NBA 2K fever is back with the latest series iteration in the form of NBA 2K16. Does it remain king of the court, or has complacency crept in? Thankfully, there not even a hint of the latter!
Game: NBA 2K16
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
(Review code provided by publisher)
If there is one thing that the NBA 2K series does well, it’s replicating the real life NBA pretty damn well. I say pretty well because while the games do a generally good job, there have been issues. In NBA 2K14 and (more recently) NBA 2K15, the defensive side of the game wasn’t the best, AI shooting was too accurate (AI) and a few animation problems were present. All of these combined made for a good, but not quite great experience. It’s great then that in NBA 2K16 these problems have been all but eradicated. No, really, they have.
Starting with the presentation, just like previous games in the series, it’s absolutely stunning. The attention to detail makes it look and feel like you’re watching a real NBA game on TV. No other sports game comes close to doing what you’ll see here. Better player models mean the on-court action looks better than ever too. This is mainly down to a number of players in the game being full body scanned. It helps the game look more authentic, with the new animations, foot planting and signature moves meaning each player plays behaves just like their real life counterpart. Kevin Durant with his tall, gangly frame and LeBron James with his powerful and dynamic approach are just a couple of instances that show off just how realistic the game is from a visual standpoint. Not only do body types look more realistic, they feel it too. Big players feel slower on the turn while point guards like Russell Westbrook feel wonderfully nimble by comparison. Then you have nice little touches like Stephen Curry playing with his gum shield as he’s about to take a free-throws. It’s just all brilliant.
Other improvements to the presentation side of things include Kenny “The Jet” Smith joining the much improved pre and post game show as well as Greg Anthony replacing Steve Kerr in the commentary side of things. Kenny adds a great balance alongside the colourful Shaq. There’s a natural ebb and flow to the conversations between the two, bouncing off each other superbly. Greg Anthony’s commentary is fantastic, feeling completely natural even after a few games. Another new addition this year, you have interviews with players during timeouts or at the end of play. They can look a tad awkward, especially when it comes to the facial animations, but the inclusion is a good one, only adding to the overall realistic broadcast feel of the game. Even the arenas and crowd animations have been improved, with foot-stomping introduced to the latter. In general, crowds react better than before as well, but I’d still like to to see an improvement in this area next year.
Wait, there’s more from the presentation side of things. The brilliant 2KTV returns, better than ever. Each episode of the fantastic TV style show features community clips, tips on how to play, interviews with NBA stars and is now also interactive. By answering questions relating to the game, you are rewarded with VC that you can spend in-game. Last year’s inclusion was a great starting point for the series, but this year Visual Concepts has taken it to another level. No other sports game has ever featured a dedicated TV show like this, a point which highlights the development team’s passion when it comes to basketball. It’s truly unrivalled. Oh and menus a greatly improved too, smooth and easy to navigate.
Okay, over to the gameplay. It’s the biggest area of improvement and, to put it bluntly, it’s absolutely fantastic. Defending feels fun again and thanks to new control scheme adjustments like using L2 to post-up for example. It feels more natural using a trigger rather than the awkwardness and “sticky” issues last year when this was assigned to the triangle button. Blocking has been improved in NBA 2K16 as well and now feels more realistic. For example, if you are trying to block Dwight Howard with a point guard, it’s not going to happen unless you get extremely lucky. Other new gameplay additions include the ability to either lob, bounce and just throw a standard pass when on the offence. While it may not sound like a big improvement in the grand scheme of things, you have more options and that’s a good thing.
Each game feels dynamic and challenging (but not in a frustrating way) as you feel more in control of what’s going on around you more than ever before. Your AI teammates in the past wouldn’t show much movement and in turn, forcing you into using plays to create space. That feeling has totally gone in NBA 2K16 as AI teammates move more naturally and now feel like they have a brain. They move fluidly across the court and in turn, this opens the play up for you to create space and to get your team flowing as a well oiled unit. The main thing to take away from the gameplay in NBA 2K16 is that it’s fun. In previous years, at times, gameplay felt a little stagnated and frustrating, but not this year. Thanks to the new improvements, it all clicks into place and feels refreshing and most importantly, satisfying. You have to work for your points, but when it all clicks on the court, it feels fantastic. NBA 2K16 is sim-based sports title and this can be a tricky one to balance and if not done right, it can totally take away the fun from the gameplay. Thankfully, NBA 2K16 nails this brilliantly.
NBA 2K16 has a new system implemented called “Adaptive Coaching Engine” which will determind the best plays for your team while being on the offensive. It will give you more dynamic results and options to create great plays offensively, but also the AI has been improved so drastically that if you try to do the same move it will learn the way you play and adapt. It works wonderfully and the fact that you have to change your strategy every so often because of this is almost like being part of a real NBA match.
Each year, 2K changes the controls some way or another and at first it can be a bit daunting trying to get used to them after you’ve been so used to the previous years layout, but this year, they’ve been improved for the better and once you’ve customised yourself to them, you’ll wonder why you didn’t have this layout in NBA 2K15.
One big addition that 2K has been promoting this year is the new storyline that is focused around MyCareer and the “Livin Da’ Dream” storyline that is co-written and directed by none other than Knicks super-fan, Spike Lee. You play as Frequency Vibrations and you essentially start off playing high school basketball then you go and play college basketball before being drafted into the NBA. The storyline shouts from the rooftops throughout that it’s all about what you want to do as a player and your decision matters, but this is not even close to what it’s like at all. The only real choice you get to make is which college team you get to play for and THAT’S IT. Throughout the “movie-style” storyline, you’ll get into heated arguments with family and also a team owner that gives you an ultimatum, but you don’t have any say on what you do. It’s so scripted. I think Spike Lee missed the point, this isn’t how any video game story should work. He said in a recent interview that this is his first job in video gaming script writing and it clearly shows. It’s well written for a short, throwaway movie, but not for a video game.
Once you get past Spike Lee’s attempt at adding something new to MyCareer, the mode shines thanks to new additions dotted throughout. You finally have control of everything you do and thats what makes MyCareer one of the standout modes for any NBA 2K player. New additions include giving you different options for your days off. Be it, court practise, interacting with other players from the NBA or by getting endorsements completed. Each off-day will give you these options and it’s up to you how you spend them. Practise will improve you as a player, interactions with other players will reward you with new court items and sponsor endorsements will reward you with VC for example. The whole of MyCareer (after you’ve gotten past the scripted Livin Da’ Dream stuff) and your virtual hub is, MyCourt. Here you can practise, watch NBA 2KTV and invite friends over to play. Oh and you can customise your MyCourt to your hearts content by using the 2K Store to purchase new wall colours, court designs, rims and nets for example. These customisation touches make it feel more personal and make it feel like it’s “your” court.
Other game modes have been improved for the better, while others, not so much. One new game mode this year (and something that 2K has been promoting) is 2K Pro-Am. This mode is essentially a direct replacement for NBA 2K15’s, Jordan Rec Center. In 2K Pro-Am, players can take their MyCareer player online, create almost everything around creating a team. Be it, jerseys, arenas, team logo, colours on the hardwood and the amount of customisation options is absurd. Once you’ve created a team, you can then jump into quick games (up to 20 players across 4 courts) and with winning games, push your team up the leaderboards. While in theory this sounds great, most of my time was spent trying to connect or when I finally did, having disconnect issues. It’s frustrating as this could be a huge mode for NBA 2K players, but just like in previous years, Visual Concepts and stable networks isn’t words that you can associate with each other. While standard online quick time matches seem to have stabilised more for NBA 2K16, 2K Pro-Am is a broken mess in its current state and something that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
That said, MyGM has received some love and it’s better for it. New to MyGM this year is the the ‘Team Relocation’ feature. Just like 2K Pro-Am, the customisation options here are extensive. Options include, rebranding a team (that includes the arena), moving the team to a different city and using uploaded images for custom logos for branding. As well improving MyGM, the customisation options add something to NBA 2K’s Ultimate Team style card collecting game MyTeam too. Elsewhere, three-team trades make a return to MyGM, plus facelifts to both the lottery and draft presentations are all welcome improvements to an already fantastic mode. There’s just so much to do in NBA 2K16, no matter what your preference. Combine that with the sumptuous gameplay and you have one incredible sports game, even if MyCareer is a tad disappointing.
NBA 2K16 is not just a great virtual representation of basketball, it’s the best sports game period. Visual Concepts have taken feedback from last year’s game and run with, creating the most dynamic, realistic and polished entry in the series to date. There so much to do as well, the game is literally bursting with modes to satisfy pretty much all wannabe ballers. The only small dent in the package is MyCareer, but even that’s not too big of a deal. If you didn’t get it already, I’ll keep it simple. NBA 2K16 is the greatest sports games ever made.