Woah, woah, slow down, have you read part one of this article yet? If the answer is yes, proceed onward. If the answer is no, well, go read it then.
Now, based on the pre-release review scores of 2K14 seen around the Internet, the common opinion of 2K’s newest release is that while it is still the best basketball game out there, it doesn’t improve upon previous installments as well as the earlier ones did in the past. As good as it is, it isn’t as drastically different as 2K11 and 2K13 were, and while the big changes may be saved for the next-gen versions, the current-gen versions have been referred to more than once as 2K13.5. But while on its own 2K14 seems to be disappointing, the game mode that is “LeBron’s Path to Greatness” is good for sports games as a whole, and should be the first step in a new direction.
For those of you who aren’t aware, LeBron’s has the option to opt-out off his six-year contract with the Miami Heat following the upcoming 2013-2014 season. What this means is that he can either stay with the Heat for three more seasons, or become a free agent. There are many reasons for him to stay or go, and many teams have openly expressed interest in him should he leave South Beach. His former team, the Cleveland Cavs, would be in a position to offer him a lot of money to play with a young, developing team and give him the chance to redeem himself to a city he promised a title to. The Lakers and the Knicks might not have their respective stars after next year, whether it be to amnesty or leaving on their own, so they could make offers. And while not able to offer as much money, the Bulls might be willing to amnesty some of their guys to bring in the King, and let him play for Coach Thibs and the only other player besides LeBron to win an MVP in the last four years.
Not only does the Path to Greatness mode run with this notion of another “Decision”, it goes all out with it. By that, I mean 2K comes up with some ridiculously awesome matchups and scenarios, such as the return of Allen Iverson, the emergence of one of the best defensive players of all time, and one of the craziest trio vs. trio matchups in history. All of these scenarios also come with relevant commentary from the broadcast trio. Steve Kerr, Clark Kellogg, and Kevin Harlan will discuss the recent fictional events as if they were real, which is a great touch. Each moment in LeBron’s fantasy timeline also comes with commentary from LeBron himself prior to the tip-off, with a between-the-events recap of how you got to that moment. If 2K were to include more fantasy elements in the future, I would gladly give up $60 a year. Hell, I might even buy a next-gen console just to see what else they’ve got planned.
But we’ve talked enough about basketball, especially given that the season hasn’t even started, so let’s talk football. The Michigan Wolverines are 4-0, the Chicago Bears are 3-1, and my fantasy team is 2-2, so with an overall record of 9-3 for the teams I care about, we’re off to a good start. But the Bears got off to a good start last year, and crashed and burned as the playoffs came ‘round, and there’s a chance the Madden series might as well.
I don’t have too much experience with the Madden series, with the exception of my freshman year fall semester when I mentored my neighbor across the hall. When it comes to enticing game modes, the series is a little lacking. The connected franchise mode, where you can participate as a player, a coach, and a GM all at the same time, is a great touch, and I like how much control you have over all aspects of an entire team, but connectivity isn’t as captivating as EA would like us to believe. It’s a shame that NCAA Football might have taken the field for the last time, but there was a fantasy mode where you could take a former Heisman winner and place him on any team you want, or have him go through the recruitment process like any other player. It reminded me of the “MJ: Creating a Legend” mode from NBA 2K11 where you controlled a rookie Jordan in today’s NBA. I would love to see Madden incorporate that into….wait, Madden 25 has that already? You can play as a rookie form of a legend in today’s NFL? And you can start the season with a live fantasy draft that effectively changes the landscape of the NFL before the rookie version of your Hall of Fame player even takes the field? I could take a rookie Walter Payton and put him on a Bears team with Tom Brady as the QB? Wow. EA and Madden made the right playcall here, and my fantasy boner cannot be contained.
As great as these Madden developments are, I’m worried about what the future entails. 2K14 and Madden 25 are both exploring fantasy options, which is great, but where can they go from here? My answer: storytelling. Look at the Tony Hawk series. The Pro Skater series was a fantastic collection of games, and the Underground games took the crazy, unrealistic moves and added a compelling story behind it. If you can add an intriguing plot without sacrificing the core gameplay that made your games popular in the first place, sports game can flourish in a narrative Renaissance of sorts. For example, the next NBA 2K could feature a Recovery story mode, where you take control of an active player or a create-a-player who has a promising start to his career but then tears his ACL. Remember in the first Assassins Creed when you’re stabbed by your leader after fucking up the intro mission, and you have reduced stats and have to relearn your abilities? That’s what I want. A compelling, emotional story about an NBA player who doesn’t want to give up, and will work and grind his way back to being an impact in the league. 2K could also incorporate Madden’s idea of mixing create-a-player modes with fantasy drafts. And Madden can benefit from a storyline as well.
With Madden recently passing an important anniversary, and with next-gen consoles on the way, the future of sports games has to call a couple audibles to keep from hitting that ceiling. But they’re on the right path, and I can’t wait to see what these games are going to show us next.