There's nothing so terrible about it that you'll regret ever having picked it up — there are no Jesus Bynum moments, in other words — but it's doubtful you'll have much fun playing it either.