When NBA 2K11 dropped, it was nothing short of amazing and was generally praised as one of the best basketball games of all time. In the game’s subsequent follow-ups—NBA 2K12 and NBA 2K13—the series remained solid and consistent, but the developers at Visual Concepts simply couldn’t capture 2K11’s magic. But in an exclusive sit down at 2K Sports’ headquarters, XXL got a first look at NBA 2K14, and it looks like lightning has struck twice for VC’s heralded series.

Firing up an exhibition match with the NY Knicks taking on the Golden State Warriors, it instantly became clear how crisp the passing in 14 is. The game’s developers seem to have eliminated the sluggish passes that have plagued the title in the past, and it’s become possible to efficiently whip the ball around the perimeter. On a more general note, the game play feels much tighter, resulting in a smooth fluidity in the on-court action that makes player movements more natural and versatile than ever.

2K14 also features a huge increase in in-between-play animation, giving players more direct control. Instead of having to wait for an animation to finish, players can now branch out into another move, making it possible to react to defenders quicker. It’s also worth noting that playing defense in this year’s 2K iteration is no longer a chore, as the defensive A.I. has been drastically tightened up.

Meanwhile, 2K14’s Pro Stick is pretty slick and does a good job of mapping ball movement, allowing users to not only dribble but choose specific types of shots. By quickly flicking the stick from left to right, players can pull off a simple and intuitive crossover with ease.

On the graphics side, NBA 2K14 doesn't look too different from NBA 2K13, but it seems that the majority of the work on this year’s update went into game play mechanics. With the return of the popular Crew Mode, new signature skills, the addition of Euroleague teams and a smarter play-calling system, 2K Sports looks to have another winner on their hands. With NBA 2K14 slated to hit stores on October 1, make sure to check back in a few weeks for the XXL review of the game.—Written by DJ Rhude (@DJRhude)