NBA 2K14 was as good as a launch-window sports game could be. It unquestionably raised the bar for graphics with incredibly lifelike models, and surrounded those visuals with superb gameplay and a healthy amount of content. NBA 2K15 builds upon those facets through meaningful tweaks that truly add up to an exemplary basketball experience. There’s one problem, though: the criminally ignored server issues.
Before I get into the hair-pulling NBA 2K servers, I’d like to focus on all the aspects that NBA 2K15 absolutely nails. What would be the point of all the gameplay offerings if the gameplay itself wasn’t a blast to play? Everything from driving to the lane and dunking one in to successfully contesting a superstar’s layup attempt feels just right and flat-out satisfying. Offense feels more fluid and it’s mainly because of the variety of new animations added in (over 5,000) and the oh-so-sweet implementation of a shot meter.
The shot meter is basically a semi-circle located around whichever player has the ball, that tells you when to release for optimum accuracy. You want to pull the right stick down until the indicator is near the center of the meter. The better the shooter, the more of a “cushion zone” there is around the center of the meter and this reduces the penalty of releasing too early or to late. One thing I really like about this meter cushioning is that it’ll always vary in size thanks to multiple factors. How well a defender is playing you or each player’s own comfort zone are some deciding factors. For example, the cushion zone is basically non-existent around the three point line for guys like Dwight Howard or Deandre Jordan. It pretty much eliminates release timing issues that made missed jumpers in previous entries a head-scratcher.
Defence is just as fun as offence, as staying on your man and properly anticipating his next move is as satisfying as ever. Every time your guy drives by you, you’ll usually know that it’s because you fell for his directional fake or attempted a block on his pump fake. There really haven’t been any meaningful changes to the defensive side of things, but there’s really no outstanding issue that’s crying to be tweaked. If it ain’t broke, th — you get it.
While the shot meter is an awesome addition, the biggest improvements have come in the form of presentation tweaks and a much more refined MyCareer mode. Bland soundtrack aside, the presentation blows 2K14‘s now-lifeless presentation out of the water. Graphics seem sharper, many player faces have received proper remodelling (there’s still some laughably inaccurate faces, though), and the animations have never been smoother. Collisions in the paint feel much more natural, causing fouls to actually feel like fouls rather than you yelling at your TV that you barely touched the guy. The guys at Visual Concept even threw in Ernie Johnson and Shaq from Inside the NBA, to dish out some surprisingly entertaining pre-game analysis.
Then there’s the weekly show called NBA 2KTV that’s hosted by the charismatic Rachel A. DeMita, where she interviews players and even the developers. While it’s yet to be seen if NBA 2KTV is really worth your time, what’s up there now is entertaining enough and as an NBA nut, I get excited by the prospect of seeing all kinds of players getting interviewed.
Even though all of these visual improvements very much increase your immersion, my personal favorite visual upgrade pertains to the menus. I know that sounds strange, but I let out a big-ass sigh of relief when I saw the more streamlined and cleaner menus, because, come on, how sleep-inducing and flaccid were the menus for NBA 2K14?
Last year, Visual Concepts threw in a story for your created character. NBA 2K15 takes it to the next level by polishing the experience in every way. The developers grabbed 30 players (one from each team) from the NBA to lend their voices to the expanded story, and one player per team will serve as the main person your player will be talking to. It’s an incredibly nice touch of immersion and the more frequent cutscenes make for a good motivator to keep you going in your career.
Upgrading your character has also been tweaked to be much better. Now, there’s no need to spend Virtual Currency on each little stat. Instead, you’ll spend Currency on packages such as Jump Shooter, Inside Scorer, Athlete, Playmaker, Rebounder, and Defender. Each of these packages contains multiple stats that just so happened to be grouped up into a category. Of course, it’ll still be a bit of a grind to become a superstar, but at least the process has been streamlined.
MyCareer isn’t the only game mode to have been improved, though. MyGM is still the micro-manager’s paradise thanks to an improved dialogue system and better GM levelling. MyTeam always had the potential for me to get lost in, but I never did. With this year’s improved presentation though, I fear I’ll lose even more hours trying to assemble the best team forged with the best players throughout NBA history.
Then there’s the MyLeague mode that can be played as a single season or as an 80-year franchise. The coolest feature of this mode is that you can totally customize which 30 teams will be in your league. For instance, you can put in the Jordan-era Bulls and Wilt Chamberlain-era Lakers into our current-day league with Lebron James and Kevin Durant. It’s an exciting prospect, but with MyCareer and MyTeam already looking to take up a hefty amount of my time, I likely won’t have time to dedicate myself to MyLeague, which is a testament to the abundance of content in NBA 2K15.
Unfortunately, there’s one very, very ugly and quite frankly embarrassing issue that keeps me from a 5-out-of-5 verdict: those hair-pulling server issues. Sure, last year’s game had the exact same issue, but you could of shrugged it off as being a transition-to-next-gen thing. This year? And 2K13? And 2K12? And 2K11? An–you know where I’m going with this. The server issue is something that has been the bane of every 2K-er’s existence for way too long now. It’s simply unacceptable. Lag consistently plagues online modes such as MyPark and standard online matches. Then there’s the fact that many of the features get locked out (NBA Today, NBA 2KTV, VC earnings, MyCareer, etc.) if the game isn’t connected to their shitty servers. It’s not something that always happens, but it happens frequently enough to hamper the experience, which is a shame because, damn, this is a great basketball game.
Another gripe I had was the face scanning. While I ultimately got an eerily accurate scan of my face, it took numerous attempts to get that right scan. Many people have been running into all kinds of problems with this tech, but if you can get it to work right, it’s an incredibly cool feature that makes MyCareer a much more involving investment.
For those having issues with the scan, what I ended up doing was holding the Playstation Camera (or Kinect) about six inches from my face and turning my head as slowly as possible from about 30-degrees to the left to 30-degrees to the right. I was only able to turn my head from left to right once, and got above 4,000 reference points. Before that, I could never muster up more than 2,500-3,200 points.
Despite the glaring server negligence, NBA 2K15 shows that Visual Concepts is continually hungry to improve the series and display their infectious passion for the NBA. Outstanding gameplay, better-than-ever presentation, and a variety of improved and seriously time-sinking modes make this their best effort yet. However, while the server problems are nowhere near a new issue, it’s gotten to be well past the point of tolerance. If Visual Concepts doesn’t crack down hard on their server mishaps next year, it’s going to be tough to be on their side. That said, in every other aspect, NBA 2K15 is the silkiest jump shot thus far.
This review is based on the Playstation 4 version of the game.