NBA 2K15 was a massive update to 2K14 in literally every way. Tweaks to the on-court action, the addition of a story to the MyCareer mode, and the introduction of 2KTV made it an absolute must-have for any NBA fan.
In comparison to some other sports titles, the NBA 2K series has always delighted its users with how much it’s tried to one up itself each year. With NBA 2K16, Visual Concepts and their 2K franchise continue their domination of the virtual hardwood and even cement themselves as one of the most consistently great gaming franchises in the process — yeah, you read that right. It’s not without flaws, of course, but those flaws almost have nothing to do with the core gameplay.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first, though.
In the months leading up to the game’s release, you’ve no doubt heard about Spike Lee’s joint: that is, the “Livin’ Da Dream” story that kicks off your MyCareer. Well, after beating it in four or so hours, I can confidently say that it’s chock-full of cheese and stereotypical sports movie characters.
The over-enthusiastic agent? Yup. The trouble-making childhood friend? Yessir. The parents that want you to turn down millions to stay in college? Check. Its script is full of predictable proceedings, cliché lines, and every sports movie scenario you’ve seen before…and yet I still dug it. I mean, it’s a sports game with a story mode in it, and one with cutscenes! Now, just because Visual Concepts and Spike Lee bothered to do a story at all doesn’t excuse its rough edges, but you can’t help but applaud them for putting so much effort into the mode.
Your created character starts out as a high school phenom, before choosing his college and eventually being drafted into the NBA itself. It’s realistic in some ways, but what’s disappointing is that you only get to make one choice, and that’s when you pick said college. Many of the cutscenes, through dialogue, emphasize how it’s all about your choice, but the game never gives you the option to make said choice. Hell, even the marketing slogan for this Spike Lee joint was “Be the story.”
Another gripe I had with this is that even though I sucked hugely in my NBA games (yeah, obtaining VC is still a grind), I was still getting shoe deals and the superstar treatment, which all felt unearned. This is definitely a pre-determined story that can take you out of the moment, so get ready for some serious belief suspension.
After you complete your origin story, MyCareer goes into the same kind of structure that fans will instantly recognize. Of course, it’s more fleshed out and gives you plenty more in the way of customizing. You can deck out your private court, build relationships with NBA players by doing social events with them on your off days, or even hang out with fans. Then, once you get good enough and have enough fans, you can get in touch with higher-tier stars and rake in some killer endorsements.
Every other game mode has also been reworked in one way or another.
MyTeam has become an addiction of mine lately, thanks to an improved UI and better explanation of what each game mode is. Domination sees you climb your way up to the best of the best, while Challenges cobbles up some really creative teams, such as a team consisting of the most notoriously injured players or a bunch of six-mans.
MyGM sees you take the reins of a franchise and manage relations with everyone — and I mean everyone. You have to juggle team chemistry, team morale, team owner satisfaction, and even your relationships with friggin’ free agents when you try to negotiate a contract with them. It makes every post-game press conference and sit down with the team owner a compelling experience as you try to build a championship dynasty.
Going further, MyLeague lets you take the mantle of the entire NBA and its 30 teams. The most fun aspect of this mode is the ability to truly customize the League and mix up the teams via a fantasy draft. You can even take MyLeague online and hash out with a pal as to who’s better at creating a winning team.
Rounding out the game modes are the created-character-centric MyPark and 2K Pro-Am. MyPark has you choosing between three fictional teams and increasing your rep with the team to make sure that the unit comes out on top. Pro-Am, on the other hand, is a simple matchmaking 5-on-5 mode that lets you test your character against other created ballers. They’re both a ton of fun, but unless you buy a VC pack (these micro-transactions aren’t going away anytime soon) or pre-ordered the special Jordan edition of 2K16, you may have trouble competing.
The game modes have received tons of love from Visual Concepts, but what would have been the point in doing so if the gameplay itself wasn’t good? Thankfully, it’s not just good — it’s phenomenal. This is undoubtedly the best-controlling NBA game I’ve played to date, and I’ve literally played all of them since 2000. Everything just makes sense and feels right.
Moving the screen-calling to L1 feels intuitive and the AI feels a lot more adaptive, constantly challenging you to not keep scoring in the same way. Okay, so you buried two three-pointers in a row because your defender went under the screen? Well, now he’s going over (sometimes just avoiding the screen altogether) to really put the pressure on you to get you off the arc.
Backing down in the post feels natural and satisfying, lob passes are a nice plus, and just because a shooter is wide open, it doesn’t mean he’s going to sink it every time (an infuriating issue from prior 2Ks). It’s a more true-to-life experience that’s gratifying in every offensive and defensive facet possible.
Rounding out this stellar package are the presentation and light graphical upgrades. Half-time interviews (with or without Doris Burke), post-game shows, and player introductions have all been given a noticeable bump. Courts look out of this world, the animation of Doris and the player she’s interviewing no longer seem like poster-boy references to the uncanny valley (though they still don’t look great), and even the addition of interview-bombing create a look that’s getting more and more lifelike to the NBA we watch at home. But the biggest salute that Visual Concepts deserves is for the much-requested and seemingly impossible task of fixing their damned servers. Actually, I take away the salute since this is something that should have been done a long, long time ago, but it’s still a massive sigh of relief to see it addressed.
NBA 2K16 is absolutely everything you can ask for from a sports game. I mean, they had the core gameplay down so well from last year that all they had to do was tweak a couple things, freeing them up to flesh out the presentation and really deliver addictive game modes, but they did much more. No sports game come close to pouring out the same amount of passion or intensive attention-to-detail that Visual Concepts does with this year’s 2K.
Long live the king!
This review is based on the Playstation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Perfected gameplay and an abundance of addicting modes make NBA 2K16 a heavyweight contender for the greatest sports game ever made.