The sad saga of NBA Live: Will it conclude, or continue?
Back in its heyday on the Sega Genesis, NBA Live was a fine series for Electronic Arts, taking basketball in a fun new direction with an isometric camera angle and plenty of high-flying dunks. The series was also pretty good during the PSOne/PS2 era, with enough decent sim action to keep us intrigued.
Once the series entered this generation, however, it hit a snag. Part of that snag was due to the pure superiority of 2K Sports' NBA 2K series, which, year after year, continued to be the go-to series for video game basketball. EA Sports tried to keep up, and, in 2010, announced NBA Elite 11, a series that would bring the company back to basketball prominence. However, a week – a week! – before its release, a hilarious video hit the web, where a player was stuck in a Jesus pose on the court, and feedback from users that played the downloadable demo felt that a lot of things were lacking. As a result, NBA Elite 11 was canned, and NBA Jam was released in its place.
Two years later, EA Sports, looking to make up for the gaffe, announced NBA Live 13, skipping the "Elite" brand and promising a return to form. Early buzz about the game was good, with some pro players insisting they tried it and liked what they saw. But then E3 rolled around, and there was no sign of the game – no trailers, no playable kiosks, nothing. And there was literally no word of mouth about the game after that, just a few screenshots to tide over the fans. News came down months later that NBA Live 13 was nothing more than a memory, canned for the second straight time.
Now, cut to this week. EA Sports, possibly looking to save face once more, announced during an earnings call that NBA Live was, in fact, coming back. For serious this time. And to make sure the company meant business, it's due for release on "next-gen" platforms, with a new engine intact. And it would be making a stop at E3 this year, though it's not clear whether it's a behind-closed-doors thing, playable on the floor, or only present in video form.
NBA Live came from some great roots, but as of late, the series has pretty much run aground, forcing EA to utilize NBA Jam in its place – a wise move, but hardly the simulation that many fans were looking forward to. Of course, EA does have some fierce competition from 2K Sports, who have stolen the thunder once more with NBA 2K13, getting rave reviews and paving the way for a huge franchise run from 2K Sports.
EA knows that the rocky history of NBA Live over the years, especially with the cancellation of Elite, even in its finished state, is working against the franchise. But there's more than that, especially when you consider that the company announced it for next-gen, rather than just the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (though seeing it on those platforms is quite possible, given how many people own them already).
On one hand, the move is rather ballsy, as it allows EA to perhaps get a jump on 2K Sports. Keep in mind, though, that 2K has been prepared for new hardware before, as it released NBA 2K13 on the Wii U about the same time as its arrival. So maybe it's cooking something for next-gen as well – though we won't see it at E3, since 2K won't have a booth this year. That said, EA could easily dominate the show.
But on the other hand, the pressure is severely on the development team. They couldn't get up to task with NBA Live through two attempts in the current generation. What makes EA possibly think it's ready for the next one? And even if they do manage to get a game released, could it live up to the technical standards that the new Xbox and PlayStation 4 will be setting? What if something goes wrong – or, worse yet, we run into another game-breaking glitch, like the "Jesus" one that plagued NBA Elite 11?
EA Sports has a lot to live up to with this latest NBA Live, and E3 looks like the place where we'll see it either make or break – that is, if it appears publicly at all. Here's hoping that the company delivers on the kind of gameplay that earlier versions did, and that the presentation can really match what we see in NBA games as of late. Considering NBA 2K's superiority over the years, that's a high bar to live up to.
Still, we've seen upsets before. For the longest time, NHL 2K dominated the boards, but EA eventually wrestled away control with its NHL franchise, capping a significant run with NHL 13 and forcing 2K to cower back to the locker room. Anything is possible.
We'll see where the dust settles when NBA Live arrives later this year.