Dreams on the Hardwood: Playing NBA 2K14

Article written by:
Romeo Moran
Author: Romeo Moran
Ro is our resident wrestling geek. Don't mess with him; he'll elbow drop you out of nowhere.

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The Philips Arena is electric tonight. The usually lukewarm Atlanta crowd is on fire this evening, because I’ve stepped foot on the court – I am the Alpha Hawk, ascendant savior point guard of a so-so Atlanta team Eastern Conference stalwarts steamroll every April. The offense flows like electricity through my fingers, because sometimes it seems like I’m the only one who can offer a spark to ignite this group.

The ball’s in my hands. I come through the lane, take a confident step towards the basket, and offer the rock to the rim, a precious sacrifice to some fickle basketball god so that he may bless our team with two points; and later on, maybe a win.

It doesn’t get there. The deity has already deemed my offering unworthy, as it is swatted out of my hands by a bigger defender. Nope. Not this time.

It’s tough to be a 5’7” point guard in the NBA.

You know what it is, though – it’s me playing myself in MyCareer mode. As per my own tradition, I play a realistic career every year: my actual height at 5’7”, the closest weight I could come to (around 175 lbs.), hailing from the Philippines. The only thing that isn’t realistic is my basketball ability, but isn’t the chance to completely blow yourself out of proportion the main hook of a sports video game?

MyCareer mode is one of two main game modes that attract NBA 2K players every year, and for good reason: which average Joe couch potato relaxing in front of the screen with controller in hand, doesn’t have dreams of athletic superstardom? MyCareer is one path, and the other, Association mode, is by means of being the Don, overseeing team operations as a franchise GM. Two ways – winning on the court, and winning behind the scenes.

I always play MyCareer first, wearing myself out to the point of boredom before I move on to managing a team in Association. This time, I started on All-Star difficulty, as opposed to starting in Pro (the “normal” setting) as I knew it would be easy to keep winning if I did. Nearly half a season later, however, I find that it is both the best and worst decision I’ve made regarding this game. (Or, at least, this mode.)

After a decent showing at the annual Rookie Showcase (in my own little world, it’s very funny how I keep playing in this game every year) I was drafted a little late in the first round by Atlanta. I liked this move mainly because the Hawks were a team whose point guard situation was a little more, well, fluid; Jeff Teague, as much of a talented player he is, isn’t a superstar PG I couldn’t move past in the rotation. I didn’t have this same room to move up in other possible teams, such as Boston or Portland, who are captained by an All-Star and a Rookie of the Year point guard, respectively.

The thing with the coaching A.I. in this mode is that it’s good with simple tasks. Benchwarmer, project player, role player? You don’t get a lot of minutes to work with, so the A.I. substitutes you freely, and whether the team wins or loses isn’t on you. But start playing better – which is a guarantee in this game – and the A.I. will have you playing more minutes than your young self can handle.

It gets worse when your good play can’t salvage your teammates’ terrible outings, as in my current game. All-Star difficulty is cruel in its oppression – these Atlanta Hawks, who made it to the playoffs last year, shouldn’t be this bad. Paul Millsap, an above-average forward, has trouble finishing around the rim and in the low block. Kyle Korver, a deadeye shooter from long range, does not have his prized accuracy in this difficulty, and most of the shots he takes are clankers despite having great looks. Al Horford is a great post finisher, but you pass him the ball and he doesn’t always take the shot, or the shot doesn’t always go in. The A.I. likes to stand around on defense, letting easy drives into the lane and simple reach-out rebounds go. It’s all hair-pullingly frustrating, and it’s exactly due to this that I, an undersized point guard, can call myself the Alpha Hawk.

But all of that is largely not new. These are things that have been constant since MyCareer was fleshed out to be the substantial game mode it is today, and the only introduction of note – or only introduction at all – in the mode this year is the Social Media Challenge, where fellow players talk smack and say you can’t score this much or get a double-double against them on your next game. Proving them wrong, of course, means extra Superstar Points to spend on improving your stats or whatnot, and the addition really makes it easier to, well, stop sucking.

Interestingly, however, the mode that has hardly been changed is still a better option than the new feature positioned to be the selling point of the game. 2K14 has a Path to Greatness mode starring the cover star, LeBron James, as you pick two possible career paths for him: one where he remains with the Heat and builds the rest of the Miami dynasty, or another where he leaves the team after the 2013-2014 season and tries his luck with the New York Knicks.

It’s all very self-serving for the league’s current #1 superstar, and will most likely not entice any non-LeBron fans – there are other big stars in the league, and it would have also been a great experience if their possible futures were looked into as well. Imagine directing the destinies of young guys like Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant, and maybe also Steph Curry and Paul George? It looks like a lot of thought was poured into creating the fiction LeBron’s Path to Greatness thrives in, as is par for the NBA 2K course, and it would’ve been just as interesting as to provide the other stars as options.

But the biggest knock on the game mode is how it feels like a story you’re only playing through. Game performance, stats, and wins and losses do not determine what happens in either of the alternate realities, and this is a glaring oversight that the developers should not have intentionally allowed considering how dynamic they’ve made both MyCareer and Association modes.

In the timeline where LeBron leaves Miami, I would appreciate it if LeBron’s play in his last Miami run would affect the teams vying for his contract; I would appreciate it best if the player got to choose where LeBron would go next. The straightforwardness of it all sticks out in this game – perhaps even in the entire genre – like a sore thumb, and it’s a waste of a good idea.

Gamers like exploring what ifs, but most of all, they like the idea that they are in control of fate. It’s also very ironic that the NBA superstar of this generation – whose own storyline’s biggest theme was that he could do anything he wants when it comes to his career – is the face of a mode where the player is only really watching.

Nevertheless, the entire package is still playable. It might not have changed that much, and perhaps it’s not worth its full price, but it’s still a basketball game worth playing. Get it for the great, professionally thorough commentary by Kevin Harlan, Clark Kellogg, and Steve Kerr. Get it for the rookies and the fun stories you’ll hear about them from the aforementioned commentary. Get it for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Meanwhile, I’ll be plugging away in the hardwood of my home court, doing my best, playing my hardest and carrying the team on my red-and-navy-blue wings. In this game, I am able to do almost anything I want, making magic in arenas across America as the Alpha Hawk. I will be the next Nate Robinson, the next Spud Webb, the next Muggsy Bogues, and in doing so, I will be the first Ro Moran in the process. I will cut and slash and drive, no matter how big the defender is in front of me. The basketball gods will reward my tenacity, and my virtual legend will be immortalized and etched in the walls of their Olympus. Even if it’s merely within the confines of a video game, it’s still something – something a lot of us dream of.

That’s why we’re playing this game, right?

   

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