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NBA 2K14 Review: King of the court

NBA 2K14 Screenshot - lebron james nba 2k14

For the first time in quite a while, 2K Sports' NBA 2K franchise will have some competition -- not that the publisher needed any, as the series has shown steady improvement with each installment. Regardless, NBA 2K14 is no longer the lone option for basketball fans, and for that reason, Visual Concepts and 2K Sports had to go big. That's just what they did.

To be the best, you need to have the best, and at the forefront of NBA 2K14 is LeBron James, arguably the best active player in the NBA.  Aside from just being on the cover, the major new mode this year just so happens to be "LeBron: Path to Greatness." Seeing as LeBron is just entering the peak of his career, 2K has opted for an approach that's quite the opposite from what we saw in 2K12's Jordan Challenge. Rather than relive King James' biggest career moments as we did with Jordan, Path to Greatness lets you play out what could have been.

The mode gives the option of staying with the Miami Heat and building a dynasty -- the path he took when he made the infamous decision -- or testing the free-agent waters. Opting for the latter results in LeBron signing with the Knicks and eventually winding up on the Cavs. Both result in some fantastic would-be scenarios, including a Knicks roster with LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard. While it's not as iconic as reliving some of His Airness' greatest moments, it's a fun look at what could have been. As a Knicks fan, I appreciate seeing what might have happened had James not signed with Miami.

NBA 2K14

Path to Greatness aside, the majority of "features" are improvements to the core systems. While the lack of new modes is a letdown, Visual Concepts' focus on polishing already stellar gameplay is much welcome. The result is one of the best basketball simulations I've ever played.

Defense has been tightened up, and your players now swarm the ball. No longer are fast breaks exploitable, and playing the ball doesn't result in nearly as many fouls as before. Blocking the ball from behind is also a nice addition.

On the offensive side of things, new controls allow for some new features, including no-look and cross-court passes with Path Assist. By holding LT/R2 and tapping the right stick in the direction you want to pass, you can pull off highlight-worthy plays. Just be warned, as ill-advised pass attempts can easily become turnovers.

NBA 2K14

Unfortunately for veteran NBA 2K players, you better be prepared to learn a new control scheme. For the third straight year, the basic shooting and passing mechanics have undergone changes. The right stick now handles shooting and skill moves (with no left-trigger modifer), while the left trigger, which once controlled when you shot, is now used to dictate when you pass.

Learning all of the new controls will definitely take some time, and it's incredibly frustrating that after all this time, 2K still hasn't settled on a control scheme. That said, the changes made to this year's controls are absolutely for the better. Perfecting these stick skills will result in some flashy moves, but a stiffer defense will likely pose a challenge in the early learning stages.

NBA 2K14's AI is not without its quirks. Players do make some dumb mistakes, but on the whole gameplay is improved (not that it had much wrong with it to begin with). NBA 2K has always been a stellar franchise, and this latest installment is just a reminder that EA has a uphill battle on the court with NBA LIVE. While we'll have to wait until the arrival of the Xbox One and PS4 to really make a comparison between the two, it's clear that NBA 2K14 on current-gen consoles is the king, much like its cover athlete.

[Reviewed on the Xbox 360]

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Matt Liebl You can follow Senior News Editor Matt Liebl on Twitter @Matt_GZ. He likes games, sports, musicals, and his adorable dog, Wrigley. And his wife.
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